Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. In his latest edition, he talks about the team's short-track strength as it continues to work on finding speed to contend at the Cup Series level. Among the other highlights: the one change he'd make to the new Cup car, what he gains from running in the Nationwide Series and the best Mother's Day gift he's ever given.
Tell us about your Cup day at Richmond. You had a strong qualifying run, but it seemed like you struggled during the race before a late surge to 14th.
You're right. Richmond is a track where I have a lot of fun as a driver, and we had a great qualifying run (sixth) -- the best one I've had at Penske Racing. That was a good shot in the arm; it builds a lot of confidence in the team, because we haven't been qualifying that well.
But then, we started out on the worst race we've ever run as far as performance goes. We fell to the end of the pack, and the whole group of Penske cars didn't really have the speed we were looking for in the race. In the end, though, we executed very well as a team. We clicked, and were able to take a car that was probably not a top-20 car and get a 14th-place finish out of it.
That's what it takes to be successful in Cup Series racing. You've got to get better finishes than what you have for speed. We were able to do that at the end, and for that I'm really proud of my team. It took great pit stops and great race strategy to do that. We got a solid finish out of what could have been a 20th-place or worse day, but we still need to find speed.
Three of your four top-15 finishes have come on short tracks this season. Any reason why those particular tracks are favoring the No. 12 team?
I think my driving style allows me to play off them a little more because the pack doesn't get spread out. There's less that I can control on a mile-and-a-half track because the pack spreads out so much. In short-track races I can take advantage of positioning and make something out of it, so it really caters to my strengths.
When you're in a situation like that, what's more rewarding? Getting a better finish based on strategy or raw speed?
It's more rewarding to take a car and finish better than what you had for speed, than if you had a first-place car and finished fifth with it. That's way more demoralizing than having a 15th-place car and finishing 10th. You kind of feel like you stole something.
So that's been the mentality that we've had. We're getting better finishes than what we're running speed-wise. We just need to continue to work on finding more speed.
You were one of several cars that benefited from a wave around on Saturday night that put 22 cars back on the lead lap in one fell swoop. Is that too many, and do you think NASCAR should make adjustments to the way cars can earn their laps back?
It is very easy to get your lap back. You're absolutely right. But it came back full circle, and most of those cars went back a lap down. In the end, it didn't really make a difference, so to me it's no harm, no foul.
So if you were in Kyle Busch's position, as the leader, you wouldn't be upset?
Well if I'm Kyle, the only thought I'd have is that you still have to beat them, but obviously you're much faster because you lapped them. So you know you're going to be all right from that standpoint. The only time it really bites you is if you were going to get a flat tire, or some situation like that happens and you lose one lap. Now, you're racing all these cars that should be a lap down, that you shouldn't have to be racing ... that's really the only time that becomes relevant. Other than that, it's really not a big deal if you're the leader. It doesn't affect your race.
You've now had a month under your belt with this new rear spoiler. What's the biggest challenge you've had in making the adjustment? And now that we've got that under our belt, what's the next step in making these cars handle better?
The rear spoiler has been smooth sailing. I haven't seen any real issues, other than trying to get enough speed with it. There haven't been any issues that made me think this rear spoiler is really throwing us off guard.
As for the next step, I'd get rid of the splitter. It creates a very sensitive race car, and it makes them extremely grip- and weather-sensitive. It doesn't improve the quality of racing and it doesn't look good. It makes the cars less drivable, but not driver-sensitive. What that means is the splitter makes the car sensitive to small changes in weather and setup, so if the weather gets hotter, then your front end load changes. If you don't seal the splitter, you lose your front downforce, and the car changes its handling drastically. That changes the quality of racing very rapidly, and there's nothing you can do.
So, I'm not a big fan of it. The change to the spoiler signals an acceptance of how good the old car looked, but I'm still a fan of the new car from a safety standpoint. We need to incorporate the look and feel of the old car with the safety of the new car. We're making steps and large gains with the spoiler; the next step to me is getting rid of the splitter.
TV ratings have been a big story for NASCAR this year, with the number for men 18-34 down as much at 16 percent, even at Talladega. How do you think NASCAR can do a better job of reaching out to fans in your generation?
Well, I think showing personality goes a long way. Getting rid of the cookie-cutter, politically-correct answers all the time is the best thing we can do. I fall within that demographic, so I feel like I have a good answer for that.
