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June 10, 2014

Brad Keselowski

JENNIE LONG:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Today we're joined by Brad Keselowski, driver of the No.2 Miller Lite Ford for Team Penske in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  This is a big weekend for you returning to your home track in Michigan, and I'm sure you'll be watching from afar as you have two trucks running in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' return to Gateway Motorsports Park.  What are your thoughts going into this weekend's races?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, it's a great opportunity to come home to Michigan, which is my home state, certainly my home racetrack, with cars that have been just blistering fast this year.  I'm really, really happy where we're at as a team and how things are progressing and kind of feel like we're turning a corner to getting back into championship form here as we hit the month of June.  It kind of gives me some goosebumps knowing that we have an opportunity to, I guess, one, run for another championship in my eyes as it stands right now, and two, win a big Cup race at my home track, and both of them are very realistic at this time.  A lot of things good going on, and I'm just really excited.
You brought up the truck race, as well.  Happy for those guys, too.  Ryan Blaney has been running really well over there and had a shot at winning in Texas and finished second at Dover, as well.  Seems like he's exactly where I'm at at the Cup level.  Just a lot of good things going on and a lot of positive momentum that we've hit over the last month.  So good things.
JENNIE LONG:  Also this weekend we'll celebrate Father's Day.  I know you've been a part of the #nascarwithdad campaign recently launched by NASCAR, Ford, 3M and Goodyear.  It's built on NASCAR Moments With Dad.  I just wanted to see if you can talk about the campaign and maybe a memorable NASCAR moment that comes to mind with your dad.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, when I think about racing, and people ask me this question a lot, how I got into racing, and the simple answer is my family.  I think if you look through a lot of those that are in the sport, at least at a competitor level, there's some family traditions that involve racing, and a lot of them are based around dads.  That makes Father's Day, I think, uniquely special to motorsports, but it's special to the whole sports world in that sense, and it's something that I'm very proud of with the relationship I have with my dad, how he got me started in racing, and I know it makes a win or any achievement you have even more special to win on that day.
Hopefully we can pull that off.

Q.¬† I'm wondering now that you've had a couple days to digest Pocono and then talk to the team about it, what's been the team's reaction as you guys have debriefed and kind of looked back on things, and do you have any‑‑ knowing what you know now, do you think the engine could have made it or do you have any thoughts a couple days later?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I thought it was interesting, Joey Logano, my teammate, his engine blew up with the same issue as what mine had.  With the information we had at the time, I felt like I made the right decision to try and do something, I just didn't execute it, so it's probably more frustration with not executing the move rather than taking the risk to make it, for me at least.
But it's hard to speak for everyone.  I'm sure everyone has different feelings about it.  But it was the right move.  I told somebody I felt like I was playing a game of blackjack and I was sitting on 15 and the dealer had a face card.  If you play by the rules, you should take a card and you should hit, and we did, and we busted.  The dealer turns over his card and he was sitting on 15, as well, and so you knew he was going to bust out.  That's part of it.  That's the cards we play, and some of racing is always going to be chance, and you have to play it by the odds, and I lost.  But that's just the way it goes.

Q.  Do you have to do anything different or special to kind of get over this thing of a loss like that?  Do you listen to any sort of specific music or play a certain video game or is there a way you're like, I've got to do this to kind of get it out of my head?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, you know, I think each situation is a little different.  I'm not going to say that I got over it right away because that's not the case.  But for me knowledge is power, and getting over something like that is knowing what I could have done better or should have done differently, and researching those things and finding that answer, and I think that's where I find the ability to move on.

Q.  Do you see any point in the season where if another driver is in the same position as you were on Sunday where they would just probably stay out if they need to win to get in the Chase?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  You know, obviously if there hadn't have been a car in front of me I wouldn't have made a move.  It's not as though I let Dale go by me, which I think some people are under the impression that's what happened, and it's not.  I just made a move on a slower car to try and take the opportunity I had, and it didn't work.  That was kind of what happened.  I didn't let Dale go and say, hey, I'm going to try to cool off my engine.  I just didn't execute the move to try and clean it off, and Dale was close enough to get by me, especially with my engine starting to let go.
You know, in that sense I don't feel like anyone would have done anything different.

Q.  So you weren't necessarily convinced that you would have to give up the lead to execute that move?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  No, no.  If everything would have gone right, I wouldn't have had to give up the lead.  I think that was why I made the move.

