Brad Keselowski does a biweekly diary for SI.com. Heading to Loudon this weekend, he creates his own goals for the Chase, and reflects on how to make the season better for his No. 12 Penske Dodge in Cup, all while mourning the possible loss of Nationwide teammate Justin Allgaier in 2011. Plus, his grade for the Nationwide CoT, thoughts on taking away Reggie Bush's Heisman trophy, and why one of New Hampshire's four turns is considered one of the deadliest on the circuit.
Let's look back at the Cup race Saturday night. Describe your thoughts over a 15th-place finish at Richmond.
Well, Richmond is one of my better race tracks, for sure. There are certain places you go to and you have high expectations of performance. I really felt like over the last few weeks we'd make a push, get those top 10s and it just hasn't happened, so we're certainly not beating our chests over a 15th-place finish, but it is something that we can hopefully build on.
I felt like, from an effort standpoint, we would get a top 10 out of it and it didn't happen. So that was disappointing; it's nice to have a better finish than what we've been having, but I definitely expected to do better.
This top-15 run was actually a huge step forward for your team, the first in Cup since Darlington mid-May. Initially, you seemed very frustrated the run wasn't better, but how tough is it to see the positive when you're conditioned to win and someone interviews you right after exiting your car?
Top-15s are nice, absolutely. I would be naïve to say top-15s are not good on any given weekend because they are. But there's just a level of frustration at this point from being this far into the year and not having anything to show for our races other than top-15s. Everyone on this team puts in the necessary work for us to get top-10s and top-5s. It's not for lack of effort.
Everyone, whether they make or miss the Chase, looks at the final 10 races to set at least one benchmark for how they're performing heading into 2011. Tell me at which track of the 10 you expect to be the most competitive, and why.
Well, I certainly expect to be the most competitive at Talladega. I don't really have any expectation of where we should finish; it's a wild card, it always is. But I expect to be the most competitive there. Other than that, I'm looking forward to Phoenix, we ran fairly decent there. So that should be a good race for us, in theory. I feel like we can get our best finish either at Phoenix or maybe even Martinsville, where we also had a good race in the spring. Those are definitely two of our better opportunities, but Talladega should be our best performance. It's an opportunity to lead the race, to run up front.
Were you surprised at how tame the Richmond Cup event was considering most drivers didn't have any points to worry about? It seemed like a whole bunch of people were just biding their time until the playoffs next week.
Well, it seems the races we don't expect to be exciting are the exciting ones, and the ones we do expect to be exciting are not so good. It just plays out weird sometimes in this sport; that's why you have to watch every week, and it's a true sign it's not really scripted. Some weeks, it's exciting, and some weeks, it's something different.
Can you tell if someone is biding their time from the driver's seat?
Oh, yeah. But I didn't see anything much different this weekend at Richmond than what I've seen throughout the course of the year. Perhaps it was slightly tamer, but really what you're seeing is, now that the Chase is coming, the better drivers and the better teams are running up front. There aren't people who shouldn't be up there causing trouble, so I think that's probably more than anything else a reason for [things being tamer]. They cause some incidents in races earlier in the year that you won't see now.
With the 24/7 Silly Season cycle, it seems most of the major news gets settled earlier and earlier each year. Is that a problem for the sport with the NFL currently gobbling up the sports pages each week?
Well, there's been different highlights throughout the year. Certainly, I think there are different points in every year where news goes up and down, so I wouldn't read too much into it. To be quite honest, NASCAR moves and changes for teams and drivers, etc. are well-covered inside the sport, but outside the sport, in the general sports outlets, I feel they're not very well-covered. So I don't see where no news creates a large negative effect for our sport. You don't see a headline at the bottom of ESPN that a normal driver signed with an average team. You just don't see those types of headlines, at least not on a SportsCenter show. You may see it on ESPNEWS. I just don't see where there's a lot there to begin with.
