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August 12, 2014

Brad Keselowski

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference.  We are joined by Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for Team Penske.  With three wins on the season and now locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Brad returns home this weekend in search of his first win at Michigan International Speedway.  Additionally Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation is a presenting sponsor of Saturday's Careers for Veterans 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan.
Brad, with your team already locked into the Chase, it's all about winning and the Chase bonus points for your team.  What is your mindset heading into the next four races?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I think you got to take them one race at a time.  As of right now, that race is Michigan.  This is such a huge weekend for us.  I think you alluded to some of it.
First off, I want to say thank you to all the media attending and listening.  I know there's a lot going on right now, a lot to write about, a lot of different press conferences, media conferences.  I want to say thank you for being here and tip an acknowledgment to everything that's going on, the tragedy there in New York.  So I want to say thank you for being here, thank you for taking the time.  It's great to be on this teleconference with you.
I think for me looking at the Michigan weekend, like you said, one weekend at a time.  This is the weekend that's in front of us.  It's really the last of the marquee races for me personally.  To be able to win this year, and we've been so close to winning any one of them, just haven't been able to pull that off, we'd like to get that done before the year is over.  Michigan is our last chance.
We finished third here in the spring race, second here last year.  Seems like we're right there on the cusp of getting that win.  It's even more special this year with the things that you alluded to, my foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, partnering up with Cooper Standard and their foundation, and doing the weekend for Careers For Veterans.  We have 2400 of their employees here cheering us on, our own Brad K Nation, trying to keep up with Junior Nation.  Excited about that.  Think this is a great opportunity to get a win in front of a huge audience with initiatives like Careers For Veterans.
We're really thinking this is going to be a special weekend and would like to seal it off with a win.  To that mindset, wins for us are really all that matters till the Chase starts.  Consistency is great for looking and having momentum for the Chase, but in reality it probably doesn't mean much.  We've seen Jimmie Johnson enter this stretch of the year even so soon as last year and not have a lot of consistency and go into the Chase and be just fine.
From that standpoint we're focused on wins.  If we could get a win here at Michigan, we're going to do everything we can to make it happen.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll now go to media for questions for today's guest, Brad Keselowski.

Q.  Last year at Kansas in the Nationwide race after your wreck, you got out of your car and ran across the infield to pit road, up pit road as cars were coming down pit road.  In light of the tragedy on Saturday night, do you expect a rule change that would possibly prohibit you from doing that?  Do you think there should be any rule changes?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Whew, I hate to put myself in NASCAR's shoes.  I think sometimes we put so many rules in place, it's almost impossible to enforce them all.
I don't know what the line is or if there should be a line or an area that needs a rule.  Man, I'm glad I don't have to make that decision.
At this point I think I don't know.

Q.  Do you feel drivers getting out of their cars is an integral part of the entertainment value of the sport?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I would say it has become that way, there's no doubt about that.  I think if you look at the highlight reels that are shown, you think of Bristol, you think of Tony, other drivers at Bristol that have been known for it, Danica, whatnot.  It certainly has become common, accepted practice.

Q.  Brad, seems like the world has gone absolutely crazy of late, so many tragedies.  The tragedy in New York on Saturday night, as a driver, how does it hit home?  You know Tony very well.  Of course, the family of the young driver.  What is your take on it?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I think right now I'm not entirely sure, but I think today was Kevin Ward and his family's funeral.  My take on it now is to let the dust settle for a little bit and let some cooler heads prevail.
Certainly a lot of emotion charged on this topic, which is good in the sense that people care.  I don't want to understate that.  But it's obviously still very, very tragic, and still very, very fresh, a raw wound.
You know, I think the dust has to settle before anyone can have really a full opinion on it.  Right now I don't even think everybody has all the facts.  I think we have to get to that level first.
For me personally, have some respect to the family, get through their process, then kind of dig into the hows, whys, whats, how we can possibly prevent something like that happening in the future.

Q.  Good things happening Saturday in the Truck race.  You must be feeling pretty good about this weekend?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I am.  We have Joey driving the 19 Truck, Ryan Blaney driving the 29 Truck.  There's probably people that don't know I own those Truck teams, and I drive for Roger Penske in 22 Nationwide car, and the 2 Cup car.  A lot of positive things going on.
One of my goal sets for the year, this sounds a little bit ridiculous, but I think you have to dream big.  One of my goal sets for the year was being a part of winning all three championships.  The Sprint Cup championship is a priority.  I think we're in position to make a run at that.  The Nationwide owners championship for Roger Penske, we are certainly in a position to win that.  I think we're five or six points out with a lot of races left.  Then the Truck championship with Ryan Blaney, who is leading the championship points.
In a lot of ways this is shaping up to be a career‑best year for me if we can close it all out.¬† I think we have a great opportunity for that.
Then I look at some of the other initiatives, the charitable initiatives are important to me as well.  This year we switched gears with my own foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, to partner with Cooper Standard's foundation, Careers For Veterans.  Do some great things there.  Obviously, finding jobs for those guys is something that is a very rewarding task.
We hope that publicizing this initiative will get us other major companies onboard to look out for these guys and find jobs for these guys on their way back home from the battlefield.

