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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 21, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, welcome in advance of two races coming up this weekend at Talladega Super Speedway. Sunday we have the Sprint Cup Series event, the Aaron's 499, and prior to that on Saturday we have the Aaron's 312, part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule.
Our guest today, he'll be in both events this weekend. He's the defending champion of the Aaron's 499, Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 12 Dodge four Penske Racing. Also driving for Penske racing in the Nationwide Series, Brad is second in the current points.
Brad, an unbelievable, dramatic, to say the least victory at Talladega last year in the Aaron's 499, what's it like to come back as a defending champion in that event?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you, Herb. Thanks everyone for being on. It just brings goosebumps to hear you say it. It's pretty cool to come back to the racetrack as a winner and to see your image and face on the tickets that they sell, and just all that goes with that. Just an awesome feeling and really excited about getting back to Talladega and hopefully following that up with another strong run.
We have been racing pretty well with the 12 team and we have gotten a lot of consistency lately where we are running in that 15th place range and finishing in there. Had a couple of weeks now in a row, I think four straight weeks in a row we have finished 16th through 12th.
So you know, those are solid runs. We want to get better and we want to be in contention for winning and for wins, but those are coming, and right now we are making those baby steps but we have come to Talladega feeling like we can win. So that's an awesome feeling, and makes it even more exciting to get going there on both the Cup and the Nationwide side.
On the Nationwide side, obviously it's been a lot of fun with that team, brand new team, leading the points last week and got bumped off the points lead there last week but still had a strong showing with another Top-5, and ran up front again.
So you know just really enjoying this time of year and everything that's going on both on and off the racetrack, and every weekend going to the racetrack is a real joy.
THE MODERATOR: I know you're up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Goodyear Tire test, how is that going.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Great, thanks for going. The Goodyear Tire test is going on today, and also yesterday. We have made a lot of progress as a team, and feel like we are learning some valuable things. With this testing ban, it's really important to maximize any time you get on the racetrack and it makes it even harder on a guy like me who is essentially a rookie at over half the tracks.
So anything we can do to pick these tracks up and feel like we can come back here, you know, and not just be in contention but be able to run up front and go for a win, that's a big deal for us. So feel good about that and glad to be here.
Q. How do you think your life to be different if Carl had won that race last year? Do you think you would be at Penske right now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a great question, one that I'm not in a good place in time to answer. You know, a lot of great things have happened to me over the last 12 months, and, you know, coming back to Talladega is a great chance to reflect upon that. But to know where I'd be, geez, man, it's so hard. It's so hard to label that.
There's so many different options that were out there, and different paths that my life could have gone down. I don't even know. I don't even know where to answer that question. I'm just thankful for the opportunities I do have.
Q. Were you already in talks with the Sprint Cup teams about a ride for this year, or does that experience really accelerate things on that front?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I was not in talks with anyone but Rick at that time, but that certainly got me a lot of phone calls.
Q. Brad, can you talk about the plans to drive the blue deuce and some stories that perhaps we're still getting filled in on now as we cover this story?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it's been an eventful week, for sure, with going back to Talladega, and like you said, signing up to drive the No. 2 Blue Deuce, wow. I mean, that car is an icon. It's a car that I grew up watching, even when it was black and gold with Rusty and everything that he did with it and winning races and won championships. That was just a cool car and it's a legendary car that sends shivers down your spine, again, even about the opportunity to drive it.
Just really humbled at that opportunity and glad to be wanted. I think that's a great feeling, and just ready to get out there and mix it up in a car that's not just a car; it's an icon.
Q. And what does being able to drive that icon mean for your future, solidifying your future and have you talked to Kurt about it?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, the key words are solidifying our future and giving some validity to our program. Obviously when you have rotating sponsors every week, there's some confusion that goes with that, not just with the fans but also with the team itself.
So to be able to look the guys in the eye this morning and tell them that's what we are going to do next year and see their faces and see how excited they were about it; to know that there's, like you said, a solid future ahead for not just me but for everyone on my team, that's so important, so very important. This is a people sport, and you know, when those people believe in you and believe in the company and the team that you drive for, it carries you a long ways.
