Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Brad Keselowski, who drives for Penske Racing in both the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series, where he won last year's championship. We spoke with Keselowski at Sonoma, where he finished 10th.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
Penske Racing crewman standing nearby: Him.
BK: Oh, look at that. He's got a bonus and he doesn't even know it yet. Hmm...underrated. Is it wrong that I've read your posts before?
SBN: Nah. Some of the drivers' PR reps ask for the questions beforehand so they can prepare, so you're good.
BK: Well, because (someone) answered Matt Kenseth and I have to agree. It was one of those where I read it and I thought, 'You know what? He's right.'
He's won a Cup championship, he's won a Daytona 500, he's won a fair amount of races. Done some cool stuff. He doesn't really have the outgoing (fan base) like how Boris Said has the 'Said Heads.' I think he's the most under-hyped driver in NASCAR.
SBN: What's the one race that bugs you the most because you didn't win it but feel like you should have?
BK: Man, the mood I'm in right now, I really don't have an answer. Because I'm looking forward, and I find when you let that stuff eat at you, it kills your ability to move forward. So I honestly cannot answer with any race. I don't even have them in my memory, I really don't.
I could look at last week (at Michigan) and say, 'Ah, I messed up a little bit here or a little bit there,' but I can't say it was a race I was going to win. And I really don't lose any sleep over races I feel like I should have won.
I know there's been a few – I'd say a lot more on the Nationwide side – but I don't keep them in my memory bank, because I feel like it's bad for me.
SBN: How fast do they go out of your memory?
BK: It takes about a week, I'd say. Yeah.
SBN: If you could form your own four-car Sprint Cup Series team – you and three other guys – who would you want on your team? And you can't pick Kurt Busch or anyone you're currently affiliated with.
BK: I don't see how you could look at Hendrick and not pick their drivers. Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) is going to bring money, popularity and attention – all those things your team needs to thrive. Jimmie (Johnson), because he's going to bring the drive, determination and focus.
This is drivers only, not crew people?
SBN: Well, this is just a fantasy question, so you can include their crews if you want.
BK: I would pick select people to run it as well. I'd definitely take Chad Knaus with Jimmie. The question is, who would be the third driver?
I'd pick Joey (Logano). I get along with him, for one. And I know that he's still growing and developing – just like me – so I think that the two of us could feed off of each other.
I'd pick crew chiefs, too. I'd keep my crew chief, Paul Wolfe. Then I'd take Brian Pattie (from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and put him with Joey. I'd stick with Stevie (Letarte) for Dale.
So I'd have all the personalities covered. I'd have a guy who is currently successful – Jimmie; I'd have a guy who runs good, brings money and sponsorship – Dale; and then have a younger guy I could feed off.
That would be the perfect scenario if I couldn't have Kurt. And that's the rules, right?
SBN: That's the rule.
SBN: What driver did you most want to model yourself after when you were growing up?
BK: Well, there wasn't one driver who I wanted to be just like. I liked Kyle Petty – I was a huge Kyle Petty fan. He had the whole cool-looking paint scheme – which fed into it – and he had the long hair and somewhat of a rebel attitude. I thought that was cool.
As far as the rest? There's some stuff off of Dale (Jr.) because he guided my career – I took some stuff from him, as far as fan interaction and so forth. And certainly how to drive a restrictor-plate track.
Definitely took some stuff from Jeff (Gordon) and Jimmie. Took some small driving things from Jeff, some professionalism things from both of them. Took some different skills from Mark (Martin).
From a passion standpoint, I took some things from Dale Sr. What I liked about him – and I think it shows up in me sometimes – is the idea that nothing is going to stop me. No matter what it is, I'm going to dig through it and I'm not going to take it. That doesn't mean I am him or ever want to pretend to be him, but that's certainly something I took from his persona.
I haven't really given you one driver and said, 'I want to be like that guy.' But there isn't one guy.
And let's be honest: There are no perfect people out there. One of the biggest pet peeves in my life is people who pretend to be perfect. Because I just don't believe it's possible. And usually it's the people who pretend to be perfect who always have the big holes, big fallacies. So I don't pretend by any means that I'm perfect or anyone I look up to is perfect, but I think I take something from a lot of different people.
SBN: So does Kyle Petty know that you were a fan of his?
BK: I think so. I'm not sure. I've never talked to him about it.
SBN: It seems like everyone tries to make a quick escape from the track to the airport after the races, so ––
BK: I don't.
SBN: You don't?
