Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. Heading to Daytona this weekend, he talks about translating confidence from his Nationwide Series success into the Cup Series program, and whether the pressure is getting to the sport's top drivers after several recent wrecks. Also, why NASCAR's new car design means so much, the art of apologizing and the biggest thing he ever learned from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Go through your day at New Hampshire with us. I know 26th place isn't exactly where you wanted to end up.
Well, we had a good qualifying run. Qualifying has been our strongest suit. For an area that I identified as one of my weaknesses, it's been a pleasant surprise. All three Penske cars were in the top 14, and I was 14th. We were sure happy about that, and then we started the race and moved forward really quickly into the top 10.
But after that, we just fell off. We learned pretty early on in the race that we had a car that would be really strong for about 10 laps, but then fell off and was not very strong for the remainder of the run.
It figures this would be the race that would have a green-flag run that was 201 laps long. So that fell right into our weakness, kind of exploited it, and we suffered with it all day. Kurt [Busch] had some of the same things and he was able to hold on a little better, get a little better finish out of it and we just didn't.
So, we've got to learn from it and build off it. It's certainly not what we wanted, but that's the way it is.
Did that green-flag run surprise you at all?
Yeah, it definitely threw us for a loop. We weren't fully anticipating that. I don't know; it seemed like there was a bit of a message being sent from the week before, about phantom yellow flags. It seemed like there was a bit of a message being sent that this is the way it's going to be from here on out. It was interesting.
Your Cup Series slump is happening the same time you're tearing it up in the Nationwide Series. Why is the confidence not carrying over from Saturday to Sunday?
That's something that's been very confusing for me. Part of the reason for doing the program the way we have has been the thought process of, "Hey, if we run well in the Nationwide car, it will carry over to the Cup car with some positive momentum."
In some ways, that's true. I feel more positive about driving because of it, and I feel a big difference in myself while doing it. I felt way better after running Road America going into the Sonoma race, and saw gains. I've seen gains at several tracks where I've felt better about my Cup ride.
So in my eyes, there's a lot to be said for it still. But we haven't seen it carry over to be successful in the big picture, and that's getting the finishes out of the Cup side.
I know that for me, I'm personally glad I'm doing both, because it does keep my confidence up in what has been a rough patch.
How much of a distraction do you feel like it can be?
Yeah, I'm not going to argue that there isn't some distraction that comes with it. But for every area that there is a distraction, there's an area that makes me better.
With that being said, I feel good about it from my end that I'm a better racecar driver for doing it.
You're still very close to former car owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. What do you think of him saying Friday night was the final time he'll drive the No. 3? Do you think he'll keep his word on it?
Well, I think he'll keep his word. There's not a question in my mind. I'm a little confused, and I haven't really talked to him about it, why this was the right moment to do it. But I'm sure he has his reasons. ... But I believe he'll stick to his word.
How often have you guys been hanging out this year, now that you're not with JR Motorsports?
It's certainly tailed off a little bit because we're in different places. But I saw him last week, and I've been playing some basketball with him. It's been a lot of fun, so we still see each other -- we're just not spending the same amount of time together.
You were one of those drivers involved in a number of incidents at Infineon, a wreckfest that caused both Jeff Burton and Mark Martin to question whether modern-day drivers give each other enough respect on the track. Do you feel drivers have gotten a little too aggressive, or was the road course just a one-week aberration?
Well, the sport is changing rapidly. What's considered acceptable driver practices were not considered acceptable even six months ago. This sport is changing, and the desperation factor is going up. I think the sport is getting to a point where even the drivers now are starting to feel the pressures to perform. Not just their job, but their team could go away, not having sponsors. I think those drivers feel the pressures more so than ever.
Things work in cycles. There's positive momentum and there's negative momentum. The sport has had negative momentum, and it's just now starting to catch up to the driver end of it.
Jeff Gordon went out of his way to apologize to people after his wrecks. Even when you've done something wrong, do you feel obligated to take that step at this level?
I don't feel it was needed, but it seemed like a cool thing to do. An apology only carries as much weight as the person who says it. But he carries some weight, being a champion, so I thought it was an interesting thing to do.
What are your own personal feelings on apologies? What does it take for you to issue one for on-track contact?
I don't necessarily think apologies fit my style, but it's kind of a tricky area. One, if I'm really sorry about something, I pay it forward, or pay it back in a positive way.
I think you don't say sorry, you do sorry. A true sorry, anyway. And the other way of looking at it is, even when you try and do it verbally, there seems to be a tendency in racing that even when you try to say sorry to another driver, they just get even madder. So to me, you just try and move on as fast as possible. The few times I've tried to apologize for incidents that were clearly my fault, I left the conversation further behind than when I entered it. So I just quit trying.
When's the last time you did apologize?
Well, the last time I tried -- I don't know if I'd call it successful -- is a couple of weeks ago at Road America. I got into the back of Brad Coleman, and essentially what happened was we got into the corner of Turn 1, I was behind him on the restart but he underdrove the corner; significantly underdrove the corner. I made a guess of how far I thought he would drive in the corner, and I matched accordingly so I could hold the guy who was on my outside to my outside, and be able to clear him in the next corner.
When he underdrove his corner, I had already committed to where I was going to drive, got in the back of him and hit him. I didn't spin him out, but he got sideways and lost a few spots. I didn't want to run him over, and didn't have any intent to do so. But his thought was that I did it intentionally -- that I was trying to move him out of the way, etc. etc. At least, that's what he told his team.