Q.¬† I know you'll be hot at MIS this weekend.¬† Can you explain the improvement and where it's come from from last year when it was a disappointing season?¬† This year you and Joey are right up there every session.¬† How has this sort of transpired over the very short off‑season?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, you know, there's not really one area, which may be unfortunate for a soundbyte or a clipping to try to really explain it, but I think there's a lot of areas.  Some of the specific ones that stick out to me would be the change of the Ford nose to start the 2014 season.  I think that put us in line with the other manufacturers, which is pretty significant.  I would say that some of the rules changes have certainly favored us.  The new qualifying format certainly favored my style.
So I would say there's a lot of things, but those are probably the ones that stick out the most.  I felt like we finished last year very strong.  We got way off last year about this time in the summer with having a different understanding of what the rules were than what NASCAR did.  All those things together kind of put us in a weaker spot 12 months ago than what we are now, and I'm grateful we're not still in that spot.

Q.¬† Roger Penske has I guess given you guys the green light on being ultra‑aggressive on the racetrack.¬† He says that's the way he wants to see you.¬† Did Roger play a part in sort of getting together with you and Joey and just saying, look, we've got to improve things here and here's the way to go about it and give you the green light to do that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I think we've been aggressive, and I think our people would tell you that he likes to hire drivers that are aggressive on their own and then he doesn't have to tell them to be aggressive, which I don't think anyone has ever accused him of having to do that with me and Joey.  But Joey is an aggressive driver, I'm an aggressive driver.  We're hungry, we both want wins.  We both want to win championships.  And I think we're in that spot.  We're in that situation where we have what our people would say is a long runway, which means many years and many races and opportunities to do so.
Even though we're going to have many years and many opportunities, we both want it right now, and I think Roger likes that about us, and we like the fact that he lets us be us.  So it's a mutual respect.

Q.  We saw the photo of the beer that you left for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the plane, and I know you guys are still friends, but Dale talked after the win with how you guys have become more competitors than friends in recent years as you've raced more often.  Can you describe your relationship with Dale these days?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, I think it's natural.  I think Dale got a lot more competitive here I think over the last two to three seasons, and certainly I did, as well.  And that puts a little bit more spotlight on that relationship, and it also puts a little more emphasis on the competitiveness that we have with each other, which I think is a good thing.  I told him after the race, congrats.  I texted a little bit, and we got to talking, and it seems like between Daytona and Vegas and now Pocono, we've kind of swapped back and forth for leads and wins there at the end a couple times now, and if we continue to be in that spot, it might not be a bad spot for the rest of the year.
I think he knows that when he wins a race, if it's not going to be me or my teammate, that there's no one else I'd rather see win.  I think that's something that he appreciates.  I don't know if he feels the same way.  A lot of that is for him to explain, but it is interesting.  There is a bit of a rivalry, whether either of us want to acknowledge it or not, between the two companies, and I think it's sometimes been friendly and sometimes not been friendly, but that certainly puts us both in a unique position between a friendship and a competitor.

Q.  Do you see him very much living pretty much adjacent to his sprawling property there?  Do you go by very often?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, I saw him last night.  I see him probably once a month or so.  I try not to over or understate it because of respect to each other and our own privacy.

Q.  I know this is hard to qualify, but how much would it mean to win in Michigan?  How many family members do you think you'll have there Sunday, and if you were to get that win at that hometown track, what do you think that would mean to you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:¬† I don't know.¬† I don't even know‑‑ I think that's one of those things that it doesn't really hit you until you've done it.¬† I think for me personally, I look at that race, flying in there and driving through the area and all the memories that pop up, there's deep, deep emotional ties to running there, and when you run well somewhere that you've had such emotional ties to, it just kind of really hits home in your stomach.
It's hard to explain those feelings without achieving them.  You can dream of what they feel like, and to some extent I have felt them by winning there at the Nationwide level.  You know, it's one of the few moments I've had in my career where after I won a race I just had to sit down and be by myself just to kind of soak it all in.  I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things, and that was a Nationwide race, that wasn't a Cup race.  I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level.
I can tell you it wouldn't be like any other win.