BK: Nope. I have a strict policy that I don't do that. I come to the racetrack to race, and if I'm worried about going home and how I'm getting out of here, then I'm not worried about doing my job.
I'm here to race. There are people busting their asses for me to do all this, and to make their living, and I'm going to reward them back by spending hours figuring out an exit strategy to leave the track 10 minutes early? That's absolute bullshit, and it's unfair to every guy who puts in an extra hour of work on my car. So I don't do that.
SBN: So do you get caught in traffic a lot then?
BK: No, I usually go back to my motorhome. I rewind the race in my head, find peace with it, figure out what I could do better. By the time that's all said and done, it's so late that there's really no traffic to speak of.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet but haven't met yet?
BK: See, that's a tough question, because there's some natural divides there: You've got cool people – living or not – and really hot chicks.
SBN: Well, just give us one from each category then.
BK: That's fair. If I had to pick one non-living cool person, I'd pick Abraham Lincoln. That's pretty easy. Living cool person? I'll kind of bounce around on this one. It's hard for me to pick someone who is an entertainer, because I already have that in my life. So I'd probably just say the President. And I don't pick one – like Obama or Bush – but just whoever is the President at that time.
SBN: What do you mean that you already 'have that in your life' when it comes to entertainers? Because you're in an entertainment field?
BK: Yeah, exactly. Have you ever seen the movie Comedian? It's one of my favorites. Jerry Seinfeld tells a story in there, and I'm going to tell the story real quick.
Seinfeld tells a story about this musician who is walking down the street, and it's wintertime. It's cold, snow on the ground. Empty, barren streets. And he's walking with his instrument on his back, clothes are tattered, dirty – the quintessential no-money entertainer. For every big rock star, there are 100 of these guys, you know?
So this guy is walking down the road to go find his next job somewhere. It's Christmas Day, and eventually he gets cold and hungry. He says, 'You know what? I'm going to stop. Maybe somebody will give me something to eat.' He walks by this house and up the driveway, steps in a water puddle on the way. So he's cold, wet, gotta pee, he's hungry.
He goes up to this house and he looks inside the window and there's a family gathered around the Christmas tree. A father, a mother, their two kids. They're opening presents with smiles as big as can be: 'Hee hee! It's Christmas day!'
And he stops and goes, 'Wow! Sucks to be them!' And he turns around and leaves.
That's an entertainer. That's an entertainer's life. So to me, someone who has that same life (as I have) is not really that fascinating. You know?
But if I had to pick in that category, I'd pick Jerry Seinfeld.
SBN: Well, if you did have a life, you could meet a hot chick. So who would be your selection for that category?
BK: Jennifer Love Hewitt. She's kind of getting a little past her prime, I understand that. But I always had this big crush on her when I was younger. I just wanted to meet her once.
Dale Jr. and I were talking about this exact topic once – it was an 'enjoying the sponsor' conversation. This same exact topic came up: 'Who would you want to meet?'
I said, 'Jennifer Love Hewitt,' and he said, 'Oh, I met her!' I really about punched him in the face. That was that moment.
He said, 'Yeah, I had the same crush on her.' I said, 'No fucking way, man! You're kidding, right? What'd you say!? What'd you do!?' He said, 'I didn't say a word to her.'
I'm like, 'What!? You didn't say a word? Nothing?' He said, 'Naw, man. I just won the (Nationwide) championship, I was at the banquet, and people were like, 'Hey, meet this person, meet that person.' It was one of those settings where you see someone, but you don't really meet someone. You just shake their hand and say hi.'
Once he said that, I understood why he didn't say anything to her.
That's kind of one of the worst parts about this deal. I see a lot of people, but I don't really meet a lot of people. Whether that's fans or celebrities.
SBN: That's cool Jennifer Love Hewitt was at at NASCAR banquet though.
BK: Yeah, it was in San Francisco or something. You should ask him about it sometime. Tell him, 'Brad said to ask you about Jennifer Love Hewitt in San Francisco.' He'll probably give you that look, like... (Keselowski does an Earnhardt Jr. impression by cocking his head to the right, squinting, taking off his hat and clawing at his hair). Dude, if your hair itches that bad, shave it! (Laughs hysterically)
SBN: Last year, there were two types of seasons – Jamie McMurray won some huge races but missed the Chase; Jeff Gordon didn't win any races but made the Chase and contended for the title. Which would you rather have?
SBN: You'd rather win the races.
BK: Hell yeah. They were the biggest races of the year. And at some point, this sport comes down to winning. Always has, always should, always will.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from? Personal pride? For the team? Why do you want to win so badly?
