Brad Keselowski aiming to finally win the Daytona 500
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on today's teleconference in advance of the start of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. We're now joined by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang for Team Penske.
Brad, thanks for spending time with us this afternoon.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. Appreciate all the media.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, with one win at the Daytona International Speedway in 2016 and the Coke Zero 400, what would a Daytona 500 win mean for you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's something I thought a lot about. There's a couple thoughts on my mind. Before last season I had never really won a major NASCAR race. I won the championship, done a lot of those things, which is certainly great. I hadn't won a major. Last year after winning Darlington and Indianapolis, gosh, the thrill from that. I'm still kind of on a high from that. That was almost six months ago.
But Daytona is, of course, the 500, one major I don't have. I feel like it's a race we've been competitive at. We had opportunities to win it. For a number of reasons, it hasn't come together, which is sometimes unsettling. People ask me all the time, What race is the one that got away? It's the 500, has been so far. I want to change that.
We have a great opportunity to do that this year. We have a rules package we're pretty familiar with. The Ford Mustang has now come out. We had our pre-season testing in Las Vegas. It looks like it's going to be a killer car. We're really excited about that.
I feel like the car is there, the team is there, I'm there. We're all ready to win this race. Hopefully the time is now this year in 2019.
THE MODERATOR: We're certainly wishing you the best.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up to the media for questions.
Q: It's so hard to define to people how difficult, luck aside, it is to win the Daytona 500. Can you describe how difficult it is to pull off a win in that race. Obviously you have to have a lot of talent, but put in perspective how hard it is not only to survive but to win that one.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you hit the right word, the survival part. That's been the hardest part for me. I feel we've been good enough to win it multiple times. We get caught up in somebody else's wreck or problem. I think you see that a lot.
Besides the luck factor, first things first, you got to be running at the end of that race. For whatever reason, I think maybe because it's the first race of the year, maybe because it's one of the biggest races of the year, I'm not entirely sure, but the Daytona 500 has traditionally been a race of very high attrition. Getting to the end has been very difficult for us.
It's probably kept us from winning it at least once or twice because, like I said earlier, I think we've had the car to do it. I think that's a big part of why it's so hard to win, the attrition factor, just surviving it to begin with.
Again, of course, it is a difficult racetrack. This time of year, Florida is a lot hotter than most parts of North America, but this time of year it seems to be one of those racetracks that you practice and you qualify, then the race day, for whatever reason, the track temp goes way up, the cars slide around a lot more, chaos ensues. Trying to survive to the end for me is the biggest part.
The races we have survived till the end, we have ran really well and been in a position to win. Hopefully that's the case for us this year. I feel confident if I can be there at the end, we can win the race.
Q: Is it smarts, courage, too? Is that the element, or mostly luck because you're all good?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, not entirely sure which one it is. It takes a little bit of both. There's definitely some courage in the moves you need to make. There's some smarts, as well.
I feel like the Daytona 500 is one of those races, a lot of restrictor plate races are this way in my mind, one of those races where one year it takes smarts and great execution, and one year it takes a lot of luck. It seems to rotate back and forth.
I went back and watched a lot of film. Joey Logano won the race two or three years ago, 2015, and same thing with Denny Hamlin. They made smart and courageous moves to win the race. They really, really earned it.
Then I've seen other races, not to pick on anybody, where I would say that's not the case. Someone was lucky enough to be running at the end of the day. The 500 kind of fell into their laps. That can be really frustrating when you feel like you've done everything right, the luck side is not in your favor.
You got to get back up on the horse and ride. I feel like a number of the opportunities we've had to win fell through our hands and there's nothing we could have done differently. We go back there, we keep our hope, we do all the right things and control all the things we can control, know that will give us our best chance of winning.
Q: Knowing that it's taken so long for some really big names to win this race, Tony Stewart never won it, Dale Earnhardt, took him 20 dries, you haven't won it, Kyle Busch, any reason for that that you can name, why it takes especially guys who are really talented plate drivers that long to win this race? Does it give you any solace to know you're not alone?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think it's an acute observation, one that's not lost on me. I think the moves that should work and normally would work on plate tracks don't work on the 500 because of kind of the chaos of that race. It's almost like you need a different playbook for the 500 than you do a normal plate race. I know that's kind of hard to explain.
Kind of reminds me, I love the military, things of that nature, I was reading this handbook, military handbook, on how to handle different things. All kinds of different game plans, strategies for attacks. One of the things in the back of the book is, Remember, everything here is for normally trained soldiers going up against another normally trained soldier. There's no way to prepare for a kamikaze, no way to train for somebody that does crazy shit.