Q.¬† You touched on this a little bit, but as a competitor, how hard was it for you to hit the reset button after the frustration and disappointment of last year?¬† Can you kind of obviously talk us through a little bit of the off‑season and how you kind of geared up for the new year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, it's always hard.  We talked about how you set the reset button after losing a race like we did last week, which is not easy, and in that sense the answer is understanding what went wrong and knowing that with where we're at in the season that we're going to continue to have fast cars for hopefully months to come.
But it's a little bit different in the context of seasons.  I think in seasons the great thing is everybody resets.  The rules reset.  The team resets, the changes, and it has a feeling kind of like the first day of school when you get to Daytona, where even if you finished out the year before with maybe some B's and C's or a D along the way, you feel like this is a new year, new teachers, new classmates, and it really is yours for the taking and yours to make it whatever you want.
That's kind of how I've always felt about it and maybe everyone else doesn't feel that way, but for me it just always feels like there's a new level of energy and excitement.  This year there's been no shortage of that, knowing that the changes, like I said, to the Ford race car for 2014 were I think a pretty good improvement, and that in itself was exciting for me.  But I think just knowing that I have another year of experience and can do better and working to be better is exciting for me, as well, and gets me reenergized for this season.

Q.  Brad, a couple quick questions:  First of all, how much has your life changed since we drove through your hometown I guess maybe four years ago when you had first started with Penske to today?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I remember that trip.  That was a lot of fun.  That was 2010, and I went from being a Cup upstart who had one a race and won I think six Nationwide races at that time to now being a Nationwide champion later that year and a few years later a Cup champion, and I just feel more confident.  I feel solidified in the sport as a competitor but also in some ways as a personality, which is interesting.  I see the sport from maybe a wider view sometimes, where I was perhaps a little more focused and didn't see some things that I hadn't seen before.
I'm probably a lot more mature in some ways that are good and some ways that are bad, but I still have the same fire, the same drive and desire to win races and to win another championship.  At that time I hadn't won any championships, and I didn't know if I ever was going to.  I felt like I could, but I didn't really believe it until I achieved it.
Now I feel like I can win any weekend, really at every track, where I didn't feel that way before, and I feel like every year we go into it I have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, and that's very, very rewarding and very, very‑‑ I don't know how to put it, but it's exciting and energizing.¬† I hate using that word excited because everybody uses it, but that's how I feel now, and it's so much different than where I was then.¬† It's a different level of confidence.

Q.  Everybody is looking for that next rivalry, and Nate touched on it about Dale Jr., and certainly that would be a friendly rivalry.  Is that just friendly competition compared to a rivalry, because back in your Nationwide days when whether it was Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, whoever, there just seemed to be a level of intensity that was a different dynamic than something that would go along with a friendly rivalry like you and Jr. have.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I don't know if you can have a friendly rivalry.  I guess when I've always thought of rivalries, I've always thought of them as being unfriendly.  It's kind of interesting to think about it that way.  I wouldn't mind racing Dale for a bunch of race wins and championships and that becoming a headline, like I said earlier.  That would be a lot of dang fun, and I really haven't had that opportunity until this year and didn't know if it was ever going to come because I really wasn't running the way I wanted to at the start of my Cup career, and he probably wasn't, either.  Or not at the start, but over those last three or four years.  But it's great to see where we've progressed together, and I think if there's one guy I want to win a race other than my teammate, I would like it to be him.
I don't know how that dynamic is going to grow or change.  That's a lesson in time, I guess.  But I can't wait to find out.

Q.  It was said on Sirius a little bit earlier that there's a great satisfaction that comes from beating your buddies.  Can you explain that or do you even believe that, and if you do, can you explain it because I think those of us who have really never been in that competitive mode at the level you guys race at or just sports in general, we just really can't quantify that.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I think you can.  When I think about it, I think about it like if you sat down for a game of pool with one of your best friends to beat them.  To me it's no different than that.  It's quite simple.  And I agree, it's one of the best feelings.  I'd rather play a game of pool with a friend than a stranger because the bragging rights seem so temporary when you beat somebody who's not a friend.  But the bragging rights when you beat a friend are long lasting.

