Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. Heading to his home track this weekend, he takes stock of his season halfway through while tossing in his two cents on a long list of Pocono feuds. Also in this latest edition: the future of his new development driver, what you learn from testing on a non-Cup Series track, and why his favorite summer vacation spot is ... Michigan?
Go through your day at Pocono with us. Twenty-first place is almost exactly in the middle of the 43-car field, and it seemed like you were a mid-pack runner throughout.
The first part of the race, we moved backwards pretty quickly. We qualified 11th, a pretty good effort considering it was my first race at Pocono. But in the first run, we fell back, although it looked like we were about a 15th-to-20th-place car. Where we were running, we might have been able to pick up a few spots, and have a borderline top-10 car.
But in the first quarter of the race, we had suspension issues that just killed our car's handling and performance. Then, we had a lug nut problem halfway through the race to go with it. That put us two laps down. Through the "Lucky Dog," we were able to get back on the lead lap for the last run of the race, and then we just survived all the carnage and got something out of what should have been a much worse day.
When a problem like that happens, are you the type of guy who feels the need to say something to the crew to pump them up a bit? Or do you leave that type of stuff to Jay Guy?
I think the best way to show support is to just be quiet. They know what happened, they're smart. I don't think it's any mystery to them; when they have a pit stop, they know that it's a bad pit stop or if they made a mistake. They don't really need to have it put back in their face, even if you're trying to be positive. I feel like sometimes, it's just counterproductive.
So I don't do the whole pump them up thing; they're pretty good at motivating themselves.
The Kevin Harvick/Joey Logano feud has dominated the headlines this week. What are your thoughts on the incident?
I think it's great for the sport. I'm all about that; anything we can do to engage our fan base seems to be a good deal.
You're a guy who's really close to your dad; you wouldn't be in racing without him. Having that relationship, can you understand what Joey went through with his dad meddling last week?
I can sympathize. Obviously, my dad was a big part of my racing career, but there's a professional distance we have now that I really respect with him.
Seeing incidents like what happened with Joey and his dad really make me look back and realize how lucky I am to have a dad who supported my career, but knows when to let go and let me be my own man. He just knew when to take that step ... it was really cool.
There's been a lot of talk about shortening the distances of both Pocono races. This was your first time out at that race track. Did you feel the race was a little too long?
I actually didn't. I had heard so much talk that I mentally prepared myself for it to be long. But I didn't feel like it was that long for a race, at least not more than some of the other ones like Texas or the 600. The message I get when people complain about the length of the track is that Pocono doesn't carry enough prestige to go 500 miles.
Whether that's true or not, I don't know. There could be some things done to the track to make it better for the fans, and for everybody. So I'd upgrade the facility a little bit.
The debris caution issue remains a hot-button topic, as none of NASCAR's first three cautions were for wrecks on Sunday. What's your take on when to throw a yellow flag for debris, and is NASCAR being a little too liberal on putting out the caution in 2010?
Well, I'm not going to disagree with that. There's a lot of different ways to look at it, though. It boils down to keeping a balance. Let's take basketball, for instance. Basketball, to me, is the worst sport of all when it comes to bad calls. They may not throw yellow flags, but they have fouls and bad calls. Other sports do it as well. So from that standpoint, you can't say you don't see bad calls in other sports, because I really feel like you do.
Then again, that doesn't make it right. At some point, there's a level of credibility that we must all maintain, that the finish to the race was a legitimate and fair one. However, we still have to have an entertaining race, so it's a delicate balance, and NASCAR walks a fine line. Sometimes, they might go a little aggressively to the yellow flag side, but I wouldn't want to be in their shoes.
Well with the wave-around, you've also got more cars on the lead lap than ever before. Cars are gaining spots they shouldn't.
Absolutely. Sunday, I was on an upswing, and other places I've been on the downswing, but it evens itself out. At the end of the day, what happens is that drivers don't get worse or better finishes. They might think they do, but they don't, because for every good race, you're going to get a worse one. What happens is that you end up tearing up more race cars. That's really what this is all about. It's about, at what point is it all right to tear up race cars? That, to me, is the story. There was over a million dollars in damage this last week alone [from getting aggressive with the yellow flag].
We're now halfway through the regular season. Has it exceeded your expectations, are you right in line with where you thought you'd be, or are you underachieving?
Well, I see a lot of room for improvement. What we need to do specifically is find our role. Do we want to be just another team, or do we want to take it to the next level? We've had this great benefit all year of being out of the spotlight, with the exception of Atlanta. Because nobody really knows much about me, other than what they see from the few Nationwide Series races I've won and the Atlanta incident. The team doesn't really have a big history of success over the last two or three years.
Winning the 2008 Daytona 500 [the No. 12 team won it with Ryan Newman] was a great accomplishment, but we need something fresh to hang our hats on. So the team itself is in a large transition, and we're trying to find our way. When we find it, that's when it'll be fair to really assess where we are.
You're one of three guys pulling the Nationwide/Cup double this month, heading to two different tracks in two days to compete (Brad is going for the Nationwide championship in NASCAR's equivalent of "AAA" baseball level this year). Have you done anything different to prepare fitness-wise for these weekends, and were you surprised you could win the first time out attempting something like that?
I didn't even think about that! It's a good story, to win in your first double-duty, non-companion weekend. I'm not sure if that's been done before, so that's pretty cool. I was excited to do it, and it meant a lot.