I read that book and I laughed because that's a lot how the 500 is. Moves that should work don't work because for whatever reason that race gets people amped up, crazy, and they do weird things. Your normal playbook, a lot of times it doesn't work for the 500. It's part of the randomness of the race.
The way racing is, especially plate racing, a lot of your success is dictated by others specific to getting crashed out. It makes it very difficult, especially for me and probably drivers like Kyle would probably say the same thing. It makes it very difficult for us because we've built a playbook of things we feel good about and we know are the right moves, they've worked for us on the other plate tracks, and they don't work at the 500 because of the randomness of that race. It's frustrating.
But, yeah, I do take some solace in that. I'm hopeful we can just break through that.
Q: Even though it's the biggest race of the year, do you almost have to not overthink it, not prepare less but not overprepare?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, you just don't know what kind of race it's going to be. If it's a race like 2015 and 2016, you want to be as prepared as possible. You better make the right move at the exact right moment with the right amount of smarts, courageousness.
If it's a race like we saw in '17 and '18, probably the worst thing you can do is be prepared for it because then you have preconceptions of moves that should work and they don't because the race is so random, it actually gets you in more trouble.
It's a very, very difficult race to prepare for.
Q: I saw you were tweeting the other day about your tweet during the 2012 race. What are your memories of that night? Some people say it's the most famous tweet in NASCAR history. Can you claim that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: If you're going by the amount of retweets and favorites, it's probably not. I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. has that one easily, whether winning the 500 or making a mayo sandwich.
It certainly was a special night. I didn't win the race that night which would have made it even cooler. A lot went down. I think that was really my first taste of realizing how powerful social media could be. I'm thrilled to death that it brought a lot of the social media following to the sport. That wasn't my intent. My intent was just to kill some time, have a little bit of fun. I sure am glad that other people thought it was as much fun and as cool as I did.
It's part of the passion that I think a lot of people share for the sport and still do share for the sport.
Q: When you go into the Daytona 500, as somebody that is widely considered the best, if not, restrictor plate racer, does not winning make you more frustrated or do you feel like it's going to come because you have to have that confidence in yourself?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm definitely very frustrated. There's no doubt about it. But on the other side I'm confident if we keep doing the right things, not to sound too cliché, but trust the process, it will come together. That means you put the work in, you follow the playbook the best you know how, that we developed, try to make it count.
It's easy to get discouraged, and of course, frustrated. I do get discouraged and frustrated by that particular race because we haven't had the outcome that I feel like we're capable of or even sometimes that we've deserved.
With that in mind, that's the past. Just like if we had won the race before, it wouldn't mean nothing for this race. Because we lost the race before doesn't mean anything to me for this race. We have to move past that, embrace the opportunity in front of us, and that's where my head is at.
Q: What are your thoughts, kind of your approach, to pole qualifying? It's still a very special part of the sport in terms of it being a separate weekend in setting the front row. What is your approach and the team's approach? Chevrolet has done that a lot in recent times.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's a big deal to me, it's a really big deal to me for a number of reasons. One, it goes back to the legacy, the history of the sport. They used to do qualifying in NASCAR over multiple days, all that good stuff. My dad and uncle who were part of those big races would tell the stories, I'd listen to them, about how big a deal it was to qualify on Pole Day at some of these events. It wasn't just Daytona, it was a lot of tracks that would do multiple days, qualifying races, whatnot. It's a big deal for a lot of reasons.
It's something that any time we can honor the tradition of the sport, that's becoming more and more important to me as I get older. I guess it's one of the things you learn when you get older. I think it's great.
Probably one of the things that stands out to me, it's one of the few accomplishments in all of motorsports that Roger Penske doesn't have, being on the front row for the Daytona 500, at least the pole. Boy, would we like to change it. I know it's high up on his list as something he wants to cross off. We put a lot of thought into it. I've tried to put a lot of emphasis on it.
I told all of our guys that I would give them all the money if we won the pole. They're pretty excited about that. That's been kind of neat to see their faces light up. But hopefully we can get it done.
Q: With Daytona being really the (indiscernible) restrictor plate race for the NASCAR schedule, how much effort has the team put effort into Daytona? Have they put more effort into Talladega and the summer race in July?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's on a case-by-case basis. Some days you're going to put more effort in for others just by the way the season flows, your development, your cycle flows for your team.
