Ford’s Brad Keselowski Looking To Get Off The Chase Bubble

Ford Racing NSCS Notes & Quotes:
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Friday, August 30, 2013

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, is on the Chase bubble with two races remaining.  He sits just outside a guaranteed top-10 transfer position in 11th-place, just four points behind Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano.  The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion visited the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield media center to talk about this weekend’s race and what it’s going to take to make the 12-driver Chase field.

BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS WEEK?  “Obviously these are two really big weekends for not just our team but for the whole sport as far as making it into the Chase, which is how I really think most teams would define their season is, one, making the Chase and then, two, where you stand once you get in it at the end of the year.  We haven’t done that yet.  We haven’t made our way into it.  Certainly there are a lot of different ways and pressures to make that happen and we know it and I know.  I’m honestly looking forward to this week and next week because I think we’re gonna be really strong.  I feel like both Atlanta and Richmond kind of suit our team very well.  We tested both tracks and had very successful test sessions.  I feel like we’ll be a team that can quite honestly win the race, so from a points perspective I can’t sit here and tell you that it’s not on my mind, but my primary focus is just on winning the race.  If we can get that done, then everything takes care of itself.  Quite honestly, I’m really looking forward to these weekends.  I look at it, and I told this to my crew chief Paul Wolfe, and I know there are some people that look at it and say, ‘You’ve got to be scared about not making it.’  I look at this as a tremendous opportunity to prove the merits of our team and that we can operate at a high level because there have been a lot of circumstances out of our control that have put us in this position to not be locked in so late in the season, and our back is against the wall.  But these are the times where great teams step up and they make something happen and where great drivers step up and they make a play.  That’s what I’m looking forward to, I’m looking forward to that opportunity to prove what we’re worth and what we’re made of.”

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HOW IS YOUR TRUCK TEAM GOING THESE DAYS?  “I still have a lot of fun with that series and it’s still a lot of who I am and where I’ve come from.  It’s kind of my way of staying connected to the roots of this sport.  Obviously, my family had a team when I was growing up and without that team I probably would not have made it to where I am here today, so I kind of view it as a little bit of my role as a driver, whether I was a champion or not at the Cup level to give back to the sport and doing so is always a lot of fun for me.  As far as the team as it stands today, I think it has never been better and I think it still has a very bright future in front of it.  Obviously winning the race at Pocono is a good start, but that’s just one win.  Two wins if you look at last year, but I like the way it’s growing and I like the potential it has with a driver like Ryan Blaney, who is really rock solid. I’m honestly surprised somebody hasn’t stolen him and done something really cool with him from me, so I’m really excited about his potential.  I’m very fortunate to have sponsors, one of the few teams in that series which has sponsors and that’s a big deal, so I feel very lucky.  That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve been able to leverage with being a Sprint Cup champion is to have actual sponsors because, although I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m not losing money on it, at least I’m not losing a lot of money.  Either way, I’m still having fun with it and I think it helps me feel more connected to this sport and probably a more complete racer.”

CAN YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE HELP YOUR TRUCK OPERATION?  “Absolutely.  It’s kind of funny because we have this trophy case in my shop and it has the Sprint Cup trophy and it has the Nationwide trophy and I keep looking at those guys going, ‘The only one I’m missing is yours.  C’mon, it’s time to step it up here (laughing).’  I think that it gives those guys a little more extra incentive to know that when I talk to them about certain things it’s coming from a good place.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – CAN YOU EXPAND ON WHY YOU THINK THE TIRE THIS WEEKEND IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF THIS SPORT?  “This is Goodyear’s first race for the zone-treading, zone-compound tire that has two different compounds in it, whether it’s a hard compound-soft compound kind of laced inside the tire.  The technical explanation of that is basically a tire runs with camber, so it’s an angle, and when a tire runs at that angle the inside edge sees a lot of heat, a lot of wear, a lot of stress that has all been amplified by this new car because of the increased speeds.  To compensate for that, it requires Goodyear to come out with an even harder compound for the tires to utilize, so that we don’t blow them out and knock the wall down. As we run harder compounds there is less falloff over the course of the run.  With less falloff over the course of a run, it kind of takes away from the significance of a driver’s ability to manage his car, along with a crew chief’s ability to put in a setup that uses different management skills.  When you take those two abilities away from those within the sport, you remove variables.  When you remove variables, you remove side-by-side racing because that’s what creates side-by-side racing – variables.  It’s know that I’m watching this guy drive out the gate pushing his car way too hard as a driver and 10 laps from now he’s gonna come right back to me.  With that variable removed, as a driver you’re losing techniques and tactics to be able to beat another driver or to just get to him to run side-by-side.  When you combine that we the aero dependencies of these cars at these speeds, you keep taking away tactics and as you remove tactics from drivers, you get the single-file parade races that I think we’ve all talked about and has been a point of discussion.  This tire, what it’s doing is giving tactics back to the drivers and back to the teams because although it still has the hard shell inside or hard zone you would say inside, the softer, outer compound should create those same techniques and tactics where the tires will still fall off and that’s very, very important to our racing.  But it’s also very important to Goodyear to have a safe tire that we don’t have to read headlines about blowing out, so I think it’s a very commendable step.  We hear drivers all time talk about how significant the tires are to the quality of racing and I would be one of the first to raise my hand when I think we have not done the best job possible.  I think everybody here knows that from experience and I want to be one of the first to raise my hand when I think we’re going down the right path.  What’s very important to this sport, specifically with this tire and this weekend for this conversation, is that this weekend doesn’t become the sole judge of whether it’s been successful.  The tire essentially got, I don’t want to say rushed into production, but brought in by necessity because last year’s tire with this year’s car, this year’s speeds, this year’s cambers, this year’s increased under-the-hood temperatures, was completely incompatible to the track.  We were looking at 5 to 10 lap runs and the scenario that was probably worse than what we had at Indianapolis.  This tire came in and, knock on wood, saved the day at the test session.  Hopefully, that will be the same scenario when we race, but the real key for our sport is that this tire builds the momentum internally, whether it’s through the drivers, the teams, the media, etc., to be able to be utilized at further tracks, specifically the tracks that have zero falloff as it stands right now, in order to give us back that tool chest or give us back those tactics.  Those tracks such as Kansas, Pocono, Michigan – these repaved tracks, where that is a real issue.  Phoenix comes to mind.  If this tire is successful and plays out, it could make a major dent in improving the quality of our racing, which is inherently good for all of us.”