Q.  You mentioned in your opening how well the team has been performing now.  At this point in the season, where do you think your team stacks up overall, and do you feel like you guys are chasing anyone in particular?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I think we're two small steps away from, in my eyes, being a favorite.  We need to be a little bit more consistent on pit road.  We made some pretty significant changes to start the season with our lineup.  We made another change about two weeks back, and that's all because we don't feel like we're where we need to be.  We're not consistent enough and performing at the level we need to, and we're committed to getting that better.  I know Roger is committed to it and I'm committed to it.  So I think from that perspective we need to make a gain there.  The engine shop has done a great job with reliability, but it appears pretty obvious to everyone right now that the Hendrick side is a bit above everyone else from a power level, and we need to make a step to catch up with them.  I think if we can cross those two hurdles, I quite honestly feel like we can be the team to win it all this year.

Q.  You were talking about going back to Michigan earlier.  How different is that for you as far as where you stay or what you do while you're there?  Is it different at all or is it just another race weekend from that standpoint?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:¬† It's definitely different.¬† There seems to be a lot more commitments that weekend than any other weekend, and there's always somebody who wants a ticket or a pass or you name it, which is‑‑ it's good and bad at the same time.¬† You're glad that people care, and on the other side, you're like, I've got to work here at some point.¬† But it's fun for me personally, and it makes the success rewarding.
I think the crew guys would tell you that when we don't run well at Michigan that they probably feel it the most because I turn into a real jerk when I don't run well at Michigan because that's how important it is to me.  I want to be able to showcase to my friends and family the sacrifices that they've made for me and that I make on them, whether it's missing birthday parties or weddings or what have you, that they're meaningful, and the best way I know how to do that is to win and run well.

Q.  You talked about this a little earlier on the teleconference that your trucks are going to be driving in a different location this weekend.  How do you manage the logistics of that, when you're in one place at MIS and they're in another as far as administration, keeping tabs on driver progress and so forth?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:¬† Oh, it's a challenge.¬† It's a great question.¬† But it's a challenge.¬† I think you try to hire the best people you can and let them do their job.¬† I'm very adamant about with the truck team operations that I want to be there to manage it when I can, but when I can't, which is quite often, more often than not I should say, it's got to be self‑sustaining.¬† It can't be a distraction to my Cup effort because my No.1 goal every year is to win a Sprint Cup championship.¬† It can't be a distraction to that.
Because of that, it means I rely on great people.¬† We have a good team over there.¬† I got Jeremy Thompson, who manages it for me who came from the now‑defunct Red Bull team.¬† He's been a home run for me personally.¬† I get a little bit of help from my sister who helps kind of manage and spy on the team for me a little bit sometimes it feels like and lets me know how things are there.¬† But I feel like I rely on great people and they've done a good job so far.

Q.  What kind of venture is that for you personally, caring about and making the investment in your Sprint Cup progress and overseeing another entity?  There's got to be a balance there for you somehow.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:¬† Absolutely, and we talk about it all the time.¬† I'm going to go back to something I just said to Kenny Bruce a minute or two ago.¬† One of the most rewarding things for me personally is to see that program succeed.¬† By definition success in that program could mean a lot of different things, and the first thing that comes to mind is winning races, winning championships.¬† But it's a much bigger picture than that.¬† We talked about making some lineup changes, and two or three of the lineup changes came directly from the truck team to the pit crew, over‑the‑wall crew, and that to me is probably one of the most rewarding things out there is to see someone who's 22, 23 years old, they get to start with my truck team and do a good job on it.¬† The next thing you know they're changing the right front tire on my Cup car a couple weeks later.¬† That's very rewarding for me personally and makes it all kind of make sense at the end of the day.
JENNIE LONG:  It was recently announced that your Checkered Flag Foundation will sponsor the Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan in August.  Can you talk about that and how it all came together?
BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah.  That's one of those things that comes up, and talk about doing something cool in your hometown, I'm not going to drive the truck race, but in partnership with Cooper Standard, who sponsors the truck team that I have, and Careers For Veterans, which is an initiative to find veterans a new job or a job, period, we kind of all teamed up, and we're going to sponsor the Michigan truck race and showcase the support that we all have for those different causes.  My foundation does a lot or tries to do a lot for veterans, and it seems as though there are a lot of efficiencies there in providing for that weekend, and I can't say I've ever had my name or even one of my companies or foundations' name on anything that big before.
I'm kind of thrilled about that, as well, and it's just going to be a fun event that I think showcases my personal support and passion for racing and charity at the same time.  Thanks to Cooper Standard and Careers For Veterans, as well.  They had a large part in putting it together, and I'm just glad to be in partnership with them.

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