Q.  You're obviously as socially engaged as any driver out there.  Given all the crazy stuff that's gone on in the aftermath of the tragedy on Saturday night, how do you reconcile your engagement and your level of engagement with the fact that cyberspace unfortunately is all over the map in terms of emotion, reaction, people just ripping you for no reason whatsoever?  How do you wrap your arms around all of that engaging with fans and media in the world we live in these days?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  It's really, really difficult.  It's extremely difficult.  The last thing I want to do is sound like I'm the guy who has all the answers on that 'cause I clearly don't.
It's difficult because I feel like when I remain silent, I kind of feel like a wuss, that I'm bowing out of controversy.  I believe in all those things that a good nation goes down when great minds remain silent.  I think we live in a great nation and we still live in a great time, whether we realize that or not.
I always have that temptation to speak my mind on those topics.  But then on the other side you have to realize for whatever reason, all these media fronts are very, very polarizing.  It seems like no matter what you say, someone will be offended.
The reality of our situation in this sport right now is we rely on corporate America to fund our teams and my own career.  I need to have as many fans as possible to justify those expenditures.
If you alienate any one part of that fan base, you're really inhibiting your own future career.  In that sense, it kind of feels like a lot of times you're trapped as a driver.  I'm sure it's more than just a driver.  It's other forms of public figures.  You just try to navigate it with as much balance as possible.  That's really the only solution that I have.
I can't say that I'm perfect at it, for sure.

Q.  Ryan Blaney is at the top of the standings.  What are your thoughts about the season so far?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Really, really pleased to see him in the points lead.  I think he's got a long way to go.  He would acknowledge that, as well.  He'd rather be starting from the lead than in a hole.  With the amount of races we have left, the way that team is gelling together, I think they've got a great shot at winning the championship.
The end of the season can't come soon enough for me.  I mean that in a happy fashion.  Excited and thrilled to see what's going to happen.  To be able to win a Truck Series championship would mean so much to me, one because of my family and their involvement in the series for a long time, then my own personal involvement, and then also being one of the few guys in the sport that can claim to have a championship in all three series and join some elite company there with Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt.  I think any time you can add your name to a list with them, you've really accomplished something.  It would take winning a Truck championship to do that, even if it is as an owner.
Even if we don't win the championship this year, there will be a lot more opportunities to do it.  I can't wait for that.

Q.  Are both drivers returning for you next season?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  We haven't figured out our driver lineup yet.  We're going to let things work themselves out and we should have some announcements in the next few months.

Q.  Michigan International Speedway, your home track, what is the key to getting around that track?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I think the key is different between the two series, really all three series.  For Cup this weekend, the key is timing your pit stops perfectly.  Having the right position on the track is critical.  You want to be in a spot where you're leading late in the race and don't have to pit again.  That is a very, very formidable position.
The other thing that goes with it is the restarts.  You have to be on the front row on the restarts and you have to execute.
If you can accomplish those two things, you'll probably win the race this weekend for the Cup Series.

Q.  Regarding Ryan Blaney, what makes you believe that he's ready to take the next step as far as his development in NASCAR?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  He's a winner.  He's won races.  I think that's where you have to start.  You have to win when you have the opportunities.  Ryan has done that.  He won his Nationwide start in Kentucky.  He's won multiple Truck races.  He's leading the points right now in the Truck Series.
To me he is the first‑round draft pick if NASCAR was to have a draft.¬† You could probably debate between him and Chase Elliott over who is the actual first pick.¬† We're glad to have him at the Penske camp.¬† I'm glad to play some small part in his career in getting him there with the Truck Series.

Q.  With Team Penske waiting so long to exercise their testing for this season, what do you see is the strategy that you're going to need going forward?  How you choose your tests within the Chase parameters?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  That's a good question.  I can't say I have all the answers.  Travis Geisler or Paul Wolfe, the management team at Team Penske, along with Todd Gordon, crew chief of the 22 Cup car, they all make those decisions.  It's not an easy decision.  We're going to be very, very busy over the next 12 or 13 weeks leading into Homestead testing four times.
We think that's the advantage we need to help push us over the edge to get us the second Cup championship for the 2 team.

