Brad Keselowski does a biweekly diary for SI.com. Heading into the race at Charlotte Saturday night -- he qualified 31st -- the driver of the No. 12 Dodge tries to recover from an ugly California day that left his team feeling the heat of a disappointing 26th-place finish. Find out why things went so wrong, his reaction to the sport's five Hall of Fame inductees, and discover a special Dale Earnhardt Jr. basketball league that's sprouting up behind the scenes in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Kes.
Let's look back at the Cup race from Sunday. Things never really panned out the way you wanted, as contact with the wall led to a 26th-place finish. What happened?
Yeah, well actually the start of the race went really well. All the Penske cars qualified poorly for some reason, but when the start came we began to move forward, up to the 13th or 14th spot. We actually passed Tony Stewart, who went on to win the race. We were feeling pretty good about our car and came in to pit under green, had a good pit stop, everything went good and we came back out on the track and we just weren't quite handling as well. Came out, had a restart, I think we restarted seventh after all the cycling and so forth, and we were still getting passed by cars frequently. We were really missing something there when we came in and pitted, and as a driver, there's a lot of different ways you can react. You can kind of bite the bullet, and take your loss in positions, or you can dig your feet in and try to say no, I'm going to make this work.
I tried to dig my feet in, say no, this isn't going to happen, I'm going to settle in here somewhere around 10th. Instead, I ended up busting my butt, overdrove the car and put it in the fence. As a driver, for that time in the race, that was too early to have made that statement. And I got myself in trouble, making the rest of the race a long one just to make it to the finish.
Is controlling yourself harder to do when you know the car ran well at one point?
Well, for me it's a lot easier to do things like that when you're not quite as confident in your car. So you're essentially in a mode where you're like, "I can't lose these spots because I'll probably never get 'em back." So, you risk more to try to keep them, whereas when you're confident in your team and your car, you allow things to happen knowing that you will recover.
Many were saying that this Fontana race was the best one the track has ever held. Do you agree with that, and was there any particular reason for the increased quality of competition?
Well, I think the spoiler has really helped that race track, there's no doubt about that. I think the racing at California has gotten better. That's not to say it can't continue to get better, but the quality has really increased by leaps and bounds.
Many have referred to Fontana as a driver's race track. With that in mind, is it tough to see the 2-mile oval lose a date? Do you think it needs to be reconfigured in order to win back fans?
I don't think losing a date in California is necessarily a terrible thing. I think that you have to look at it from the perspective of what a NASCAR event means. You'd like to have continuity in your schedule, but sometimes you have to switch it up a little bit. So I don't think changing the track is going to fix anything other than costing a lot of money. So I don't know, I kind of have mixed emotions about it. Again, the racing at California has gotten better there the last few years.
With that said ... I thought track president Gillian Zucker had a great idea by trying to build the "Talladega of the West." As much as that wasn't welcomed in driver circles, I think it's a great way to get the L.A. market interested.
The second Hall of Fame class was voted on this week. Out of all the 25 finalists, I want to know who your top choice would be to vote into the Hall right now, and why.
I think the right guy got in with David Pearson as the top choice, without a doubt. He won so many races, and the way he won them was in such a cunning fashion. That, to me, is the mark of a very smart race car driver. He helped to define the cutting edge era in NASCAR, the one guy who could keep up with arguably the most successful driver in this sport, Richard Petty. There's a lot of coulda, woulda, shouldas with him, but from what I've seen, he was just as good. Maybe not with equal opportunity, yet I think he was instrumental along with Richard in the growth of the sport.
Did you agree with the original five selections, or would you have made a switch?
I thought a little bit about Cale Yarborough, only because he had done the three championships in a row -- something no one else accomplished until Jimmie Johnson. I think him, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, all three are about the same; I don't know how you can pick between them. The only thing I could say about Bobby that might separate him [the lone invitee of the three into this year's class] is he has a family legacy that continued after him, along with son Davey.
Heading to Charlotte and then Martinsville is a nice home swing for you guys the next two weeks after several months on the road. Describe for the fans what type of advantages you get from that, and what's different about the Charlotte races for the crew and people that work in your shop.
