Brad Keselowski does a biweekly diary for SI.com. Heading into the race at Talladega, the driver of the No. 12 Dodge hopes to keep building momentum after scoring his first Sprint Cup top-10 for owner Roger Penske. Find out how Martinsville became the key to their success, his reaction to the possible demise of Richard Petty Motorsports, and learn a classic Halloween "dos and don'ts" moment for the Keselowski family in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Kes.
Let's start with Martinsville. Sunday was a major breakthrough for the No. 12 team, as you scored your first top-10 finish with Penske Racing. How'd you do it?
Well, we were really good at Martinsville in the spring. That's one of the key things for us this time around, as we were in position to get a top-10 in that race. We were eighth or ninth on the last restart, and just got caught up in that mess with Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. But we had very similar runs between the spring and the fall -- just didn't catch a bad break at the end of this race. In fact, we actually caught a good break; we had an awesome last pit stop and gained one or two spots. That put us in position with a solid race car to run our own race and that last segment under green -- almost 100 laps -- helped get us a solid finish out of the day.
This was a long time coming for you, but for your team it's been even longer -- it's the first top 10 since Bristol in August 2008. How important was it for the team to get this burst of momentum?
Well, it's always helpful. I was surprised by that stat. It's really kind of amazing how long it's been for them. It's certainly something we're proud of, but we know we've been capable of doing it all year. It's just a matter of executing. This is a sign that good fortune will come your way if you continue to work hard and continue to do the right things. I believe we're doing that.
With four races left, it's a virtual certainty that Kevin Conway is taking home this year's rookie of the year title without so much as a top-10 finish. Considering you could have been a rookie if you ran seven races or fewer last year, would you like to see them change the policy in the future so that guys like you -- who have never run a full season -- will get a chance to compete for it?
Yeah, it was certainly disappointing to not get the chance to run for it. But the sport is changing and evolving, and the years of running seven races or fewer before running your first full season and being competitive are long since gone -- especially with the advent of the CoT and the testing ban. So I think that even if it wasn't in my favor to change the rule, that's something we should be looking at. And with the current situation, I think we need to dictate a different philosophy going forward.
With only a few races left, there aren't a lot of opportunities left for payback. Is there anyone out there you still feel like you need to get even with by Homestead? And do you think we're going to see a rash of incidents toward the end of the year like we did with you and Denny last year?
I think there will be something. I don't know what, but I think there's a lot of tempers that have flared up over the last few weeks. Not necessarily anything on my end, but I would not be surprised at all to see something. And with NASCAR's policy of just letting it be, there's no reason not to pay someone back. It's almost becoming expected that you do it.
As for me... from my perspective, the unfinished business is to go out there, run good, and be able to win a race. We have a lot to work to do there. If I spend my time worrying about paying anybody back, I'm not focusing on winning the race.
Right now, the Chase has solidified into a three-car race: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Which one of that trio has the edge, and why?
I think Jimmie has the edge, without a doubt. He's got better luck, for one, and you can never write that off. He's come to Talladega the last few years, not been ultra competitive and gotten great finishes out of it. And this track's going to be the wild card, don't get me wrong, but what I think you're going to see is he'll get out of Talladega, well, like he always has. One of the two others -- whether it's Kevin or Denny -- probably won't, and if that happens I think it's Jimmie's title to lose.
Richard Petty Motorsports is the talk of the garage this week, unsure whether it'll even be able to compete after Talladega. How much of a blow to this sport would it be to lose a man like The King? Or is it not as big a deal as people are making it out to be?
Well, it's a big deal to lose the King. As far as the team perspective goes, it's big to lose any competitively-funded teams, but not necessarily because his name is on it. I don't think many people associate that team with his name even though it's on the building. Because, let's be honest, the Petty Enterprises that we're used to in Randleman is not the same "Petty team" that's up in Concord. So really, it's just the namesake on the cars from that standpoint. But my perspective on that is Richard will find another position in this sport, and we won't lose him. I think we'll just lose his namesake on a team that isn't even his team to begin with. So as far as that's concerned, there's much made about something that really isn't warranted, because he'll find another spot in the sport and be well-known in that position.