Q. And did you talk to Kurt?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Kurt, I didn't talk to him face-to-face but I know that he was equally as excited for me as he was for his opportunity with Shell.
Again, I think he holds the same feeling that I do that it's an awesome feeling just to be wanted. He's got an opportunity to drive that new team or not necessarily a new team but different car number and different sponsor; for a sponsor that really came over here because of him.
So that's an awesome feeling for him and something I'm sure he's flattered by as well.
Q. Want to ask you about restrictor plate racing in Talladega. People talk about how you need friends at tracks like Talladega and Daytona, but really, when you get into this race, are friendships and rivalries kind of forgotten about and do you just go with the best guy you can go with at that time on the racetrack?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. Well, at least it is for me. I can't speak for every other driver. But when they drop that green, you are just looking for a fast car that's going to take you to the front.
So whether that's your best friend or your worst enemy, they become your best friend if they are good and they become your worst enemy if they are bad. You have to make the moves that help you and help your team and put those personal relationships aside.
Q. Do you think you're a good plate driver yourself, and how long do you think it took you to get the experience to really be able to run up front with those guys?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think I have room to be better as a plate racer, but in general, I think I've done a decent job at it. I would have liked to have got a better finish out of Daytona, obviously not to have that tire go down real early in the race.
Talladega is a place that's clicked for me, specifically with the COT. I've had some good fortune. I've spade out of the big wrecks and as much as of that is luck as anything else. But also, you have to put yourself in the right position at the end of the race to make the right moves.
You know, there's a challenge to that that certainly requires some skill. The whole bump-drafting and push-drafting thing that we saw last year, that's not about chance. There's skill involved in it and there was a reason why I decided to work with Carl Edwards, because he was talented enough to do that.
So you know, there's still skill involved in Super Speedway racing and I've got room to be better but I felt pretty good about our shot and what I've done so far.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the Spring All-Star Race, having made I guess your first start in that event last year, why do you think that event is so important to drivers, and what makes it so special and so unique besides the obvious, you know, things with not having points and so forth?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it's a fun race, because of all those things, and because it's fun, because it's specifically with champions and other winners, you know you're racing the best. There's a level of pride that comes with that, and makes it fun, and there's just more attention on you, because there's less cars.
And then obviously night racing and everything that goes with that, there's just so much pride that that race has. There's some purse things, too, naturally, but for some reason, that race is just always known for being one of the key, premiere races to watch and it becomes the same thing for us as drivers; it's one of the key, premiere races to win.
Q. Last year you obviously were not driving for Penske. What did you learn from your participation in the event that might be able to sort of help you this year, and being with Penske this year, how much more confidence does that give you going into the race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I learned, obviously, the All-Star Race has a different strategy to it, and probably those things are the biggest things you learn just from experience. And then having the car like I know I'm going to have from Penske Racing this year gives you some confidence that you can go out there and run up front and contend for the win. All of those things feel really good.
Q. I was wondering how you feel like your personality will mesh with Miller and what kind of things do you expect that to do that you maybe haven't done in the past.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a great question, as well. Personality-wise, I had a great meeting with Miller before we did this, and you know, trying to understand what everybody was expecting out of each other.
And the thing I loved the most about Miller is the biggest message they said to me was just to do what I've been doing, to be myself. And you know, there was a reason why they were hiring me; they liked my personality and they liked that I was different than the other drivers and that they were not looking for a cookie cutter driver, per se. They were looking for someone with personality to go along with their brand, which is supposed to be Great Tastes. So that's pretty interesting and makes me feel good and wanted again like we talked.
But as far as expectations as to what's to come with that, obviously there's going to be some great parties. I'm looking forward to that and looking forward to being in victory lane with them and having a party and drinking a few beers with them.
Q. And did you get any contract extension with this deal?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I didn't do anything on my specific contract.