Well, it's not much different for me, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, I actually work harder on Charlotte race weeks. But the big thing is to not have to travel, and be able to be home with your family. For our on-the-road guys, that's a huge deal. I'm single, and don't have a family of my own other than Mom and Dad, so it's not quite as big for me. But it is nice to be able to drive to your own house and go to bed at night. It's almost like having an 8-to-5 job for a week, and that's what everyone appreciates about it.
The Nationwide Series title continues to roll your way, as you hold nearly a 400-point lead over your competition. Are you surprised at how the No. 22 team has made it look so easy there this year?
Well, I think more than anything else, I'm surprised at the fact a brand new team, people, cars, etc. were able to run as well as we have without failures. That's remarkable to me, because that's very, very difficult. I look at a large part of our points gap established as some of the failures they had on the No. 60 car. Maybe 200 points of it has been through failures, while the other 180 has been from performance.
That, to me, is the remarkable piece. It's the one where you go, "Wow, this is a really good team."
I've been hearing that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and friends have been doing a little basketball league on the side. Can you tell us more about it, whether you guys have "official" teams and who has the best nickname.
Yeah, we've been playing just a little bit of basketball, trying to keep it semi-low key and private. You know how things can get... and we want to be safe as well. It's really easy to get hurt. I missed my game this week, but my team won, which was good. It's a cool way to try to stay in shape and have fun, because some of us don't really like to exercise -- so we need to have fun if we're really going to stay in shape. We've got five teams of five, it's pretty cool.
What's your team name?
The Cornelius Cougars. There are some other names that are not exactly PG, we'll leave it at that. As for the best nickname, we have this guy we call The Microwave. I like that one; I don't know if you remember back from the '80s, the Detroit Pistons used to have this guy they called by the same name.
Finally, let's talk about the jail and bail in honor of the Brienne Davis scholarship fund. How was it? Who bailed you out? And did you have a lot of fun?
Well, SPEED's Jeff Hammond made the largest contribution and bailed me out. But to me, it was just a good time, a chance to celebrate during race week and have some fun while raising some money for a great cause. I'm trying to help females get in the sport, there's some barriers to get in -- it's hard enough to get in as a male. So it's interesting to see how that works out, because it raises money for a scholarship to help a female get an education in motorsports or to just be in the automotive world. Tony Stewart has a lot to do with putting it on, and so do a lot of NASCAR officials. It can be a pretty fun event, making fun of each other, and that's a large part of the premise. John Darby, who runs the Sprint Cup side, puts in his two cents of what you've done wrong this year in a comical way, and they lock you up for it.
I can't remember what I did, though. Something about wrecking Carl Edwards ... I auctioned off a diecast trying to get out, and that was pretty cool because Darby was there to help us auction it off. He took his gavel and said, "Man, this doesn't look authentic," and smashed it all up. So that was pretty cool ... just a great time.
We've talked about Brett Favre before, but he's under investigation again for possibly violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Favre allegedly made unwanted sexual advances to several women affiliated with the New York Jets. What do you think the punishment should be, and would you like to see such a personal conduct policy extended to NASCAR?
These are tough questions, because they're more than about our sport or somebody else's sport. They're questions about society, what it is to be an athlete. Are you automatically assumed to be a role model, a question that's been going on for quite awhile.
Our society's sports stars should be held to a little bit higher standard. But is that fair, is that fair to an athlete? A lot of people say, well you make millions of dollars, so you should be able to be an x-y-z, all good person? But is that fair to them? Probably not. Is it true? I think so. So, it's kind of a tough boundary to really define. From what I gather on Brett's deal, he didn't do anything illegal. It doesn't make it right, but it wasn't illegal per se. So I don't know. I don't know where you go for that. I think that's a question for society.
Brad, if you could pick one old track to race on from NASCAR's old days and put it back on the Cup schedule what would it be: Nashville, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, or somewhere else? -- Ronnie, Knoxville, Tenn.
Nashville. I'd like to do Nashville. It was like a Bristol before Bristol, it's in the downtown area, which is kind of cool. A lot of good races came from there, and it seems like a good ol' racetrack that had a lot of quality short track features.
Sarah Palin. SPIN HER. I respect her for being a woman trying to run for president, and what that stands for. But everything else, I dislike.
Lingerie Football League. WIN HER. I don't know how this league could not be a winner. I don't know how it took us this long to think of this idea.
