Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. In this latest edition, he talks about building momentum after two top-15 finishes, speaks on the controversy of Cup Series guys double-dipping in the Nationwide Series, and offers his suggestion to fix the sport's ailing Rookie of the Year program. Plus: what he'll never forget Dale Earnhardt, Jr. told him about dealing with NASCAR's rabid fan base.
Talk to us about your Cup race at Martinsville on March 29th. Back-to-back top-15 finishes must have you feeling pretty good.
Yeah, the Cup side's going well. We were probably about a 12th-place car at Martinsville, and that's where we finished. I thought we were going to get more on that last restart. We were actually running about eighth or ninth when the last yellow came out, and then got put back to 10th and got the wrong line on the restart.
The wrong line shuffled me back to 12th. That's just racing. But I can't complain, that's where I think we deserved to finish.
It was kind of a long week with the rainout, but that's what we get paid to do so we made it all work out, and brought home a fairly decent weekend.
Now, as someone new to the Cup Series, tell me how a top-15 finish at a track where you've never been before boosts your confidence as opposed to, say, a 12th-place finish at Talladega.
It'll boost your confidence, absolutely. I feel like my team is starting to gain some momentum. It's really big, for them to know we can run well anywhere, anytime. That's a good confidence booster and I take that with me too.
Hopefully, we've got a little bit of momentum behind us and we'll continue to grow as a team. That's so important right now. We've got to get better every week and good runs make it easier to go back in the shop and improve.
With Kansas rumored to add a second date in 2011, many are worried Martinsville might be on the chopping block. Should Martinsville be on the short list, and if not, where should that second date come from?
I like Martinsville a lot. It's a unique track and NASCAR needs variety. That's what the fans like. That's what I like.
That being said, it's tough when a track gets rain every year. It's not fair to teams and it's not fair to the fans because they come to a venue expecting a show and then we can't give it to them. That's just the way our sport works with the weather, so naturally, if we're going to work that way we can't race on tracks that get rained out seven of every eight years.
So whatever we've got to do to fix that problem, that's what I'm in favor of. I don't necessarily have a solution, but maybe we should look at moving that date to another time of the year before we decide to give up on a piece of NASCAR history.
Well, how does a rainout affect your psyche? How difficult is it to get ready to race, then have to wait another day?
It's frustrating because you build momentum during the week, from practice to qualifiers to the race, and your mind focuses on winning each one. You want to be the best in practice, in qualifying, in Happy Hour. It takes different skill sets and all of that leads up to the race.
But when a day goes by without being on the track, you lose all that momentum. It's frustrating because you feel as if you've wasted your time and energy.
You're also coming off a top-five finish in the Nationwide Series, pulling you within 16 points of rival Carl Edwards for the point lead. Tell us about your hard-fought drive back to fifth after falling back mid-race.
Well, we had an awesome car. That's been consistent on the Nationwide side. Our cars are extremely fast, which is a really good feeling as a driver. Every program is built around speed, but you have to be able to execute. Speed is in the car, but executing is not making mistakes, being able to drive through traffic, having good pit stops and good pit strategy.
I feel like we're doing all those things. If we do them, we're going to be competitive every week. At Nashville, we put ourselves in contention and we caught a bad break with our strategy and the yellow flags. That's really all you can do at the end of the day, is put yourself in contention for good things to happen. When good things don't happen, you need to do the most you can to minimize the damage accordingly. I think we did that, charging up to fifth.
With seven of nine Nationwide and Truck races won by Cup guys this season, there's been a lot of criticism about drivers "double-dipping" in those divisions hurting the sport. As someone who fought against this problem for years, what's your position on that? And is there anything NASCAR can do to fix the problem?
Attendance is down, there's no doubt about it. I think the economy's starting to recover, but we're working on a little bit of backward momentum. I talked to Roger Penske, and their dealerships are starting to take off, but we're still not back to where we once were as far as the sport is concerned.
I think that's more the problem than Cup drivers who "double-dip". When I talk to fans, I hear them tell me, "We're not coming because we can't afford it right now." Our fans simply don't have the money, so I don't think we can blame lagging attendance on Cup drivers.
One other complaint is how these Cup guys take rides from other drivers looking to make a name for themselves. As a former development driver, how do Cup guys hurt others coming up through the ranks?
It kills them. I feel bad because it really does cripple them. There are a lot of good drivers that just don't get the opportunity to prove themselves, and when they do they're not prepared for it. There's no chance they're ever going to be prepared for it, nor should they be with the amount of time they run. It's a tricky situation.
It's almost like now, you need to run the Truck Series before you ever go near the Nationwide Series. The reason I say that is that you can run standalone events in the Truck Series, you can actually learn something and then you can take that knowledge and apply it to the Nationwide Series and then to Cup. But to me, the Nationwide Series right now, and over the last few years, is no longer a developmental series. Instead, it's used as a stepping stone. It's where you polish your skills after you already developed them to go to Cup.
You've also dipped into car ownership this season, running the No. 29 Ram in NASCAR's Truck Series. Tell me what your biggest challenge has been in being an owner/driver.
The biggest challenge is trying to find the money to pay for it. It's really hard in those lower two series to find enough funding. I feel like I can do what it takes to win, but I have to find the money to be able to do it. So that's a constant challenge, and one that everybody has, regardless of whether you're Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Mike Skinner or whoever.
What are your future plans with that program?