Q.  Do you think the practice of Cup drivers driving in these local races is something NASCAR should at least look at?  Is it something you do very often?  Is there a danger of spreading yourself too thin?  Tony has been under a lot of scrutiny over the last year obviously because of his wreck last year and hurting himself.  Do you think it's something that should be looked at?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: ¬†No, not really, to be honest with you.¬† I think there's no one‑size‑fits‑all program that really makes sense for this.¬† Each driver has his own interests.¬† Those interests vary between one guy might want to go run sprint like Tony, another might want to run late model like Kyle Busch.¬† Who knows.¬† Maybe it's a dune buggy.¬† I've heard some guys doing that.¬† Travis Pastrana went base jumping one week last year.
That's what makes us who we are.  That's what makes us tick.  The racing grind can really wear down on you.  You have to do certain things that work for you in your life to make you happy to keep you going, to keep you at a very high level with your own happiness.
It's difficult to try and limit anyone to those things.  That's not just a racer, that would be any employer.  So I don't see coming in and stopping those things.  I think every situation's different.
My car owner has different rules than probably other car owners do.  I don't do a lot of local racing.  In fact, I think I've done one local race over the last five or six years, and that's at the request of my car owner.  I respect him for that.
I get a lot of opportunities.  I had one this week to run in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for one of their big races.  I had to turn it down.  It's not 'cause I don't want to do it.  Believe me, I want to do it.  I'm a racer.  I'd love the opportunity.  Those were huge races that I never got the opportunity to race in on my way up and would love to fulfill that opportunity now, go out there and have a shot at winning.
The reality is there's 350 some employees here at Penske Racing.  Each one of them has their salary compensated through revenues generated by sponsors and fans that are counting on me to drive the car.  If something were to happen to me in those races, whether we want to admit it or not, there's a higher chance of that happening, all of our sponsors, all of the people that pay for us to do these things, have the right to go away.  It threatens the job and the livelihood of 350 some employees at Team Penske, Penske Racing.
That's the decision, that's the balance that we have to make, that we have to weigh out.  When those opportunities come up, everybody walks that line a little bit differently.  At Penske Racing we probably walk it the furthest on the conservative side.  That's worked for us so far.  Then again, we've missed out on some opportunities.
It's a very difficult balancing act and line to walk.  Everyone is entitled to their own right and own way of walking it.

Q.  You think that's more the purview of the car owner instead of NASCAR in terms of putting any restrictions on the driver?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Sure.  We are technically independent contractors, drivers that drive for car owners.  The car owners make that call.

Q.  When is the last time you ran a local race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I ran a charity race last summer in Canada with the benefits ironically going towards my foundation to help support veterans.  That's the last time I ran one.
I think it's been six or seven years since then that I've done one.  I've attended some and watched but haven't raced in any.

Q.  Brad, as a former teammate of AJ Allmendinger, that win has been overshadowed, can you put into perspective what it maybe means to him?  Seems like it was a popular victory around the garage.  Put into perspective what that small team was able to accomplish Sunday.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Seeing anyone get their first one is incredibly special.  You only get one of those, right?  To go with that, AJ, some of the adversity he's had to fight through to get there makes it even more special.
He's a guy who entered the garage in 2007 with really a hand tied behind his back, maybe two.  He's clawed his way to where he's at now to be able to get that first win.  That's something I think anyone can respect, and certainly I do, as well.
I'm happy for him.  I'm really happy for his team.  Tad, Jodi, Brad Daugherty over there that own that team, they've been around.  They've paid their dues, probably more so than anyone else in their situation.  They deserved it.  I'm just excited for them and happy for them.

Q.  Do you think from the NASCAR perspective, is this kind of what they wanted with the new Chase format, having underdogs to this degree in the playoffs?  How do you view them as somebody already in the Chase?  AJ admitted they couldn't win the championship if they made the Chase.  How do you size that up?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  It's definitely an interesting dynamic to the Chase.  Those guys that are fighting for the 15th and 16th spot, it obviously just got a lot harder because they lost a spot to fight for with the way it climbs up the ladder, which I know is kind of hard to explain.  I think you know what I'm talking about there.
I think it's interesting.  It's certainly compelling to watch.  I think from NASCAR's point of view, that's what they're looking for, is a compelling Race to the Chase.  They're certainly getting that.  It's the fans in the end who win.

