Brad Keselowski has agreed to do a diary with SI.com this season. In his first edition, the new full-time Cup driver details the tough decision to move from his longtime home with Hendrick-supported equipment to Roger Penske. He also details what teams need to do to close the gap on his former employer, breaks down the Super Bowl, and gives us an inside tip on the coolest car coming out on the market this fall.
Last season, you chose to leave the most successful team in the sport (Hendrick Motorsports) for an opportunity at Penske Racing. Why make the switch?
Well, there were a lot of reasons. I can tell you it has been the hardest decision of my life to make. I'm not married. I haven't had kids. I haven't had any of those hard issues to tackle yet, but it was an incredibly challenging decision for me. I spent a year making it.
I had the option to go to Penske in July 2008, but it wasn't the right time. At that time, I felt like I had a pretty good home with JR Motorsports and with the HMS guys. But things change, people change, plans change. The catalyst for my change was obviously Mark [Martin] winning Phoenix. Mark won there in April, and then he wanted to come back [full-time in 2011]. He wanted to keep doing this.
So, I was left with an uncertain timetable of where my career was going to go. At that moment, I didn't know I was going to win Talladega the next week [in the Cup Series] ... but that just happened to be the next race. So we went to Talladega and I won the race [in James Finch's No. 09 car]. All of a sudden, not only do I not know what my future holds at HMS, but I'm even more of a hotter commodity around the garage area.
I gained a lot of confidence from that win, and that moment I knew I could do this. I felt that there were sponsors that wanted me, teams that wanted me enough where I had some hard decisions to make.
Was it really impressive to you that Penske kept coming around -- even after you said no the first time?
Of course. Anytime you feel wanted, it makes you think about something twice and say, "Huh. This must be really serious." And Mr. Penske did a great job of making me feel wanted. When Roger Penske wants to talk to you about being a part of his team, you don't blow him off. That carried a lot of weight in the decision.
But I still gave Hendrick Motorsports every fair opportunity I could to put something together. That took some time, but it became apparent it just wasn't going to work out. The options that were available just didn't stand out to me.
That was hard to go through that time period, trying to decide what to do. On the Cup side, every team I was looking at was really in the same situation. They were all certainly running behind the Hendrick cars. All options were going to go through some sort of transition in the offseason; so I really valued all the Cup teams, the ones that were open, rather equally. And I probably talked to at least six teams. Almost every car owner. It's kind of funny how that worked out ...
Meanwhile, Mr. Penske let it be known he was still very interested. But I made it clear to him, if things didn't work out at Hendrick I was going to go somewhere that had a Nationwide program.
So it was the chance to run Nationwide [NASCAR's equivalent to AAA baseball] full-time that made the difference for you?
Right. It was really, really important for me for a lot of different reasons. Penske didn't have a program for me at the time; he had Justin [Allgaier]'s program, which he was committed in running Justin in this year -- and that was it. So, about the same time it became evident HMS wasn't going to be able to put anything together, it also became evident through Mr. Penske that he could run a second Nationwide team. About that time period, Discount Tire called up without my knowledge and said, 'Hey, we hear you're talking to Brad. We want to sponsor him and be part of his Nationwide deal next year wherever he goes. Are you going to hire him?'
So, that drove that deal, helped put it together. And that made me feel good, made me feel like I was wanted by more than just Mr. Penske. I was wanted by the sponsors, too.
So when I made the decision to go to Penske, to drive their cars, which I guess would have been right after Michigan, I literally flew right down to headquarters and met all their people the next day. And they were excited. So...
Why do you want to run both series so badly?
Well to me, it's important for the future of the company, from the standpoint of adding a bigger sponsor pool they can work with. It just adds depth in so many areas, from money to personnel. It just adds so much depth to the company.
There's also my end of it, too, which is extra track time and being able to have a shot at giving Mr. Penske his first NASCAR championship. Which, realistically, your shot at doing that on the Nationwide side is much bigger than on the Cup side. That would mean a lot to me, and I feel like I do have that opportunity here.
You said last fall, "Because we're different, we're going to have our natural differences. We're going to have to work together, and it can't be on one end. It can't be where I change and adapt to them, and it can't be where they adapt to me. We have to be in the middle and work together that way." Explain that to the average fan, and tell us where you are on that "road to compromise?"
It has definitely been a two-way street. When I first met with Mr. Penske and told him I wanted to drive the Nationwide car, his reaction was pretty much "no way." He was not interested in it. And over time, he saw how important it was to me, and realized this was something that needed to be pursued if I was going to be part of the team. As I was becoming more successful, I think he started to see the value of it and see why it was important.
There's some things he does -- whether structuring the company or wearing black slacks with dress shirts every day -- that I'm not accustomed to, but it's all about buying into the team aspect. Each of these things are important to each of us, and we both view it as a pattern to our previous successes.
Did Roger hire the 100 people you asked him to hire last fall?
[Laughs] You know, I should have never put a number on it. That was not the most intelligent thing I've ever done. But he's hired a lot of people. If I had to guess, I'd say 30-40, which is a good start. And that's not even the engine side. I'm not sure how many people have been added on the engine side. It might be more than 40. It might be in the 50s. And that's part of compromise, too. If I'd said 50, then he might have only brought in 25. So I guess there's a little bit of car salesman in me, but our group is very solid and I'm happy where we are.
What's the number one thing you guys still need to do to close the gap on Hendrick this season?
People are important. We've made huge strides with people by adding more, building more depth to the company. The Nationwide program has helped that. The addition of Steve Addington and Jay Guy [as crew chiefs] has been big. The more time I have with the company, the more I believe in chemistry and the power we have as a group.
