Our weekly series of interviews continues: 12 questions with NASCAR drivers who aren't currently in the top 12 of the Sprint Cup Series. Since the Chase drivers already get plenty of publicity, we thought this would be a good way to get to know some of the non-Chase drivers a little better. This week: Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski.
What's the best race you've ever driven?
BK: Some people are going to call ‘Bullshit' on this, and that's OK, but it was actually Talladega in the Cup race when I won. Everyone wants to say Talladega is a lottery, but it's not. Talladega, in that particular race, was a constant effort to position myself in the best place.
First off, you have to know that we started in the back because we blew an engine in practice. The first wreck started in front of me – big wreck – and I missed it by driving down on the apron and swerving through traffic and wrecked cars. Then every pit stop we had, we had some kind of an issue whether it was cars pulling out in front of us or wrecking on pit road – and I missed all that.
In the middle of the race, I practiced my move that I was going to do at the end of the race and executed it. I did it in my mind, knew what I was going to do. There was another part about two-thirds of the way through the race where I got bump-drafted down the straightaway by Dale Jr. and saved the car. Then there was another big wreck at the end that I positioned myself right in front of at the right time.
Then obviously there was the four or five green laps at the end (Keselowski explained each of these laps in specific detail, but we've edited here for brevity). ... The rest is kind of history.
It took a whole series of events that were all not luck. I made the right move throughout the whole race. That's why that race is not luck. There was not 'Hey, I just ran into the back of Carl Edwards and drove to the front.' I had to get to that moment to do it. If I would have gotten with the wrong driver (to draft), I would have never made it up there.
Who is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
BK: Kurt Busch (Keselowski's teammate at Penske Racing). SBN: Are you paid to say that? Nope. I've worked with Jimmie, Tony, Jeff, Mark, Dale, Ryan, a bunch of drivers with JR Motorsports. Bobby Labonte, Scott Wimmer, Landon Cassill. I've worked with a shitload of drivers. And Kurt's the most talented.
If a new driver came to you and asked one driver he should learn from and one he shouldn't, who would those be?
BK: That's not the case. There is no one you can't learn from. There is always something to be learned, for good or for bad. There's no one you should not listen to. Naturally, you're going to listen to the guy that's running the fastest and winning races. But any driver who's made it to this level is doing something right, consistently. There are no bad drivers to learn from. Well, at least the top 35, how about that?
What's the best time for a fan to approach you for an autograph at the track?
BK: That's easy. Almost every weekend I do a souvenir hauler signing. That's what it's for. That's why I do it: So I can look the fans square in the eye and give them an opportunity. Because it's not a good time to ask me before qualifying or before the race starts. Nor is it a good idea to camp out outside the motorhome lot. That's not cool. I will dedicate time for fans that really want an autograph, every weekend at the merchandise hauler.
What's something people may not realize about you?
BK: That's easy. It starts with 1) I'm 26. A lot of people think I'm younger than that. And 2) I come from a family that was all racers and I worked in the garage to grow the knowledge base I have now.
What is the worst track on the NASCAR circuit?
BK: Any track that doesn't accommodate the fans and competitors. And there's more than one. SBN: Accomodate them how? One, with roads to get there. I think that's pretty simple. Two, with amenities. Whether that's suites or, quite simply, bathrooms.
If you were in charge of NASCAR, what's the first thing you'd change?
BK: Without hesitation, I'd get rid of the testing ban. It's ridiculous. It has a stranglehold on the sport and it's slowly getting tighter and tighter, like a python. SBN: But what about those who say testing allows the bigger teams to be dominant, because they have the resources to test all the time? No, that allows the smaller teams to have an excuse, is what it does. That's the biggest excuse I've ever heard in my life. That's ridiculous. Yes, it costs money. But if you can't figure out a way to test, you don't belong in the sport. That's just all-out honesty.
(Testing) awards teams and drivers who are willing to work hard and put effort in it. At the same time, it puts on a better show because it allows Goodyear to develop the tires. We consistently fall further and further behind as we eliminate the rewards for working hard in the sport – which are gone. There's no reward for working hard. We hurt competition, because we can't develop the tires.
And we hurt the ability for young talent to come into the sport. It's like telling a new golfer, ‘Once you come on the PGA Tour, you're not allowed to golf anywhere except when a tournament comes.' That's absolutely ridiculous. It's crazy. It's the stupidest rule I think I've ever heard in my life.
Which driver do you most admire outside of NASCAR?
BK: Any two-wheel driver. Motorcycle drivers. I think they have a combination of skills, athleticism and just plain-out balls that is unparalleled in other forms of motorsports.
How long do you see your career lasting?
BK: Twenty-five years from now. SBN: So about Mark Martin's age? No, Mark Martin's going to be driving until he's 82. I'm not driving that long. SBN: OK, well how about Mark Martin's current age? Mark Martin's current age, there you go.
What's the first thing you do when you get home from a race weekend?
BK: Turn on my computer. Look up the points, look up any highlights, see if anyone said anything of note. See if somebody got suspended, got in trouble, got in a fight, a points fine.
Who will win the Sprint Cup in 2015?
BK: That's a long-ass ways away, man. Wow. Five years? (pauses for 20 seconds). Five years... (pauses for 10 more seconds). I really don't have a good answer for that. I just can't even envision the sport five years from now. I really have no feel for where it's going. I don't have a good idea.
Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?
BK: That's easy. Great driver. If you want to be a great person, join the Peace Corps. Don't come to racing to be a great person. That's ridiculous. If you want to be a great person, do something for your country or your fellow man. How are you a great person as a race car driver? You're an entertainer! That's ridiculous. Be a great person on your own time – and you don't have to be known for it.