Q.¬† I hate to pull you from your one‑race‑at‑a‑time mindset, but can you look ahead to Talladega, the role that Talladega plays in the Chase every year, then maybe it's even more complicated this year or more exciting because it's one of the cutoff races.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I think looking at Talladega, you pretty much put the hammer right on the head of the nail there.  Talladega is always a very complicated race for the Chase.  This year is probably the most complicated it's ever been, which is really saying something.
I look at that bracket and I think of it as the death bracket, the second bracket, because that's going to be really where a lot of heartbreak happens.¬† You have three races there:¬† Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega.¬† Really only one of them is a predictable race.¬† I would say that's Charlotte. ¬†Kansas, we've seen year over year, once they repaved that facility, with a hard tire compound that Goodyear brings, it turns into a bit of a wreck‑fest.¬† You can easily get caught up in one of those.
Talladega, you just don't know what's going to happen.  You could be running second and get wrecked.  There's no guarantee.  You can be running in the back and get wrecked.  You can go the whole race and there not be a big one, which we've seen before as well.  So you just don't know what's going to happen there.  They're two wild card races out of a bracket of three.
That bracket is most likely going to send a team that was capable of winning the championship at Homestead home.  That's something that I think scares everyone to death on the team side, especially the drivers.  They know in reality the only race they can control is Charlotte, and you need to win that race to get yourself a guaranteed spot in the next round, or be extremely consistent in all three races which as a wild card is darn near impossible to do.
So you're going to see some heartbreak in that round, for sure, with Talladega, finishing it off as the third race in that bracket.  It should be very interesting.

Q.  Looking back at your short track career or Cup or combined, can you look back and tell me of a specific turning point that sent your career in the right direction to where you are today?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Man, one?  I feel like my career has been multiple turning points to get me where I'm at.  I feel very, very fortunate.
I guess working backwards, I'd have to point at getting the opportunity to drive for Roger Penske, transitioning from the 12 car to the 2 car, working with Paul Wolfe.  Those two were significant.
I look at the opportunity I got to drive full‑time for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2007, circa 2007, late 2007.¬† That was a huge opportunity.
I look at the opportunity to drive for James Finch and win Talladega.
Then I look at one of my probably proudest moments, one that sticks out very heavily, is getting the opportunity to drive for the Germain family in the Truck Series in 2007 where my career was not really going anywhere.  That really kind of opened up some eyes and helped me break through to the next level.
I don't know how you pick one.  Without Roger I never would have won a Cup championship.  Without meeting Paul, switching from the 12 to the 2 car, I certainly wouldn't have had the success I had now.  Without Dale Jr. taking a chance on me, I wouldn't be here.  Without the Germain family giving me an opportunity earlier in my career.
I look at all those things and ask, How do you pick one?  If any one of them would not have gone my way, I wouldn't be sitting in front of you here today as a Cup champion or as a racecar driver.

Q.  In light of what happened Saturday night, there's at least a couple short tracks that are now coming out with a rule that a driver must stay in their car after an incident, unless of course there's a fire or some situation like that.  Not being in that situation, not understanding that, can you give me a perspective of what it's like to be involved in an incident, maybe having to sit a few extra seconds waiting for safety personnel, just what is going through your mind as a driver in those situations?  Is the first reaction just to get out of the car anyway?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Thankfully I don't have a lot of experience with it.  I do have some.  I think from that experience I would tell you each one of them is different.  I've had some experiences where you get the wind knocked out of you, you don't want to get out right away.  I've had other experiences when you're not done wrecking, you just want to get out of this thing because you're mad, frustrated, and it's hot in there.
It's hard to really define each one and try to put them all under a box because there isn't a box.  There are those rare instances where you're extremely angry at someone and you're physically capable of getting out very quickly.  Bob alluded to one of those personally for me last year.
I would say that's just a moment of anger and disappointment.  So I don't know if there's one real set template to really answer that with.
I would say that each person is different.  Each situation is different.  You can never tell how one might react until you're in that situation.

Q.  In light of that, would that be troublesome if there was a rule created in any series that you were racing in that said you had to stay in the car until safety crews arrived or would that be an issue?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Whether it's racing or society, I'm not aware of any rule or law that works without the ability to enforce it.  I don't know how you can enforce a rule like that unless you had a robot on the track to grab the person and put them back in the car.
The only way you can enforce it is with a penalty system afterwards.  Really at that point it's not effective.  It's a difficult rule to try to make work.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Brad.  That's all the time we have today.  We appreciate you joining us and wish you the best of luck this weekend in Michigan.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Thank you, guys.  Appreciate it and everybody that was on the line.  Like I said, I know it's a busy week for you guys.  Appreciate you taking the time.  Hope to see you this weekend in Michigan.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you to the media for joining us, as well.

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