Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. Heading into the race at Phoenix Sunday, the driver of the No. 12 Dodge in Sprint Cup talks about his biggest racing accomplishment of the season -- winning the 2010 Nationwide Series Championship. Find out how this title changes him as a driver, what he thinks about the Kyle Busch incident and the best way to cook a turkey in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Kes.
Usually, we start with a Cup Series recap but this time congratulations are in order. You are the 2010 Nationwide Series champion ... how does it feel?
It's amazing to do something like that, to win a NASCAR championship. Very few guys in their career will ever have the opportunity to do it, to ever have the teams good enough to do it. You learn that, over time. I've certainly learned that by being with teams that certainly weren't capable of doing it. And it makes it an amazing feeling, one where you really look back and you're humbled to have the opportunity to have great equipment.
When did you first feel like winning the title would be a real possibility?
That's a really good question. I don't know, I don't know if I really had one moment where I said, "We have a shot at it." I believed right at the beginning, of course, but I really didn't believe at a higher level we physically had it until we won the fall Charlotte race. It took me a real long time to be able to believe it, but like we've talked before, I'm a natural skeptic, so...
Emotionally, I was more nervous at Texas than I thought I would be. I only had to finish 21st to clinch the title and looking back at it, I was crazy to be that nervous. But I just kept running the scenarios through my head, bad things that could happen just out of nowhere, and you're just thinking like, "Oh please, I got this vibration! Please don't let this wheel fall off on the restart!" "Please, I'm going to shift a little early, please make sure I don't overrev it!" Simple little things like that which are kind of funny in hindsight. I can really sympathize for the guys in the Chase, going for a championship where it's going to come down to the last race, because I can only imagine those emotions are about ten times what I was feeling.
How has winning this championship helped you develop as a driver across all levels of racing?
As a driver, I don't think much... it just adds a little bit of confidence. I think as a brand, it's more powerful to me. That's what's so hard to explain to people, and this was part of the conversation I had with Roger Penske about doing the Nationwide Series to begin with, is that you're laying a foundation for success on the Cup side. And that foundation for success is a brand of excellence, that you're committed to winning championships and you can do it. And that brand carries way more than just your own confidence or even ability to do it. It carries into attracting top talent and keeping top talent that can help you get to that level. That can help you get better yet again... that's where it really helps.
There are those who will question this title and how it was won. How do you answer critics who claim the Nationwide championship shouldn't go to a Cup guy running all the races?
Well, things have changed quite a bit. There's no doubt about that. What was considered to be acceptable in the past is now completely taboo in regards to the Nationwide side. There's going to be some critics no matter how well you perform or what you do, they're just going to criticize you. And when you prove them wrong, they're just going to move on to another area. Because it's easy to find any stat you want, to tell any story you want to tell. And it is what it is.
I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. But I think if you look at it objectively, and you look at the past two years, it's my third full season on the Nationwide side, and in the past two years, I've spent those years third in points, finishing behind two Cup drivers. And after that year was over, I didn't look back at them and say, look, "Clint [Bowyer] shouldn't have won the championship or Kyle shouldn't have won the championship because they're full-time Cup drivers." I just said, "I need to do better." And it's because of that I feel no guilt for winning it this year. I could be sitting here being a two-time champion already, but I don't feel remorse for not winning it. And I certainly don't feel like those guys didn't deserve to win it, because they did.
Do you plan to your defend your title in 2011 if NASCAR will allow you to?
Yes. Absolutely. We're moving full speed ahead as if everything is remaining the same.
Alright, let's move back to the Cup side. You scored back-to-back top-10 finishes, your first of the season, at Martinsville and Talladega but the momentum seemed to come to a screeching halt at Texas. Why? Take us through Sunday's race.
Well, Talladega was pretty good I think. Went back and forth, felt like we could have been better but got a decent finish out of it and executed and I was feeling good about that. Then, Texas it was our typical performance this year to date with mile-and-a-halfs. We've just struggled there.and Texas was no exception. So we have a lot of work to do in that program. We've found some stuff out this week that some of our competitors are doing that we'll be able to apply going forward. Some interesting stuff... hopefully, that will be applied by the time we get back to Homestead and find some speed.
Your teammate, Kurt Busch, has also struggled and is now in jeopardy of not ending the year inside the top 10 in points. Where has it all gone wrong for you guys in the postseason this year?