But it was fairly obvious, even for me at the moment, and even watching replays, that's not what happened. That was somewhat of a convenient excuse, and I think it's easier for most drivers to walk away just blaming you than it is for them to accept any role in what happened, or accept the fact that sometimes things just happen on the racetrack. And at some point, I've just become OK with that. In that particular incident, he had a strong role in his own problem. And the fact that he wasn't willing to see that ... there was no apologizing to him. You can't apologize to someone that's not willing to see something objectively. So I would call it an unsuccessful apology. He left the conversation just as mad, if not madder, and in the end we just wasted our time.
This weekend marks the final time you'll go around Daytona before it gets repaved. Any special memories, and are you dreading or looking forward to the new surface?
Absolutely not dreading it. Daytona had fallen into disrepair; it had become an embarrassment. Now, it's becoming a sign of prosperous times in NASCAR by repaving it. Even though the economy's down, it's a sign of what we can do if we get our minds together and put our effort into fixing something.
It will bring Daytona back up to an elite facility, the way it should be.
So you're not one of those guys worried it's going to become a second Talladega?
If it does turn into a second Talladega, it won't bother me. But I don't think it will either way.
There were a lot of issues surrounding bad calls by referees in the World Cup, and now FIFA is mulling the use of instant replay. How extensive do you feel it should be used in sports, and do you feel there's any need for it in NASCAR?
I don't know how you can apply it to racing, but I don't see how you can leave behind technology that can enhance a sport. In stick-and-ball sports, replay is one of those technologies. In racing, I'm not exactly not sure how that fits in. Obviously, timing and scoring is a sign of technology in our sport that has developed considerably over the last ten to fifteen years. NASCAR's always willing to use technology with pit calls, too, being objective and looking at a replay if you have indisputable evidence over a penalty.
So, I think if we develop that, and we can develop replays and stuff for the fans ... I just don't know how else it would work for the competition.
I was reading Dale Jr.'s Driver 8 -- on his first cup year. Does Brad feel he gets more fan attention at the Cup level like Junior did? What's the biggest thing he's learned from Dale Jr.?--Anonymous, Michigan
No, I don't feel I've gotten any more attention, and I've almost made it a point to make sure I don't. There's a point where I feel you just have to shut up and get the job done. When you get the job done, you can circle back and work on the other stuff, like getting attention.
As for Junior ... the biggest thing Dale taught me is how to have fun in racing. I always raced before, and had success up and down -- not at the levels I'm having now -- but I never really enjoyed it. And racing with Dale taught me to enjoy it. It's one of the most valuable things I think you can learn.
Anna Kournikova. WIN HER. I don't know how you can spin her... she's too good-looking.
Christina Applegate. INCOMPLETE. Well, she looks a lot like my sister, and for that reason alone I don't think I can give her much of anything either way.
Today's Topic: July 4th
RING ME UP: Fireworks. It's also a great opportunity to celebrate what it is to be an American; like Memorial Day, but with a little more of an upbeat tone. We're lucky enough to live free and drive race cars ... in general, it's a holiday I've always enjoyed.
I LOST THE NUMBER: Cleaning up the mess after the fireworks
Take us around a lap at Daytona.
It's one of the roughest places we go to, if not the roughest place on the circuit. I'm glad the pavement is going to be replaced.
Now, the Fourth of July race is different than the February race for a lot of different reasons, mostly due to the temperature. The temperature affects you in the car -- you fatigue a lot faster than you do at the 500 -- but it also affects the race car and its performance. The track has a lot less grip, tire wear becomes a lot more important, and the track becomes really, really slick.
It makes track position even more important, trying to find clean air so that your car has downforce. Usually, by the end of the night the track will have its most amount of grip because it'll cool off the most, but it'll still not have a lot of grip. It's really tricky.
You'll see as we enter Turns 1 and 2, the high lane will become more useful as the race progresses because you'll need that excess bit of room to use the whole racetrack. It's very rough as you cross over the tunnel. You turn down into that corner and slop it up to the top of the racetrack, trying not to get too loose and slide up to it with the tail, but trying not to push up to the wall as well. It's very rough as you're sliding across the asphalt, which is very slick because it's worn out.
As you're coming off of Turn 2, you're probably running the top more than anywhere else. So it's really different than the 500. The banking has a unique transition up off of turn 2, so you want to stay as close to the wall, as long as possible. Once you get to the back straightaway, it'll actually help you turn the car and give you a little bit of grip. But that's pretty tricky, and a lot of people mess that up and hit the wall off of Turn 2. It's by far the most treacherous spot.
As you go down the backstretch, there's enough room to run two or three-wide, but it's really important you single up before you get to Turn 3 -- especially if you have someone on your outside. You get really loose, and it's even more difficult to carry a really good run into Turn 3, because that's the loosest part of the racetrack. In Turn 3, the banking comes in really quickly, and that area of the track just seems to be very worn out. And again, you'll slide all the way around if you're on the bottom or the top.
Turns 3 and 4 in Daytona are by far the roughest racing section I've ever seen or been a part of. It's very, very rough. You try to miss all the bumps that you can, but you know you're not going to be able to, and then you drive up off of Turn 4. Turn 4 is fairly forgiving, although it's got a lot of bumps. You try to single-file up in that area, because you do slide up on exit if you're on the bottom. It's kind of tricky.
Then you carry that run down the tri-oval, and the tri-oval itself can even be a tricky corner. It's very narrow, and the banking on it is not very significant. Again, if you have a car on your bumper or pushing you, it's very easy to get loose and cause a wreck down the straightaway.