However, I do think some of the sport does get lost in football season. But any sport that competes against football gets lost to some extent. I thought Denny Hamlin had a great point a couple of months back, where he talked about how hard it is for the sport to get coverage from the media in certain areas.
Racing is uniquely challenging to cover because it doesn't have a hometown, so you lose some of that natural attention that comes from that. But I think he brought up some point about how you always see the same thing on SportsCenter, or any of these TV or media outlets when it comes to major sports. The diving catch that's going to make all the highlights this summer, not the three-wide pass for the lead. Our sport is just perceived in a different way, and I'm all right with that, but it certainly holds it back from reaching its full potential. I think there's a lot of excitement to the sport that doesn't get documented or covered.
You've now finished running the Nationwide CoT on all three types of tracks: superspeedway, intermediate and short track. Give it a grade, and answer the million-dollar question people tend to shy away from: Is it more fun to drive than the Sprint Cup car?
I would say I'd give it a B+. The reason it gets a B+ has a lot to do with the appeal and fan reaction, and how close it drives to the old car -- which was a very well-performing car. What keeps it back from being an A is the cost associated with doing it, and quite honestly, there were areas where I thought we could have made improvements, beyond where we have, to take it to the next level. It has the potential to be there, but we could do more.
Now, you might not be involved in the Cup title chase, but you're closing in on that trophy over in Nationwide. Tell us about how one of your sponsors, Ruby Tuesday, is pulling a "Race to the Championship" promotion that should tie in pretty well if things keep going according to plan.
Well, we're always looking for ways to tie in the fan base to what we do, and how we celebrate. Obviously, we have partners in Dodge and Ruby Tuesday that'll allow fans to celebrate with us if we win the championship in Homestead -- which looks pretty good. Then one of those fans will be lucky enough to win a Dodge Challenger, just by entering at RubyTuesday.com and enjoying our races on TV. It's a great way of giving back to the fans who make this possible, and having some fun with 'em.
How does experiencing those type of accomplishments with longtime fans enhance that feeling?
Well, it's always the same in this sport. If you remove the fans, and we just raced by ourselves, what fun is that? So anytime we can engage the fans, it just makes your successes that much more enjoyable and make it to where it means something. Discount Tire does the same thing. We get to meet a ton of great fans all around the country thanks to the things that Discount Tire does.
Your teammate, Justin Allgaier, has been rumored to be seeking other opportunities as sponsor Verizon may be departing the sport altogether. How big a loss would it be if Justin left the company, and what's the latest as far as you know?
Well, to answer the second question first, I have not been officially informed of anything. I know that everyone at Penske Racing is hoping to have Justin back next season. As far as how big a loss it could be, the biggest loss would be losing a partner with Verizon. That's a loss for the sport in general, and the more relevant story. Justin's future is essentially secured in the fact that he's won a race, and he'll get a ride with another professional team if he doesn't have a sponsor to race with here.
Reggie Bush announced this week he's forfeiting the Heisman trophy based on NCAA violations he committed while at USC. What's your take on the situation? Should someone have to give a trophy back because he violated a rule off the field?
Well, I don't understand college sports at all from that perspective. I got to spend some time with some college football teams, and essentially, they eat, breathe and sleep the sport -- I'm talking about the people that are recruited to play it. And they're not allowed to make any money off it, although the sport and the schools are making hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially billions of dollars, off them. So I don't get why the players are not allowed to make any money for it. They're being asked to sacrifice their bodies, with all the work ethic that it takes to be a professional player... yet one simple little gift causes this amount of disgrace and dishonor to their program and themselves? That just doesn't seem fair at all. The whole system is very confusing, and I fall in line with most of America that just doesn't get how the system works.
And because I don't get how the system works, I don't see how you can be mad at someone who potentially violated one of the rules, or at least mad enough to penalize him and disgrace him to that level of severity.