Over on the Nationwide side, you've won two straight races to give you the points lead. How does a consistent run of solid finishes there help you on the Cup side, and how much information can you transfer nowadays between the two programs?
Well, there's no tangible advantage driving the Nationwide car of, "Hey, I know the track better or I know what the cars are going to do better." The advantage that comes from it, for me, is being with Penske Racing and being able to walk in the shop as a winner. To say, "Hey, I won this week, I might not have won on the Cup side, but I won this week, and to be able to energize my team for Cup." To energize the shop, and to get that confidence, get that smile -- to get a phone call from Roger (Penske) and have him be excited about the program, that excitement carries over to the Cup side. It's invaluable.
There's been big environmental news the last couple of weeks with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico just weeks after a bill allowed for an expansion of drilling. How do you feel about drilling in and around U.S. soil, especially when these types of accidents happen?
Accidents are going to happen, no matter what you do. It's human nature. That doesn't make them excusable, but I feel like they happen. We'll have to look and see what we can do to prevent them in the future, and we need to contain whatever damage there's been.
Did you ever find a sponsor for your Camping World Ram team? Any update on that situation? - @RCrews12
I'm working on it. It's a never-ending process. It means a lot to me to have my own team, to get to do those things. But obviously, you have to be able to afford to do it. And I can't afford to do it off of the money I make driving. So it takes sponsors, and at this time it's something I have a conversation about once a week [to try to get it going].
I'm still planning on running three to four races, and trying to get additional sponsorship for up-and-coming drivers to put in the seat.
Angelina Jolie. SPIN HER. I'm not a huge fan. She sounds like a nice person, but there seems to be a lot of weirdness associated with her.
Tila Tequila. WIN HER. She gets brownie points right away in my book for having to go through what she went through with Shawne Merriman.
Today's Topic: Mother's Day
RING ME UP: I never really did anything super exciting for Mother's Day. When I was growing up, Mother's Day consisted of me, my brother and my dad basically asking my mom what she would like us to do that day. So whether it was running errands, cleaning up the yard for her, staining the deck, painting the house, that was Mother's Day.
I'm working on getting my mom up on stage for Darlington Saturday night [the track does a special tribute for racing moms.] If that goes through, it's the nicest thing I've ever done for her.
I LOST THE NUMBER: The yard work stuff was not a lot of fun. Sometimes, it was kind of boring. But you know, growing up in a racing family, it was very rare to have a Sunday off, and it was very rare to spend time at home and to be able to take care of things. So the only way to really get energetic about something like that was to make it like a Mother's Day gift. My mom appreciated it more so than I think most people would because of that.
Take us around a lap at Darlington.
Darlington is one of the coolest race tracks ever built. You start off going into turn 1, the cars transition into the corner very, very narrow. We're talking like two lanes narrow at 200 miles an hour. You drive right down to the bottom and actually clip the apron, which is a fairly large transition. It feels like it's going to shoot you up the track three to four lanes, which would be fine at most places, but Darlington's only a lane-and-a-half to two lanes wide in the corner. So it starts to shoot you up, and right as you get to the wall the car stabilizes and you have that sensation of, "Oh, I made it." You're driving right up against the wall, and then you're back in the gas because you have to carry a lot of speed in the center of the corner.
You can't see the corner exit in front of you. All you can see is the wall, so you're following that, and at the last minute you see the exit of the corner. You have to time it just right because if you're off on your timing and turn down too early, you'll clip the apron and hit the outside wall. If you're off on your timing and don't turn down soon enough, you'll push up into the outside wall. It's like driving through a toll booth at 180 miles an hour, just a very small error window.
So you get through turn 2, head down the backstretch, which is the fastest part of the track, enter turn 3 at 205 mph in qualifying trim, which is very, very fast. However, turn 3 requires braking where turn 1 does not. So you brake into turn 3, again the car slides up right to the top of the racetrack -- not quite as aggressively as turns 1 and 2 but still, you're holding on. You get on up on the throttle off of turn 4 and, because the track is egg-shaped, turn 4 is a little tighter on exit. So you kind of spin the tires on the exit of 4, and you have to really feather the throttle coming off the turn. That's why you see so many spinouts off of turn 4. You carry that speed down the front stretch to the start/finish line.
A lot of drivers seem to have a love-hate relationship with Darlington because of the unique challenge it gives them. On what side of that coin do you fall?
I've always loved Darlington. I love tracks that are in your face, that come right at you. You know they're big, they're bad, they're mean. You know what you've got coming into them ... so I like it.