Keselowski talks Fontana, Brett Favre controversy, more
I tend to make riskier moves on the track when I'm not as confident in my car
With such a new team, it's surprising that we have performed so well in Nationwide
The Brett Favre issue raises questions about expectations placed on athletes
Brad Keselowski does a biweekly diary for SI.com. Heading into the race at Charlotte Saturday night -- he qualified 31st -- the driver of the No. 12 Dodge tries to recover from an ugly California day that left his team feeling the heat of a disappointing 26th-place finish. Find out why things went so wrong, his reaction to the sport's five Hall of Fame inductees, and discover a special Dale Earnhardt Jr. basketball league that's sprouting up behind the scenes in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Kes.
Let's look back at the Cup race from Sunday. Things never really panned out the way you wanted, as contact with the wall led to a 26th-place finish. What happened?
Yeah, well actually the start of the race went really well. All the Penske cars qualified poorly for some reason, but when the start came we began to move forward, up to the 13th or 14th spot. We actually passed Tony Stewart, who went on to win the race. We were feeling pretty good about our car and came in to pit under green, had a good pit stop, everything went good and we came back out on the track and we just weren't quite handling as well. Came out, had a restart, I think we restarted seventh after all the cycling and so forth, and we were still getting passed by cars frequently. We were really missing something there when we came in and pitted, and as a driver, there's a lot of different ways you can react. You can kind of bite the bullet, and take your loss in positions, or you can dig your feet in and try to say no, I'm going to make this work.
I tried to dig my feet in, say no, this isn't going to happen, I'm going to settle in here somewhere around 10th. Instead, I ended up busting my butt, overdrove the car and put it in the fence. As a driver, for that time in the race, that was too early to have made that statement. And I got myself in trouble, making the rest of the race a long one just to make it to the finish.
Is controlling yourself harder to do when you know the car ran well at one point?
Well, for me it's a lot easier to do things like that when you're not quite as confident in your car. So you're essentially in a mode where you're like, "I can't lose these spots because I'll probably never get 'em back." So, you risk more to try to keep them, whereas when you're confident in your team and your car, you allow things to happen knowing that you will recover.
Many were saying that this Fontana race was the best one the track has ever held. Do you agree with that, and was there any particular reason for the increased quality of competition?
Well, I think the spoiler has really helped that race track, there's no doubt about that. I think the racing at California has gotten better. That's not to say it can't continue to get better, but the quality has really increased by leaps and bounds.
Many have referred to Fontana as a driver's race track. With that in mind, is it tough to see the 2-mile oval lose a date? Do you think it needs to be reconfigured in order to win back fans?
I don't think losing a date in California is necessarily a terrible thing. I think that you have to look at it from the perspective of what a NASCAR event means. You'd like to have continuity in your schedule, but sometimes you have to switch it up a little bit. So I don't think changing the track is going to fix anything other than costing a lot of money. So I don't know, I kind of have mixed emotions about it. Again, the racing at California has gotten better there the last few years.
With that said ... I thought track president Gillian Zucker had a great idea by trying to build the "Talladega of the West." As much as that wasn't welcomed in driver circles, I think it's a great way to get the L.A. market interested.
The second Hall of Fame class was voted on this week. Out of all the 25 finalists, I want to know who your top choice would be to vote into the Hall right now, and why.
I think the right guy got in with David Pearson as the top choice, without a doubt. He won so many races, and the way he won them was in such a cunning fashion. That, to me, is the mark of a very smart race car driver. He helped to define the cutting edge era in NASCAR, the one guy who could keep up with arguably the most successful driver in this sport, Richard Petty. There's a lot of coulda, woulda, shouldas with him, but from what I've seen, he was just as good. Maybe not with equal opportunity, yet I think he was instrumental along with Richard in the growth of the sport.
Did you agree with the original five selections, or would you have made a switch?
I thought a little bit about Cale Yarborough, only because he had done the three championships in a row -- something no one else accomplished until Jimmie Johnson. I think him, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, all three are about the same; I don't know how you can pick between them. The only thing I could say about Bobby that might separate him [the lone invitee of the three into this year's class] is he has a family legacy that continued after him, along with son Davey.
Heading to Charlotte and then Martinsville is a nice home swing for you guys the next two weeks after several months on the road. Describe for the fans what type of advantages you get from that, and what's different about the Charlotte races for the crew and people that work in your shop.
Well, it's not much different for me, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, I actually work harder on Charlotte race weeks. But the big thing is to not have to travel, and be able to be home with your family. For our on-the-road guys, that's a huge deal. I'm single, and don't have a family of my own other than Mom and Dad, so it's not quite as big for me. But it is nice to be able to drive to your own house and go to bed at night. It's almost like having an 8-to-5 job for a week, and that's what everyone appreciates about it.
The Nationwide Series title continues to roll your way, as you hold nearly a 400-point lead over your competition. Are you surprised at how the No. 22 team has made it look so easy there this year?
Well, I think more than anything else, I'm surprised at the fact a brand new team, people, cars, etc. were able to run as well as we have without failures. That's remarkable to me, because that's very, very difficult. I look at a large part of our points gap established as some of the failures they had on the No. 60 car. Maybe 200 points of it has been through failures, while the other 180 has been from performance.
That, to me, is the remarkable piece. It's the one where you go, "Wow, this is a really good team."
I've been hearing that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and friends have been doing a little basketball league on the side. Can you tell us more about it, whether you guys have "official" teams and who has the best nickname.
Yeah, we've been playing just a little bit of basketball, trying to keep it semi-low key and private. You know how things can get... and we want to be safe as well. It's really easy to get hurt. I missed my game this week, but my team won, which was good. It's a cool way to try to stay in shape and have fun, because some of us don't really like to exercise -- so we need to have fun if we're really going to stay in shape. We've got five teams of five, it's pretty cool.
What's your team name?
The Cornelius Cougars. There are some other names that are not exactly PG, we'll leave it at that. As for the best nickname, we have this guy we call The Microwave. I like that one; I don't know if you remember back from the '80s, the Detroit Pistons used to have this guy they called by the same name.
Finally, let's talk about the jail and bail in honor of the Brienne Davis scholarship fund. How was it? Who bailed you out? And did you have a lot of fun?
Well, SPEED's Jeff Hammond made the largest contribution and bailed me out. But to me, it was just a good time, a chance to celebrate during race week and have some fun while raising some money for a great cause. I'm trying to help females get in the sport, there's some barriers to get in -- it's hard enough to get in as a male. So it's interesting to see how that works out, because it raises money for a scholarship to help a female get an education in motorsports or to just be in the automotive world. Tony Stewart has a lot to do with putting it on, and so do a lot of NASCAR officials. It can be a pretty fun event, making fun of each other, and that's a large part of the premise. John Darby, who runs the Sprint Cup side, puts in his two cents of what you've done wrong this year in a comical way, and they lock you up for it.
I can't remember what I did, though. Something about wrecking Carl Edwards ... I auctioned off a diecast trying to get out, and that was pretty cool because Darby was there to help us auction it off. He took his gavel and said, "Man, this doesn't look authentic," and smashed it all up. So that was pretty cool ... just a great time.
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