If RPM folds, we're down to 29 fully-funded teams for 2011. Would you like to see NASCAR shorten the fields if that's the case? In what ways can we encourage new car owners and sponsors to come into this sport?
First off, you have to open up the testing ban because it limits new barometers and creates no incentive and no possibilities for other, new teams to be educated and be competitive. So before we're ever going to do anything, we need to open up the testing ban and I don't think that's going to happen, so -- it's essentially a moot point from that standpoint.
I've said it before, several times in this particular diary that the testing ban is one of the worst things that's ever happened to the sport and I stand behind that. I don't see where a new car owner is going to get in the sport and ever be competitive, especially on a timeline that's acceptable with sponsors and fans without testing. Therefore, there's no incentive to do it (and they start and park).
As far as shortening the field, I don't really have any strong opinions on that. There were times we used to race 36 cars, there were times where my uncle's told me stories about starting 70, 75 cars at Talladega, so no matter what the number, this sport will be fine.
Halloween's coming up this weekend. What's your favorite costume you wore as a kid, and why? Have any good Halloween stories?
Probably the best Halloween story we had as a family is about my brother; someone tried to steal his candy once, and he got into a fight with a guy. Thought that was pretty good. No one's stealing my brother's candy and getting away with it...
I was probably 12 when that happened, and he's two years older, so he was 14. Kind of old for trick-or-treating, but not too old. But anyway, for those who know my brother, stealing candy or any type of food from him is the ultimate 'no no.' So that was funny.
I had a couple of different Halloween costumes, but none that stuck out as really good. I used to always wear masks, so I had a couple of different masks but nothing special. Worst one .... When I was little, my mom bought me a Smurfs costume and I was a Smurf. That was the worst.
Brad, who's one person in the NASCAR garage people would be surprised to know you're friends with? -- Ronnie, Knoxville, Tenn.
Well, I get along well with Kevin Harvick. I don't know if people would be surprised by that, but ...
If you are friends with somebody in the garage, do you like that to be a matter of public knowledge?
Eh, I try and keep my off-track stuff off-track, but I don't care if other people know. I just don't publish it or celebrate it.
Jenn Sterger. WIN HER. I saw a picture or two, and I think she's pretty good-looking. Other than that, I don't know much about her. But I don't have a problem with her; the Brett Favre controversy doesn't bother me. He brings it on himself, and I think it's somewhat intentional... from what I understand, she's not the one complaining to begin with. If she was the one filing the complaint, I might think differently about it.
Kim Kardashian. WIN HER. I like her, too. She seems really cool, she went to a race in Las Vegas, not bad-looking ... two win hers. That's a first.
Today's Topic: NBA vs. NHL
RING ME UP: NHL. Less hype, more action.
I LOST THE NUMBER: NBA. I'm not big on the whole hype thing, including LeBron.
Take us around a lap at Talladega.
Very smooth. The cars are easy to drive, and you have a lot of grip. But when you turn into the corner, it's just so smooth and you can go anywhere. It's like being on the freeway at 200 mph. There's a lot of control. It's a great feeling as a race car driver, and then you get in that pack and it turns into a mess. A disaster.
So, it can really play with your mind. The only really tricky thing about Talladega, from a driver's perspective, is dealing with the tri-oval. At the very bottom of the tri-oval, the track has a little transition to it, one that can kind of turn you sideways and help you lose your bearings a little bit. That can be kind of tricky, but all-in-all, a very smooth, high-banked track with smooth transitions and no bumps. A lot of fun to drive.
Last year, this race was marked by a long line of single-file competition, Chasers afraid to get in a wreck marked with fear of being penalized by bumpdrafting. How much more aggressive do you think we'll see things get this time around?
I don't think we'll see a huge difference between the fall race from last year to this year and the actual on-track product. I think we'll see a difference this year in the attitudes that the drivers and teams have toward it, and possibly the fans.
We'll see. I don't know my strategy yet; I'll wait and see after practice and qualifying how I feel about my car, and then develop one accordingly.