For some reason our performance has gotten worse. I think if you look back at it, there are three successful teams that have had the speed and executed, and there's probably half-a-dozen teams that have had speed and just not executed. Obviously, execution is about doing the right things and not screwing up when you have good cars. But also, it's harder to execute when you don't have fast race cars. You can make mistakes. We saw that with Kurt at Loudon and Charlotte, where he just didn't have a fast car and he felt like he had to make up for it it and made a mistake. But where we've been off speedwise is that the No. 48 team has set the standard for how to operate in the Chase. That standard is you unveil new cars 2-3 weeks before the Chase, and they're borderline cars that have new technology that's right on the edge of passing the rules and tech stations. That's their strategy.
The Texas race included plenty of action, including the infamous fight between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. As a guy who's been around this sport, are those the last two people you'd expect to get into it? What do you take from their shoving match in terms of how NASCAR both polices these things and what the future could be for both veterans?
Yeah, I think I was surprised. I think you look at it, those are two drivers that are leaders of the NASCAR world, distinguished veterans. I think it says a lot about the sport, and not exactly in a positive way. It shows how we need to have more leaders in our sport. I wondered about that a lot, because we all talk about Dale Earnhardt Sr. and how influential he was on the sport, how he was a leader. He commanded respect, and because of that he was the voice of NASCAR. He was like the president of our union, in a way. And it was interesting, because I've heard a lot of private comments, between different upstanding people in the garage, where they say things like, "Well if Dale were around, we would have never gone to the CoT. If Dale were around, we would have never done this, this, or that. And we'd be better, and we'd be in better shape."
You hear comments like that, and basically what those comments mean, is if we had a senior driver around, the sport would be in better shape. We'd have made better decisions the last few years. It's quite obvious to me, being around these senior drivers they need to take more of an active role in the sport. They're not being the leader that NASCAR needs to help make the sport better. It's that absence that is in large part responsible for some decisions that have been made.
I didn't lose respect for them as a person or a racer, though. I can understand it. I think we all were surprised, but looking at it after seeing the incident, I can clearly understand why Jeff Gordon is so upset. I just don't believe physical contact has a place in our sport. We have to have more credibility than that.
Chad Knaus decided to switch the Nos. 24 and 48 pit crews for the final two races of the season. Is the media making too much out of this deal, or is this a major move that could blow up in the faces of all involved?
It's one that I have mixed emotions about. Obviously, you look at Chad and you say he's got big cajones for making a change like that. Then, you look at that the other way, and it's a conversation I've had with all crew chiefs at Penske Racing. At some point you have to stand your ground and make the group you have better. Take the house you live in and make it nicer. You can't just keep moving around because you don't like the shower, or the carpet ... at some point you need to put a new carpet in, put a new shower in, make it nicer. And when it comes to pit crews, it's no different. Obviously, whatever problems he's having with the pit crew didn't just pop up at Texas, so from that perspective I'd be more disappointed it wasn't addressed before we got to Texas.
Right now, the No. 11 car is the best car on the racetrack, though. I don't think they'll be stopped.
OK, can't leave this diary without talking about your rival ... Kyle Busch ... and the middle finger. What's your take on the type of penalty that type of misbehavior should receive? What advice would you have for Kyle if you could sit down and talk to him?
Well, you have to have credibility to rule if you're NASCAR, and events like that damage your credibility to rule. And it's the same whether or not you're government, if you stand up in the damn courtroom as the defendant and tell the judge a certain thing, he's going to kick you out of the courtroom. You've got to have the ability to rule or it's not going to work. Now if you want to stand up and tell another driver he's a moron, display your displeasure in ways like what he did, I'd say that's 100 percent acceptable. But when it comes down to the officials, it doesn't work, it's not right for them. So I stand behind the penalty.
As it pertains to advice, I'm glad I'm not in that role. I sure as hell would hate to be J.D. Gibbs, trying to explain that to sponsors. If you can't control yourself at this point in your career with issues like that, you're never going to be able to.
Veteran's Day was Thursday, a salute to the men and women who serve. What's the coolest experience you've had in NASCAR meeting the armed forces, and what does the military mean to your family? Have any special military fan experiences you can share?
Well that one's obvious, it's my foundation. The Checkered Flag Foundation. I started it at Michigan this year, at the fall Michigan race, and put together a series of events throughout the year that will continue to do stuff for different veterans. That's the foundation's goal. It's the only foundation in NASCAR that is dedicated to doing things for members of the military, men and women, and other groups that have made sacrifices for our country and our community. I've done some really cool things, I've done the Walter Reed trips that a lot of people have done, but the past few weeks have been especially enjoyable and a unique experience we've been able to do. We had an opportunity to meet a bunch of guys that have gotten Purple Hearts and so forth. I met this guy last week in Texas, we invited him ... we went bowling for one of our foundation events, we combined it with Sam Hornish Jr.'s event, and took these guys that were all in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had really had a rough time and we took them bowling. I had a great time with them.