I would say this year, as much as any, we're putting a lot of effort into Daytona because we have a new car with the Ford Mustang. We want to get it right. It needs all the development time it can have. It's part of where we're at in the cycle.
It's certainly the race I would think of as being the most prepared for just by the nature of it being the first race of the season. It reminds me a little bit like when I was in school, the first day of school. The night before I would kind of lay out all my clothes, have my backpack packed, pencils, notebooks, whatever it might be. Of course, you get a little bit later in the school year, you're getting dressed the morning of, you're barely finding your clothes, your backpack is a mess, all that kind of stuff.
That's probably the best way I know how to explain the Daytona 500, it has a lot of that first-day-of-school feel, everybody is super prepared, sometimes a little too anxious as well.
Q: With the test last week in Las Vegas, are teams giving it their all or playing cat and mouse, I don't want to show my hand?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Shoot, hard to speak for everyone. I could speak for myself. I know I gave it my all. We learned a bunch of stuff. I know it's hard to learn when you don't give it your all. When you're playing half-assed, you're going to get half-assed results come game time. You have to practice. I know we did.
I guess I can't speak for everyone else. I thought we had a really fantastic test. I'm feeling pretty confident that we're going to be able to head to Vegas, Atlanta here in a few weeks after the 500, be pretty strong.
Q: A lot of people don't know about this, you have started a manufacturing company down in South Carolina. Can you explain as a racecar driver how this is going to benefit you in some ways.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm looking at different machines and things. I think it's a great way for me to relate to motorsports in a lot of different ways. They don't let me touch the cars at Team Penske, which is probably a good thing.
I think a lot of my experiences in motorsports has been that as a racecar driver I'm kind of at the top of the feedback loop. I give the team the feedback they need to make the racecars the best they possibly can be, then they go back and they reengineer them, rebuild them, remanufacture them, et cetera, et cetera, then we go race again. That's kind of the weekly cycle of motorsports.
At the end of the year or sometimes the middle of the year, NASCAR makes a bunch of rules changes, you go back through the cycle again.
With that in mind, understanding the technology I think is good for me, both engineering and the manufacturing side. Helps me provide critical data and feedback to the team in how they can be the best possible.
That's something I really enjoy being a part of. It makes me feel even more ingrained in the teamwork or the fiber of the team that's required to be successful at the highest level of motorsports.
Q: Because you have this company now, it will explode in front of your face to do a greater thing, don't think about retirement because your name is too important to NASCAR to retire.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you. I'm not. I certainly have a really big goal in front of us, and I can tell you I'm a long ways from thinking about retirement. I want to win more championships and of course the immediate goal in front of us, the Daytona 500.
Q: What are your thoughts overall on NASCAR's new rules package?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I had a test in Las Vegas last Friday, and it went really well. I think I made a concerted effort to not think so much about the rules package and be more selfish in 2019.
With that in mind, we were really, really fast at the test. I think we're going to be really, really good this season. I got both thumbs up and head down ready to go race.
Q: Do you see conflicting feelings among different drivers, though?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, yeah, there's a lot of opinions. Like anything else in racing, you're going to have, of 40 some drivers, you're going to have 25, 30 different opinions on any topic, some more aligned than others. This one seems to be as polarizing as any topic I can recall.
The rules are set for 2019. It's up to myself and my team to make the most of them.
Q: How do you explain to a fan what the difference is with the things they have changed?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The cars are definitely a little bit faster in the middle of the corner. You're pulling a little bit more g-forces, which is kind of fun. I kind of like that. Then they're quite a bit slower down the straightaway. The top speed is less but the average speed is not quite as less. It's definitely a shift. You're on the gas pedal a lot more than you were before, and not using hardly any brakes at a lot of these bigger tracks.
That's just part of it. We'll have to adjust to it.
Q: Do you think it's going to take a long adjustment period to adapt and feel out what's going to work and what's not?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I expect the industry to be caught up by the time we get to Kansas, late April, early May. We'll see it settle in what's it's going to be about that time period.
Q: How important is the car's number to a driver?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I know it's important to a lot of my fans who got tattoos of it. To me specifically, it's not super important to me. I like the number 2, it's a good number. If I had my pick, it would be 19 or 29 because of my family's name and legacy, always been those two numbers. There was a time period where it was 88, real cool when I had the opportunity to run that.
For me, I'm glad to hold the heritage and legacy of the 2 car for Roger Penske. I think it means a lot to the team, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you again for your time today, Brad. The Daytona 500 takes place on Sunday, February 17th, at 2:30 p.m. eastern time on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR radio.
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