I've been using the "drink the Kool-aid" phrase a lot. What that means is, as a group, we have to all believe in each other. We all have to put out 100 percent in our own respective areas. That could mean me as a driver, the pit crew, Jay making calls or the engine shop building engines ... we all need to put out 100 percent, and we all need to believe in each other, and feel like we're a part of something big here.
When that happens is when we'll start firing on all cylinders, and you'll start to see that extra little bit of effort that it takes to go from a good team to an elite team.
Tell us a little bit about the Christmas card you sent rival Denny Hamlin this offseason.
Well, somebody in the media -- I can't remember who -- wrote something that we won't be exchanging Christmas cards. I'm not a good guy to tell I won't do something. That just spurred me on even more to do it. So, I don't know. I felt like it was cool. It was a goodwill gesture. At the same time, Joey Meier -- who's my spotter -- told me I should do something and kind of bury the hatchet. I thought that might not be a bad idea. But if you know me, I can't just bury the hatchet. I've got to have some fun with it.
So I thought that was a fun way of being nice. Whether or not he took it as being nice or as being an antagonist, it's up to his own interpretation. I think people that know me very well -- and that's not a lot -- they'll tell you I do things to people just to get a reaction out of them. Good or bad ... that's just my personality because I like to see how people react to things.
As for which way Denny takes it, it's a good sign to me of what he's like and what he's made of. Whether he's really having fun with this rivalry -- which I think he might be -- or whether he's not. If he takes it negatively... it's just a good test of character either way.
Well, what type of guy are you when it comes to holding grudges? Will you forget about 2009 or are you the type to remember bad things that happened?
I believe in what JFK once said: "Forgive, but never forget."
What that means to me is that I don't spend my life or my driving career looking over my shoulder or with a chip on it. But that doesn't mean that when the situation presents itself, I won't remember what happened in the past.
If there was one thing you wanted fans to know about you, what would it be?
Well, a lot of fans think I'm younger than I am. It doesn't bother me, but it's kind of weird. I am 25, almost 26 -- not 18! That surprises a lot of people. I don't know why ...
Break down the Super Bowl for us. Who do you think is going to win, and why?
It's going to be a really close game, one of the best Super Bowls ever. I like both teams, really don't have a favorite of the two. I think the Saints have a little better defense than people give them credit for.. They're versatile and have some depth. So I think I'm going to say the Saints. If Kurt Warner couldn't beat them and Brett Favre couldn't beat them, I don't see why Peyton Manning will be able to do it.
Want advice from your favorite driver? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and one lucky fan will appear in the diary next week!
Today's Topic: The Grammys
Taylor Swift -- SPIN HER. Taylor's cool, I'm just not that into her music. She's attractive, and it seems like she's got a great attitude ... but she's got a little too much hype around her. She's just not humble enough for me.
Pink -- WIN HER. I like Pink's music a lot. I thought her Grammy's performance was awesome. She's a little edgier, she's not afraid to show more of who she is. I like the fact she's comfortable in her own skin. She's a winner.
Today's Topic: Cars
RING ME UP: I was at the Chrysler Tech Center this week, and they took me behind the scenes to see the new top secret cars they're unveiling in the fall. Let me tell you, the Chrysler 300 C was amazing. Look out for that car. I thought that was pretty cool.
I LOST THE NUMBER: Toyota. I just can't stand any car that the throttle hangs on.
Take us around a lap at Daytona.
We'll start at the start/finish line, in the tri-oval. The tri-oval is actually one of the trickiest corners on the track, because it doesn't induce load into the car like the other corners do. The others induce a downward load, but the tri-oval creates a lateral load. During the process of going through that corner, the car wants to lean over on the right-side tires, pick up the left-side tires, and it doesn't seal the splitter on a Cup car or the valence on a Nationwide car. Because of that, the car doesn't have as much downforce going through there as it does anywhere else.
So you have less grip going through this corner, and it's actually fairly narrow. It can be tricky, even by itself. Then you go through the short chute into Turn 1. The Turn 1 tunnel goes underneath the race track; so it's extremely rough, extremely bumpy, which really hurts your entry. You lose your rhythm and actually lose vision for a quick second going into Turn 1 because it bounces you around very quickly. It's kind of hard to predict where your car's going to land when it stops bouncing.
As you enter Turn 1, your body loads up pretty severely and it's in a longitudinal G -- a Z axis G, I think they call it, where your body just loads downward. It feels like the fighter pilot load. . .it's very aggressive, very rough, and the track's bouncing you up and down. Usually, you're going to run the bottom of the race track unless your handling makes you move around. And as your car is loading up, it's very hard to get yourself to stay committed to wide open on the throttle. You're moving around a lot, and you just don't have a lot of confidence in your car.
So you go through Turns 1 and 2; very rough, very bumpy. You get to the exit of 2, which flattens you out very quickly. It shoots you up the race track, so it's kind of a funky feeling, and unloads that load you're feeling in your body on the backstretch. It's a really long straightaway with a small speed variation based on wind. Daytona can be very windy, so it makes it hard to hold the car straight.
Turn 3 has a very aggressive transition on entry. The car tends to get loose and then it settles in pretty quickly. The entry to the early part of the corner is smooth, and then you pick up some bumps at the center and off.
The exit of Turn 4 is extremely rough. It's hard to get a grip of, and that takes you over the tunnel -- which is just on the exit of Turn 4 -- and that tunnel moves you around a bit more than you were over the bump. There's a little less grip right there. You get onto the front straightaway... and back to the tri-oval.