The plan is to put other drivers in the seat. Although I don't have any drivers at this point, I'd love to get other drivers in there. It gives me a level of pride to watch other drivers. But it's all about finding the money to be able to do that.
Sidelines reporter Erin Andrews has reportedly been receiving death threats over the past six months. As someone who's been the center of controversy, have you ever worried about fans reacting with violence? And, as athletes, how can you balance providing as much access as possible to your life (through Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with keeping yourself safe from that type of incident?
I think, first off, you have to understand that no matter what you do, if someone is persistent enough, they'll probably be able to get to you. We don't have the Secret Service working around us. I think about that from a safety standpoint in every situation, even during something as routine as an autograph signing.
I still remember the first time I did an autograph signing with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I still consider myself small potatoes, but I was even smaller potatoes back then. We had a 30-minute autograph signing, and his line was 10 miles long, so they handed out armbands. You could only get an autograph if you had one.
Well, we were all done and we had to go somewhere else. So we started to walk away and there were fans who had gathered and didn't have armbands and wanted us to stay longer, but we had to go. We fulfilled our commitment to the fans, and when we were done, we walked away and those who didn't have armbands stood outside and hung over the fence. They were all screaming and madder than hell that we didn't stay.
But we had a schedule. There was a next stop with other people waiting on us so we had no choice. So I'm walking back, talking to Dale and I asked him, "Man, I feel bad about that. Doesn't that get to you after awhile?" And he answered it probably the best way you could, something I think about to this day when I'm in that situation. He said: "If they're true fans of the sport, they'll get over it really quickly because they'll realize there's always a way to get to you. There's always another autograph signing. There's always another sponsor appearance where you're accessible. And if they're really committed to you, if they're really fans of you ... they'll find you."
I still carry that with me. I went through that situation last week at Nashville when they opened up the garage area and let the fans in. Well, you can't stop every five feet to sign an autograph or you'll never get anywhere. Naturally, you're going to walk by fans that want your autograph and not be able to stop. Of course, they're going to yell at you, boo you, call you names, but at the end of the day you realize, "Hey, I did three autograph signings when I was in Nashville. And there were three opportunities for those people to find me. And if they're true fans, they would have found me then or they'll find me the next time." I try to make all of my fans happy, but sometimes it's difficult.
That's how you get over it. So when I think of Erin and accessibility, there's always a way to be accessed as a driver, commentator, whoever; there's nowhere to hide. We're not the President, and you need to get over that stuff really quick and not let it get to you.
What's key to me is to take the good and pump yourself up, but don't allow the negative to drag you down. When the fans cheer you, it's OK to be happy. It's OK to soak that in and say, 'Yeah, that's great.' But when they yell at you, when they boo at you, when they cuss at you, don't acknowledge it. Just let it go... no need to be bitter or angry about it.
Is it frustrating you're not getting an opportunity to run for Rookie of the Year under NASCAR's rules? Do you think they need to fix that system going forward?
-- DRLDeBoer (from Twitter)
Yeah, I think they should change the system, not necessarily for me, but I do think they should change it. Without testing, the only way to gain experience is to race. So to say you're not a rookie just because you've run more than seven (of 36) races a year is one of the biggest farces I think I've ever heard. So in my mind, the limit should be somewhere around 17. If you're going to get rid of the testing ban, you need to change what you're going to consider a rookie.
Coming into this season I still considered myself a rookie.
Sandra Bullock. WIN HER. I like Sandra Bullock. I love the movie "Speed", and I think she's cute. I feel bad for both her and her husband right now.
Jessica Biel. SPIN HER. I'm not really crazy about her. I don't know why. I just don't think she's anything more than average.
Today's Topic: Baseball
RING ME UP: Atlanta Braves. They've got heart.
I LOST THE NUMBER: Designated hitter. Pitchers should have to hit. That's the way the game was meant to be played.
Take us around a lap at Phoenix.
Let's begin at the start/finish line. Going into turn 1, it's very difficult to see. The sun always sets right there. You go into turn 1 fairly blind, going about 150 miles per hour. It's tricky. No driver likes to be on a racetrack where they can't see, and at Phoenix, that's a problem.
So you go into turn 1 blind, you get in the corner and there's an elevation change on corner entry where your car actually drops about a story. And then you go into a very flat stretch of corner radius, where the bottom of the racetrack has the most amount of grip. If you're on the bottom, you have a hard time because of your angle getting off the corner. So you can run the bottom or the top.
When you come off of turn 2, you get right up next to the wall. But you have to be careful. The track is really dirty all the way down the backstretch, because it's a desert track, and it kicks a lot of sand up. You always hear the sand underneath the tires. It's also a dogleg heading into the next turn, so you have to be disciplined to know where you can be and where you can't be coming into turn 3. Going into the turn, it's a really tight entry track, width wise, that you have to be very precise with. Then the track opens up from the center of the turn all the way to the 2/3rds point. So it kind of funnels you down and then opens you up on exit.
I run as low as possible and pretend the track is really narrow all the way through the center; that's how you drive it and approach it. But you can run the bottom or the top, although it's also really blind. It's hard to see and you don't know where the wall is until it's too late.
One other thing about Phoenix: the spotter has poor visibility. They can't see over half the track. So it's very dangerous and something they need to fix. It can be really treacherous off of turn 3 because of that. You come off of that turn and you merge up to the wall, which actually swings at you a little bit. You always have a little bit of forward-bite issue there, so you might see the car bobble. You save it, and then you go all the way to the start/finish line.