But from a preparation standpoint, the biggest thing I can tell you is just how important people are. From the racing side, I've been handing the ball off to the people I'm surrounded with, and they get the job done. It really sounds kind of cheesy, but that's what it is. They handle those little things you don't think of, or you weren't prepared for. So, I feel like that question is a better question for the people I'm surrounded by than it is for me.
And I didn't change my fitness regimen at all. I stayed the course.
You tested at Milwaukee this week. What types of things can you learn when you're driving on a track you won't compete on for either Nationwide or Cup?
The biggest thing was putting Kurt (Busch) in my car, me getting in his car, and trying to understand the differences between our driving styles and having data to show it. You create a crossover, so to speak, of what works for him that works for me, and vice versa. You're just trying to understand those things. Certainly, you're not going to set up your car for anywhere else when you're not at the race track, it just doesn't work. But you can learn patterns, and that's what's important.
This is your second Cup race ever at your hometown track this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. What types of special things do you have planned for this week?
Well, it's always a lot of work when I go out there. You've got the media, PR and you have the family that plays into it. But it's a welcomed challenge. I've been thinking about it on my drive out here, and how much I'm looking forward to having my name announced in driver introductions and being cheered -- those are the things that really make it worth it.
I get plenty of requests for tickets, too. It's one of those things where you get to the point where you're like, "Yeah, I've got a few but I'm sorry I can't help you out." The whole process can be overbearing sometimes.
Israel has become a big issue on the national stage once again. What's your take on the Israel-Palestine issue, and should the U.S. government be getting involved?
Well, there's a lot of philosophy attached to that. I think we've got enough problems at home; we don't need to add anything more to our plate. I think when it comes to the whole Middle East thing, in my opinion, we need to be working on our own house. We've got our own problems, whether it's unemployment, or poverty, or whatever it might be.
Tell us a little bit about your development driver Chad Finley. How did you discover him? What do you see in him as a driver that excites you about his future potential? And what are your plans with him for the rest of 2010?
-- Ellen C., Michigan
Well, Chad reminds me of a younger Kurt Busch. He's just extremely talented. You put him in cars at tracks he's never been to and he's fast. He looks like a veteran his first time out and doesn't make dumb mistakes. That's so impressive. If he can improve from where he's at, he'll be an elite talent one day.
As far as where his career's going to go, it's really a challenge to answer that. I'd run him in every race I could, and I'd take a lot of pride having him in my cars, running up front and having a shot to win. Naturally, it's just so hard to afford to develop a driver, so it's not something that's really in my financial reach. So that becomes a challenge, a balancing act, but it's certainly a very promising career he has in front of him if he stays the course.
Sarah Jessica Parker. WIN HER. I've always liked Sarah Jessica. She's cute. The Sex and the City show, I'm not a big fan or a big hater, either. But I like her in everything else she's done.
Anna Paquin. WIN HER. I think she's really cute, too. Both of them are winners... which means I must be in a really good mood today!
Today's Topic: Summer Vacation
RING ME UP: Being from Michigan, I can tell you that even though the winters might not be much fun, there is no summer like a Michigan summer. I love coming up here, and spending a week or so and just relaxing, soaking in the environment.
When the weather changes and it gets cool, I'm a big fan of the Keys in Florida. This year, I'm hoping to do something in Colorado. I'm not really sure I'd go to Aspen, but it would be cool to go to Colorado for the winter.
I LOST THE NUMBER: Well, if you don't enjoy it, it wouldn't be a vacation, would it? You can make any place a good vacation as long as you have the right mindset.
Take us around a lap at Michigan.
Michigan's a really cool place. It's definitely not a cookie-cutter track. The field can spread out, there's no doubt about that. But the big thing about Michigan is the groove is extremely wide, and you'll have probably six or seven lanes that you can run .
As you enter the corner, you sail into Turn 1 at about 205-210 mph. It's a pretty good lick, a lot of speed. You also get a lot of draft at Michigan that the Cup cars really respond to. They've got a big spoiler on them now and they're big, boxy cars. So you get a lot of draft going into Turn 1, you carry a lot of speed and it's actually deceivingly flat.
At the same time, it's also a progressively-banked track. A lot of people don't know that. The very bottom lane has very little banking, and there's a little bit more on the top. You'll see guys run all the way on the bottom, you'll see guys running the middle, and you'll see people that wall-ride all day. So, it's interesting to see how that works out. If you have a faster car, you can pass at Michigan, which I think is pretty cool.
As you come off Turn 2, the track flattens out abruptly. You have to be prepared for that; it's a little tricky. You have to be careful. We've seen some big wrecks off of Turn 2 and it seems to be a trouble spot at Michigan if there is one. You carry whatever run you get off that corner all the way down the backstretch, which is a fairly long, flat, high backstretch into Turn 3. Turn 3 is very flat on entry, and then banks up in the middle, which kind of gives you an interesting feel in the race car. Again, you can run bottom, middle, top -- but you have to set yourself up for a good exit off of Turn 4. The exit off of 4 is flat, and you slide -- it feels like forever, and you feel like you're going to hit the wall. And just when you feel like you're going to hit the wall, the track opens up into a nice little tri-oval down the frontstretch. So you carry that speed in that run, hit the start/finish line, go off and do it again.