Q. You mentioned that you had been running consistently and getting those Top-10 finishes. Did Roger and you sit down and talk about your driving style at all, perhaps, you know, tempering it to get those finishes, or, has he, you know, allowed you to be yourself?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Actually we haven't had any conversations about my style at all, which I really respect out of him. He does a great job of letting the drivers do their own thing and letting them learn on their own, which is important to me. That's how I'm going to get better, is not by being lectured, but it's by learning.
No, I really haven't. I feel like we have gotten into a good rhythm with the team and we still want to be stronger. We are not happy with the finishes we have, but they are a good base to start on for some even better finishes. Pretty happy with the progress we have made, and Roger is very supportive of it, but I'm thankful for him for not giving me the lecture every week especially after the bad ones.
Q. Just quickly, you're stepping into some big driving shoes in the No. 2 car in 2011; expectations?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: High. Expectations are whoever drives that 2 car has got to win; they have got to perform. Internally we have those same expectations and we want to do it as fast as possible. And we know it's going to take time and hopefully when the time comes, we are ready and I think we are getting there. We are on the path to being able to do that. Although, we need to show more progress that the progress we have shown to date shows that we can get there with time.
Q. Did this come together fairly suddenly, and were you surprised that Miller, which had been branding with Kurt for such a long time, made this opportunity available to you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, it did come together very, very quickly, which isn't always a bad thing, and again, makes me feel very wanted, along with Kurt.
So, you know, Kurt had an awesome opportunity to move forward with Shell and another elite sponsor and then the opportunity presented itself for me and Miller Lite. We had had some discussions beforehand, but obviously they were very happy with Kurt and his performance and his own style and swagger or brand or whatever you want to call it. They were really happy.
And then the opportunity came up and I said, you know, maybe we should look at it. And then looked around and saw that, you know, saw some things that they were really happy with and next thing I know it's a done deal.
It's pretty cool to drive that car. Like I said, that car is an icon. It means a lot to the sport. People that don't watch the sport every day, they know the Blue Deuce. So it's an honor to drive it and it's really very, very humbling to even get offered that ride.
Q. And with Shell-Pennzoil coming in on Kurt's car, obviously Mobile One is not going to be part of the picture next year. Do you have any inkling of what the other driver/sponsor lineup might be for Penske next year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, obviously there's some other partners that we still have. Verizon is still a partner within the company, even though they are limited on how they can expose their own logos and so forth. And you know, there's also AAA, which I would -- we have ran AAA on both my car and Sam's car several times, and there's some other smaller partners to go with that.
So I'm very confident that Sam will be okay on the sponsorship front, and all in all, this move in general is going to strengthen the company by having two elite sponsors. Sam over time is going to get them pieces fill in, and who knows, he might eventually get the one big deal that we all crave, as well.
Q. You moved up quite fast and you've had to have learned from the veterans along the way. What advice have you got from veterans has worked the best for you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, the biggest advice I always get from veterans is all, strangely enough from Dale Junior, but the advice that he's given me is, you know, to just do your own thing and stay true to yourself. That's carried me a long ways.
You know, I watch, obviously the way he does things and how he's been successful with the fans and the media and the sponsors and learned a lot from them. But the best way to learn something is to watch and observe and so I've been doing a lot of that lately. But I've gotten some great advice along the way, too.
Q. You're mentioning the observation; what track behavior that you've observed by veterans that came kind of like -- sort of put a light bulb on, like, oh, that can work; have you had anything like that happen?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Obviously every driver has a different way they carry themselves with either the team or their fans or the media or their sponsors. You try to learn the best from all of them and try to apply it the best you can.
Certainly the things that Jimmie does to engage his team and keep them motivated are very inspiring and learned a little bit from him while I was around him. But there's also the guys like Dale Junior who know how to embrace the fans.
There's a mixture that seem to be successful and there's no right or wrong. Just every driver has their own style and you try to take the strengths of all of them and put them together if you want to go up front and be best you can be in this sport.