I met this one guy that was really special. He was No. 2 on the Al Qaeda hit list when he was serving in Iraq, and the stories he told me about being shot at and so forth were just amazing. A whole bunch of incredible stories like that from meeting these guys.
If any fans would like to donate, go to checkeredflagfoundation.org.
Brad, what was your first car and do you still have it in your possession? -- Judy Rushman, Flower Mound, TX
Well, my first car was actually a race car. That's all I got to say. I never owned my own car growing up, ever. I just borrowed rides, or rode with my dad, hitchhiked, something. I always found ways to not have a car. So I borrowed a lot of cars growing up, and quite honestly I did not own my first car until this year. Amazing when you think about it, right? When I moved down to North Carolina, again somebody gave me a car to drive. So I'm going to have to go with a race car on this. My first race car was a factory stock, and it was a '77 Monte Carlo. I don't own it anymore, but I keep track of it and I know where it's at and how it's doing.
I bought back my late model I built when I was 18 years old, That's still very, very special to me too.
Alyssa Milano. WIN HER. I love Alyssa Milano! Big fan. I like her movies, I like her attitude, I like her style. I was a little bit of a Who's The Boss? fan as a kid, but I was definitely a closet Charmed fan. What can I say? It was three beautiful women on TV ... I was charmed by Charmed.
Courtney Cox. NEUTRAL. I'm kind of indifferent on her. I never got into the Scream thing or the Friends shows. I just never really got that whole deal.
Today's Topic: Thanksgiving
RING ME UP: Believe it or not, up until last year I absolutely despised turkey on Thanksgiving. I just can't stand oven-baked turkey, I still can't. So last year, in an effort to have better turkey, we did the manly thing and bought one of those deep fryer things. We dropped it in a bucket of oil and essentially cooked the turkey... and it was awesome. We deep fried this turkey, and it was unbelievable, best turkey I've ever had. It's the only turkey I'll eat, so... deep fry yours this Thanksgiving. You will not regret it.
Take us around a lap at Phoenix.
Phoenix is a pretty tricky little place. Starting at the start/finish line, as always, looking down into Turn 1 there's a pretty extreme elevation change, which can be difficult as a driver. Combine that with the fact that when the sun sets, it sets right into your eyes going into Turn 1 and you've got a tricky combination. There's a sun set, there's an elevation change, but essentially what happens is with that elevation change, the sunset, and the way the wall comes from pit road, you can't see your apex as a driver. That actually makes it kind of similar to Indy or a track like that ... it's a very blind corner, and I think that's why you see a lot of wrecks in that area, especially after spins. You'll see a guy spin in the middle of the corner, and somebody come later on and hit 'em just because it's so blind.
So it's very challenging to find your apex. It's very hard braking into Turn 1, you go through that elevation change and the car bottoms out rather severely until it settles in the center of the corner. One of the really great things about Phoenix and the race is that the groove really opens up. You can run the top, you can run the middle, you can run the bottom, hell, you can even run the apron.
From there, the exit of Turn 2 is kind of this weird transition where it flattens out and tries to go away from you, and you always try to fight forward bite right there. You need to be really smooth picking up the throttle, and as you're doing that follow the context of the wall. And you have to because there's a dogleg down the back straightaway. And I can't help but think every time I'm at Phoenix, "Why is there a dogleg right here?" It doesn't make sense, but it becomes a tricky feature to the track, because it's difficult to run side-by-side through there and get a good entry to Turn 3.
Turn 3 is really narrow, a high-speed corner and by narrow I mean the groove is very, very small. When you're running side-by-side, the groove is even smaller. It gives you almost a Darlington-like feel. It just tightens up, funnels you together and that's why you see a lot of wrecks in Turn 3 and all the way through 3 and 4.
So it's very narrow, you get into the corner as the fastest part of the racetrack. You tend to hit the rev limiter there, right in that section. That part of the track is anywhere from 2-5 mph faster than the frontstretch.
So you carry this big run into this fast, narrow corner and you'll go through a series of bumps where you're straddling right through an apron edge. And you'll go through and the car bounces, and bounces back and it's kind of an uneasy feeling, and as soon as the car settles down you're back to the throttle. But you have to get back to it very smooth, because the corner radius of 3 and 4 is so large that if you get to the throttle too quick, you'll end up in the wall.
So you come off of 4 as smooth as possible, head towards the start/finish line and do it again!