The ratings for NASCAR's Truck races were up significantly over the summer. Why doesn't that help you get sponsorship for your team?
-- Stan, Boise
Well, I think the ratings are up because we've seen a couple of Cup drivers, specifically Kyle Busch, run more races. And we're seeing a huge ratings increase accordingly. That's the only rational explanation I have. The quality of the racing has been as good as it has always been. I think the Truck Series has always had great racing, so it's very interesting to see that bump, and it speaks volumes as to why it's so important that Cup drivers remain in the Nationwide Series. If they go, you'll see the deflation level in the ratings to the previous levels the Truck Series had.
Kellie Pickler. WIN HER. Good question. She's pretty, she's bubbly, she's a little bit controversial. I don't think she's fake, although she does have that golly-shucks attitude where you're always going, "Eh, I don't know if I believe it or not." But I think she's a winner.
Hayley Williams (Paramore Lead Singer). UNDECIDED. She's got that whole punk rocky thing going on. I don't know, I've never been real big into punk rock, at least not for girls. So I would lean toward spinning her, but I would like to know more about her before I put the vote in. Let this diary be an open invitation for her to e-mail me...
Today's Topic: Movies
RING ME UP: That's easy. Die Hard. Big Bruce Willis fan. Love that movie.
I LOST THE NUMBER: That's got to be Twilight stuff. Anything Twilight-related makes me want to gag.
Take us around a lap at New Hampshire.
Well, New Hampshire can be a tricky place, and then it can be a forgiving place in multiple ways. So we'll start there. It's got pretty high speeds on the straightaways and corner entry; it sure feels fast because you have to use a lot of brake to slow the car down. Turn 1, just like Turn 3, is fairly flat to where you drive it in the corner and you induce a push into the race car. It drives up the hill, and the corner has a little bit of progressive banking in it in the very middle of the track. It creates a series of transitions you're constantly crossing over inside the driver's seat, ones you can't see on TV.
So you try and use those transitions to your advantage, and you can really use 'em to change your car's handling. If your car's tight, you can drive it up the transition to your right front corner, where the banking will catch you and drop you down the hill. And it's the opposite if you're loose, to where you can use it to catch your right rear tire if your car has a lot of yaw, which makes it easier to drive and a little more forgiving, which I think a lot of drivers like.
The corners are fairly tight; it requires you to slow down a lot, and it's also hard to put the gas pedal down and accelerate out of the corner. You get a lot of wheelspin, so you have to be very smooth out of the throttle. As you come off of Turn 2, very smooth throttle inputs, you drive right up against the wall and the track actually drops off a bit and throws you against the Turn 2 wall. You'll see a lot of guys will brush the Turn 2 wall because of that, it's very tricky.
So then you go down the backstretch, and then you have one of the toughest corners in racing, Turn 3. Also one of the saddest corners in racing, where we've seen two drivers get killed in the last decade or so. There's a lot of reasons for that. It's very fast, very bumpy, and requires a lot of acceleration. You're literally pulling straight at the wall coming out of it, so it can be mildly intimidating as well.
As you slow your car out of that corner, it's very, very easy to lock up the wheels going through there because of how bumpy it is. You have to be smooth; you tend to drag the splitter through there, which makes it the tougher end of the race track to get a hold of. It has the same transitions as Turns 1 and 2, just a little less pronounced, thankfully.
So you'll carry it into the corner, run a little lower in Turns 3 and 4 because it has a little less transition. You'll get in the throttle just past the center, and again you have to be very smooth getting back to it. The corner exit is a little more forgiving than Turn 2 but it still throws you out toward the wall against the race track. You accelerate toward the start/finish line, hunker down, and do it again.
Do the bumps give it character, or does the track need to be repaved?
The bumps give it character. At Loudon, it's all right. There are certain places where the bumps really hurt the racing side-by-side, where it negatively affects the quality but Loudon is not one of those places. It actually helps the side-by-side racing.