Q. Wanted to talk a little bit about rivalries. Seems like we have had a resurgence of that coming up in the past six months or so, and you're one of the names that comes up in that. Do you think that's a healthy thing for NASCAR to have, and if so, who are some of the big rivalries that you see? Obviously we are not going to get a Petty/Pearson rivalry again, but what are some of the big ones you see coming up?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I guess to answer your first part, I think that rivalries are good for the sport, as long as they are in good taste and not mean-spirited, and I think that the sport is doing a good job of embracing them and engaging them.
The biggest issue for rivalries right now is there's too many almost of them. It's hard to keep track of them from week-to-week. There's so many good drivers right now as compared to back in the Petty/Pearson era, not just good drivers but good teams, as well.
It's hard to even have a run-up with the same driver two weeks in a row because somebody else is good enough that they get in between you or get in front of you or however that works. So you know it's hard to even carry a rivalry as it stands right now but things always seem to have a way to working out that those drivers run back into each other.
Q. Can you have a rivalry within teammates?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely, I think you can. I think if you look at the European F1 model, that certainly happens all the time. You know, the best rivalries to me are the ones that happen closest to the front. Last week that would have been Jimmie and Jeff.
Q. I'd like you to go back in time, I've been meaning to ask you this a long time. I'd like you to give us your feelings when you were told that Roger Penske gave the word that you will be driving for him? You must have been running up and down the streets of Detroit yelling, "Hey, I'm going to be driving for the man, the man only."
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Roger is an awesome guy, and the fact that he is from Detroit and we share that same heritage as far as that's concerned meant a lot to me and meant a lot to my family and friends, as well. Certainly that made it even more enjoyable. It was enjoyable for me to tell my friends who I was driving for and for them to know who it was, so that was pretty cool.
You know, to walk in that shop, see how amazing it is, and just see the scope of what Penske Racing is, what they do with IndyCars, stock cars and beyond, it's an amazing feeling and one that, you know, I'm still, like I said, humbled by. Still very appreciative of and I'm just looking forward to making most of it and winning that first championship for them on the NASCAR side.
Q. NASCAR, of course, will be racing at Michigan coming up in another month. Does that put a lot more pressure on you because all of a sudden you're home again?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, yeah, I guess it does. I really haven't thought about it. You know, I think the team knows that when I go to Michigan how much that means to me and how much it means to Roger, and also, Indy, as well. It's kind of ironic that we are here right now. Everyone knows that Roger wants to win at Indy. Those are some really important races to us and we are going to do all we can do, that's for sure.
Q. What do you think your win last year at Talladega says for NASCAR, because a lot of the big knock on things you hear right now is the Hendrick domination and how can the little guy compete, and you've competed and won last year at this race. If you can just talk about what Talladega and what it presents, being its own unique animal means for a team like that, and also for somebody like you that really it vaulted your career?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think the win that I had at Talladega last year exemplifies the core of the sport where the core of stock car racing rises to popularity, and that's that any driver can win a race, based on his own moves, his own risks, his own strategy.
You look at the rise of open-wheel racing, and the view that it has versus stock car racing and whether you're looking at the movie "Days of Thunder" or whatever it is, stock car racing is about the driver, and that's just pure and simple. It takes a team to get them to victory lane, but people want to know when they watch a race, when they watch a stock car race that the race car driver won the race.
I think that's almost why some people get upset when one team dominates, is because they lose that feeling. They want to have that feeling that it's a driver that's winning the race, not a team or not a -- not money or not a car. They want to know the driver that won the race and that's part of the popularity of our sport.
So when a team wins, like I did, or a driver wins like I did at Talladega, that's not with a marquee team, that's, you know, not been around very long, that feeling comes back into the sport like, hey, you know, a good driver can find a way to the front and win despite those things.
And so I think the fans really embraced that and brings them back to the core roots of why stock car racing has become successful.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and first of all, thanks to Brad for joining us today, taking time out of your schedule up there at Indianapolis for the Goodyear Tire test. Best of luck this weekend, Brad.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you, and thanks to everybody for being on. We appreciate it and look forward to seeing you in Talladega.
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