BK: The motivation, for me, isn't one thing. It's a combination of things. People ask me why I chose racing. I look at Jeff and Jimmie – two really cool dudes, right? I'd say both of them, they would have been the best at whatever they chose to do. If they wanted to be lawyers, they could have been really good lawyers. They could have been really good politicians.
I don't know if I'm necessarily that way. I got into racing because it was the thing that I could wake up in the morning and be excited to do. The excitement comes from trying to find that advantage and trying to fuel the fire and prove to myself why I'm on this planet.
Winning and being a part of that is the ultimate way of justifying that. Otherwise, you're just riding on this big rock, circulating the sun, not really doing anything.
Maybe I could have been a good lawyer. I don't know. I don't think I could have been a good ice skater or whatever.
SBN: Yikes. That wasn't a pretty picture I got just now.
BK: You're thinking figure skater. I was thinking speed skater.
SBN: Oh, OK. Glad you cleared that up.
BK: Yeah, I thought it was an important one to clear up.
Anyway, racing is what makes me get up in the morning and go, 'Fuck yeah!' Trying to work on a piece or find an advantage on something.
That's the deal, man: Finding something that gives you the passion to want to get up out of bed in the morning – and really, really want to exist. Racing has the ability to do that for me. And winning is the ultimate culmination of that feeling.
SBN: How much does your personality differ inside of the car and outside of it?
BK: I don't know. It just kind of depends on what mood I'm in; I'm a pretty moody person. My mood varies a lot, but I don't think my personality is any different inside the car than when I get out of the car.
SBN: If you could switch lives with another athlete – you could take over their whole life – who would you want to be?
BK: Tom Brady. I think that would be a good one. Played for University of Michigan, has Super Bowl rings, dated top models. He's pretty much got the life.
SBN: A lot of people hate him though.
BK: He's never done anything to be hated, other than whatever team he plays for. He's never thrown a ball at a referee or driven 200 mph, coked out of his mind – any of those things people do that should be disrespected.
SBN: Right. But some people think he's a little too perfect.
BK: Is he too perfect? Hell, he's got an illegitimate kid. Which, by the way, if there was a girl to have an illegitimate kid with, I can understand that one. It's like, 'Sorry, supermodel girlfriend! I slipped up with this hot actress who makes millions of dollars. Bad night.' (Laughs) Darn, I hope I make that mistake. Even his mistakes are the perfect mistakes!
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed – like Brian Vickers, except without the health problems – would you want to do that?
BK: Well, I don't think that's possible to begin with. It's like living in a fairy tale. Vickers got to do that in some way, but look at it now – his team is folding up and going out of business. That's an example of why it's not possible.
But let's say it was perfectly possible, perfectly feasible. I guess it depends on when you ask me. Ask me after I've won a race, then hell no. Ask me after a dry spell, then yeah. I think that answer changes based on who you are and where you're at.
I don't think I would want to, though, for no other reason than the equity you'd lose in your team.
I've said this to Roger (Penske), and I'll say it to you: I feel like I'm just now back to where I was at the end of '09 as a driver. Going through all the team switching processes was like being a college football player who switched schools and lost a whole year.
So I know that in a perfect situation, if I were to skip a year and come back to a team, it means I would lose another year. And I wouldn't want to do that.
SBN: When you retire someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you? What do you want your legacy in the sport to be?
BK: I don't know. I don't really get into that stuff. Retirement just seems like such a tragedy to me. Maybe that's youth. I don't really get into those things.
Let's say I was fortunate someday to win enough races, to win championships and be eligible to be in the Hall of Fame. Where I'm at right now in my life, I wouldn't appreciate it. So I don't know how I'd feel 30 years from now.
SBN: Sounds like you don't really enjoy looking back.
BK: No. I really don't. I don't take any joy in looking back. I don't keep any trophies in my house. The only trophy I have in my house right now – aside from my Iowa trophy, which is solely because it has a clock on it – is my (Nationwide Series) Most Popular Driver trophy. I just don't like looking back; I don't take any pleasure in it.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship. Would you rather have it clinched after Phoenix, or would you rather win it on Turn 4 at Homestead on the last lap of the season?
BK: I'd want to have that thing clinched three weeks ahead of time. Every racetrack we'd go to, we'd have a party. And it'd be awesome. We'd stay out late on Saturday night before the race and go, 'Eh, what's the worst that could happen tomorrow?' We'd have a big celebration in each town.
Screw the drama, man. I can find drama. That ain't hard to find. I could hang out with Tom Brady and maybe one of his girlfriends.