Brad Keselowski does a biweekly diary for SI.com. Heading to Kansas this weekend, he tries to make sense of an ugly day at the Monster Mile while getting his Cup team on track for the final seven races this season. Find out why a Rockingham test left him scratching his head, his thoughts on the all-important Clint Bowyer penalty and what American Idol needs to do to grab his attention in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Kes.
Let's look back at the Cup race from Sunday. Describe your thoughts after a 22nd-place finish at Dover.
Just another rough day. We didn't make any major mistakes throughout the weekend, but we had a lack of speed. There were some bright spots, though. We had the best day in the pit we've had all year, and, according to our data, we were the best car on pit road. I thought my pit crew did a great job and we got on and off pit road well. But in the grand scheme of things, we just didn't have any speed. We're still trying to figure out why that is. Obviously, Kurt [Busch] ran very, very well while Sam [Hornish Jr.] and I ran about the exact same
. We're working hard to try and fix it, but that's where our Dover weekend sits.
That's surprising to me, seeing as you and Sam Hornish Jr. have seen a little bit of an uptick in performance lately -- you won the pole at New Hampshire, while Hornish finished 10th. Why didn't it translate to two straight good runs?
Well, there's not a lot of similarities between the Loudon and Dover tracks, so I don't think there's that much momentum you can carry between the two. But we're trying real hard to carry some.
It seemed like the Monster Mile had conditions that made it near impossible to pass on Sunday. Were tires an issue, the Car of Tomorrow, the Chase or a little bit of all three?
The tires. We're really, really fighting tires right now, the whole sport in general actually. We've got to get a hold of that. It's a combination of the new car and the tires which make it very, very hard to pass and very, very difficult to compete. We have a lot of work to do there. Goodyear generally does a great job, so I'm sure they'll go to work.
Why does the tire compound itself cause so much difficulty in passing?
Well, it differs on any given week. At Dover, one of the key things we saw is that the tire laid down too much rubber. The best way you can summarize that is when the tire lays down rubber, it changes the track to where fans can see it's a different color. That's the easy part to tell, but the hard part for a fan to figure out is how it affects the car's handling. It's going to affect the handling in different ways for different cars. So different handling cars are going to adapt better, and different driving styles are going to adapt better, but what you see is cars finding it hard to spread out and run different lanes when the tires lay down rubber the way they did.
The track is extremely slick to begin with, and then it develops a lot of marbles in the grooves because of the tires. Also, on restarts it's bad. We've seen a lot of combinations that go there; and in short, if you change different tire compounds on a different weekend or even during a test you'll see it really changes the way the cars handle. That's a shame, because tires dictate where our cars race and whether we can run side-by-side or not.
Speaking of tests, you had one at Rockingham, N.C. this week. What did you learn at that track, and did you add anything from Dover to your checklist to try to figure out?
Well, I'll tell you we didn't bring much back from that test because we had pretty adverse weather conditions. The thing we focused most on is trying to understand why Kurt runs so much better than I do. And we still don't have a real good reason for that. We had Kurt, we had two cars, and we rotated three drivers throughout them all; but to be honest, Sam was the fastest out of all of us. Nothing seemed to really add up as to why the No. 2 car is outperforming the No. 12 and No. 77 so much.
Why Rockingham for a test like that?
Well, essentially we went there not to compare it to any other race track but to compare it to driving styles and techniques. It's really rare that you can say, 'We're going to learn something for another race track' at Rockingham. More or less, you can just do a driver test to try and understand what's going on as it relates to styles.
There's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about appropriate talk for drivers on the radio and whether certain yelling could be over the line. What's your opinion on how far you can go in describing problems and certain situations that happen during the race with your crew? Is swearing over the line, or the right way to fire people up under certain circumstances?
Well I don't think there is a line. There are just consequences that come for every level. Everyone wants to talk about the consequences of being too vocal -- swearing, being angry -- but what they don't think about is the consequences of not being vocal enough. And when you're not, people begin to think you don't care. When you're not angry from having a poor run or having a mistake or whatever, it's very easily interpreted as you don't care. So there are consequences no matter how you react to something, and I think the theory that the most intense athletes and competitors have is that they would rather be judged for being too angry and too upset than as if they didn't care.
Speaking of getting people fired up, all the talk surrounds what happened with Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 team, whose appeal was denied on Wednesday. What's your take on the penalty and was it too severe?
That's a great question. Obviously, as we saw with Denny Hamlin, you get different opinions from different drivers. There's some middle ground there. I can see both sides, without a doubt. Obviously, if the car's out of spec, it's out of spec. I like to talk about this term I use about a "proportionate response" to anything I do in life. It's the same for NASCAR. If you're cheating by a large portion, obviously intentional, and obviously not the result of any incident, or contact, or whatever it could be, then yes, I think there's a warranted large penalty. In this case, there's no proof of that either way, so it's really hard to make a judgment on that.
I don't think we know enough facts as outsiders to really have anything to criticize or to form an opinion. I would like to see NASCAR open up the process to where we have a better understanding of what went wrong and why they felt that penalty was necessary before I jump over any side of the fence on it. But if this car is as far outside of the box as I heard it is, I could understand the penalty. I just wish they would just explain what was wrong to us a little more specifically.
Is Tuesday after the race too long afterwards to announce any penalties?
Well, I think it's the right decision to wait until Tuesday. I agree with that part of it. I think you really need time to understand everything that happens, and obviously NASCAR has a very rough schedule where they take Mondays off, and they try to relax after the race. So then they come back on Tuesday and try to make good decisions that are rational. To me, it's no different than a prosecutor waiting a couple of weeks before charging someone with a crime, or waiting a couple of days until he has all the evidence. And in NASCAR's defense I understand that. But I think, just because of the strong fan base that we have and how everyone jumps to conclusions, I just wish they released more info about what happened and what went wrong.