Today's Topic: Clothes
RING ME UP: I'm not a real preppy clothes wearer. I try to be comfortable. I enjoy wearing Adidas athletic wear. I'm a big fan of that, and that's probably what I'll be found the most in. In fact, I'm wearing it right now. Other than that, I try to wear clothes that are European cut because they fit my body build. I'm a big fan of a lot of different types of clothing. I do own Wrangler jeans, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I own a lot of jeans.
I LOST THE NUMBER: I don't like it when people try too hard, when they over accessorize and so forth. A lot of people like to overdress the situation, I'm the opposite: I like to under dress it. I don't like to let the clothes do the talking, and I'm a big believer in the theory, "It's not the clothes that make the man, it's the man who makes the clothes."
Take us around a lap at Charlotte.
Well, Charlotte is one of the fastest mile-and-a-half tracks, and it doesn't let a lot of credit for it. It was repaved recently, about three or four years ago, and it has a lot of speed. It's also very, very slick because the asphalt has a lot of grip; we always seem to bring a tire that is capable of holding up to it.
The layout of the track is a tri-oval, with dogleg frontstretch-style corners. It's the typical Bruton Smith cookie-cutter, I guess. So it looks from above like Texas or some other tracks, but it's nothing like it. When you enter Turn 1, you have a fairly large elevation change, which is common for this style track, but it's also very narrow. As you turn into the corner, it widens back up. Most of the Bruton/SMI tracks don't do that quite as much. It's got a lot of grip, you carry a lot of speed into the corner, into Turn 1. You can choose between the top and the bottom lane. Usually, the bottom lane is faster, but when we get to the race usually the top lane will open up. But you'll win the race almost always by running the bottom.
The guy that can get into Turn 1 the hardest and roll on that white line is usually the guy to beat. It's always hard to put the throttle down as you're coming up off of 2, whether you're on the top or the bottom. The track kind of gives you a lazy, falling over feel that kind of unhooks the car, makes the back dance around slightly. So you see a lot of people spin out on the exit of 2 all by themselves, it's very common there.
You drive off of Turn 2 with a lot of wheel input, and right when you emerge right from the exit of 2, the track actually has a slight elevation change where it essentially has a dip. It's a pretty substantial dip coming off of Turn 2 that tends to bottom the cars out. And that's right as you merge to the wall. So you'll see a lot of movement to the cars up and down the backstretch. It's common for Charlotte, and you used to have even more before they repaved it, but it still has some.
So you go down the backstretch -- the backstretch is fairly fast, because 1 and 2 are some fairly fast corners -- and then you're at the entrance of Turn 3, which is a narrow, slick corner. Very slick, one of the toughest corners in racing, 3 and 4 at Charlotte. It's because you go into it, and you have to put some huge arc into the corner. So essentially the corner will open up, and the bottom will go away from you. It creates this weird sensation in your mind where you feel like, "I just missed this corner. I need to turn down to get to the bottom." But you don't.
So you hold a real large arc, probably the largest arc in any form of racing, as you go through Turns 3 and 4 of Charlotte. You don't even apex the corner; most people will run the bottom. You're not even apexing the corner of 3 and 4 until way past the center, to give these cars the look of, "Where's he going?" But when you back up and see the corner from the driver's perspective, you can understand that. And back to the other side of it, if you run the top, it can be very treacherous as well, because the track and the way the banking is, it's very hard to see your marks. It's very hard to look ahead. It's one of those tracks where I have to have the windshield of my car painted up very high so I can see around the corner, because it's that steep and there's that much banking.
So you put this large arc into the corner because Turn 4 narrows up. It's very, very narrow on exit and it also loses the banking again. It's fairly similar to the exit of Turn 2 at Darlington, where you want to know, "What were they thinking here?" You have to be very careful, and the car has a tendency to get free and try to spin out while putting the power down. That's because you have so much wheel input into it to make sure you don't hit the wall on exit. And if you get your car to where it doesn't try to spin out right here, of course you push into the wall.
So it's tricky to get off of Turn 4, it's a very narrow corner. The reason you run up high in 3 and 4 is not because it's faster, it's only to give yourself a little more room to turn the car down on exit.
So you carry your run off of Turn 4, that run really sets up the whole lap and it's critical to running a good lap at this track. Once you exit, that sets you up for the front straightaway and you complete your lap.