One of your "favorite people," Denny Hamlin, then got into it with Kevin Harvick and even Richard Childress in a Saturday confrontation that left everyone distracted. Good for the sport, bad for the sport, and is that type of drama ultimately the distraction your teammate and Jimmie Johnson is looking for?
Well, I think if you're Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, you're smiling all the way, that's for damn sure. As far as good or bad for the sport, damn, that's so hard to tell, man. You look at it and you'd like to say it's good for the sport, but the way we got there sure wasn't pretty. Anytime someone gets accused of cheating, it's bad for the sport in my mind. Now, as we look at the other side of it, anytime the drama and fighting between two drivers and two teams shows a level of passion, that's good for the sport. So, it's back and forth.
The Chase ratings came out for New Hampshire and were 28 percent lower than at this point last year, the biggest drop we've seen year-to-year across any race since the new TV contract came into effect. Is that a sign from fans that the current version of the Chase is unacceptable, or is something else at play here?
I think we have a lot of stuff going on right now within the sport and within the world in general. TV ratings are so hard to understand, they're very complex. Obviously, the race was on ESPN, it wasn't on national TV or ABC, so you have to think about that. You have to think about meeting fans, and talking to them to figure out how tough it is right now to even find money to make it to the race track. So I can't help but to envision how hard it must be to find money to pay for the TV that it takes to watch a race like this.
The fan base has been hit harder than most fan bases when it comes to being able to afford to go to races, being able to afford to watch it on a network like ESPN... but that's not making excuses. There are problems we can fix within the sport that I'm sure are contributing to it, so I think there's a lot of factors, and we just have to go to work on the ones we can control. The economy is not a factor we can control, but making the sport better and continuously looking at what our fans want is one that we can. If that's the Chase (that's the problem), I could understand that, but I don't necessarily believe it.
With just seven races left, you continue to have a commanding lead in the Nationwide Series. Does your strategy change now that you only need to finish around sixth or so to win the trophy instead of winning races every week?
Absolutely not. No reason to change the strategy.
American Idol announced a new slate of judges this season. Is that enough to save the show, and if you don't watch, what does the series need to do to bump up the ratings and remain No. 1 across the board in the Nielsens?
I don't watch American Idol. And for it to get my attention, it's going to have to involve people singing in their race cars. I'm just not into that kind of stuff!
You don't even watch the botched episodes with the bad singing?
No. I was that kid in choir who would sit in the back and wouldn't sing.
All these drivers in the Nationwide Series are losing their rides. Who do you think is the biggest up-and-coming talent that deserves to hang around?
-- Jim, Melbourne, Fla.
Well, there's not just one in my mind, there are so many good ones. It's probably a toss-up between Trevor Bayne and Justin Allgaier. Between those two, it's very difficult to pick one. Trevor brings a lot of youth, and a lot of speed, which is where everything starts. And he's got a great smile, a great personality. But the same can be said for Justin, and he's a proven winner. He's got a year or two of experience under his belt, too ... both of them have a lot going for them.
Faith Hill. WIN HER. Huge Faith Hill fan. Always liked her. She's the All-American girl. I don't know, she emphasizes what it means to me to be this beautiful, unachievable woman in America. She's got it all, too good to be true.
Oprah Winfrey. SPIN HER. Yeah, I don't know. I never really got it. She's got a lot of fans, and a great personality which is cool. But I just never really got into the whole Oprah craze.
Today's Topic: Music
RING ME UP: Well, I've been in a Led Zeppelin/Pearl Jam mood lately. Big fans of them.
I LOST THE NUMBER: That band Rob Thomas sings in, Matchbox 20. Never could stand them.
Take us around a lap at Kansas.
Well, Kansas is a mile-and-a-half track that's starting to show some age. It's been around for eight or nine years, and the pavement's starting to wear out. It's got some Midwest summers and winters on it. It's starting to become rough to drive on.
But the key to Kansas is it's very similar to California even though it's a half-mile shorter. It has the same seams and the same characteristics. The loads in the car are very similar, and the way the car transitions through the corner is very similar. Going down into turn 1, it's very flat and narrow while California is wide, but once you get to the center of the corner it drives almost identical to California. You cross over the seams that create the layers of asphalt from the top to the bottom, and it's very slick, especially on top. Once you cross down to the bottom, you cross down and use a moderate amount of brake, and hug the bottom almost all the way around the corner.
Turn 2 is one of the trickiest places in racing to get off the corner because of the way the corner comes in at you. You can get on the gas really early, and then the corner comes in at you and you'll about knock the wall down. It's very difficult, and there's a lot of slide off the top of the wall off turn 2. Carry your run down the back straightaway because, unlike Chicago which has the curved backstretch, Kansas has a straight backstretch. Go down into turn 3 and try to put as much arc as possible into it, which is really difficult because there's a series of bumps going into turn 3 that can affect the car. Especially if you have a lot of yaw in it from putting a lot of arc in, you have to watch out for that. You drive down to the bottom, which again is fairly rough, not terrible but fairly rough, and it's got just a little bit more corner entry or more grip than 1 and 2. You carry just a little bit more speed through there. You hug the bottom of that corner as well, just like 1 and 2, and again turn 4 is a little bit of a tricky exit as well because the wall kind of comes in at you. So you slide up off of corner exit, and do it again. A very simple mile-and-a-half, as simple as simple can be.