HOW WELL POSITIONED IS YOUR TEAM IF YOU MAKE IT IN THE CHASE TO DEFEND YOUR TITLE?  “I think if we can get through these next two weeks, we’re in as strong of a position as ever.  We don’t quite have the confidence that we had at this time last year, and that’s something that I will admit.  But if we come out guns ablaze these next two races, we’ll get that confidence real quick, and I think we are positioned to do that.  Like I said before with having tested here and Richmond I feel like we have great cars for that.  We still have one test session left to use, so we’re definitely gonna use that on one of the Chase tracks.  We’ve tested at Loudon already and had great results there, sitting on the pole and running third.  I felt like we had a shot to win that race and the cautions kind of fell against us again, but I could see us very easily getting on a hot streak.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – IS IT A KICK IN THE GUT OR HUMBLING TO BE IN THIS POSITION A YEAR AFTER WINNING THE TITLE?  “Yeah.  In this world it’s easy to get kicked in the gut pretty quick.  There definitely are some things that I could do better and that we could do better as a team, and there were last year as well.  I think there are a lot of scenarios and a lot of things that have been outside of our control that haven’t gone our way, which has been very frustrating, but part of this sport as well.  In this sport it’s inevitable that the way it works is a bit of a rollercoaster and we’re at the bottom of it right now.  There’s no doubt about it.  I feel like the key to the sports world and, really, the key to life, isn’t about falling down it’s about getting back up.  I’m confident because I started from nothing and was able to win a championship that we were able to climb that hill, we were able to climb that mountain, and I’m confident we’ll be able to do it again.  Obviously, it’s gonna take a lot of hard work and there is a lot of work in front of us and there are two really important weeks for us to really make that happen, but in reality, there are 12 important weeks to me and that’s how I’m looking at it.”

HAVE YOU NOT FELT GOOD ABOUT SOME OF THE RECENT TRACKS WE’VE BEEN TO?  “Quite honestly the only race I was nervous about was Michigan and we had a shot at winning that one if the cautions didn’t fall exactly against us, which is has kind of been the reoccurring theme of our season.  Bristol is the worst we ran for a majority of the season and we were probably a 15th-place car there to be honest, and then we got caught up in a wreck, which is what happens when you run in that position.  But I’ve felt pretty strongly about the majority of the track and it’s just been a matter of not catching the right breaks or not executing, and that’s kind of where we’ve been at, but speed-wise I feel like that’s what builds your confidence – when you have speed.  I feel like we’re gonna have pretty good speed the next two weeks and we have to find the other two pieces.  The three pieces I talk about all the time – speed, execution, luck – your confidence as a driver comes from speed before you enter a race track, and I feel like we’ll definitely have that at these two, and we did have that when we tested, but we still have to find the next two links and that’s what will make you successful when you put all three together.”

DO YOU HAVE TO WIN ONE OF THESE LAST TWO WEEKS IN YOUR MIND?  “No, but I want to (laughing).  That’s my goal.  One win would feel pretty damn good.  It still wouldn’t lock us in.  I think that we’re going here with a ‘win the race’ mentality, but the next two weeks do we have to win to make it in?  No.  We still control our own destiny.  We might be sitting 11th in points, but essentially if we put up two strong finishes, that will be a moot point and that’s kind of how I’m looking at it from that perspective.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to win and it also doesn’t mean that I’m gonna do something really dumb to try to win, and I think there’s a difference between the two.”

HOW HAS YOUR TEAM BEEN ABLE TO HANDLE THIS ADVERSITY SO WELL?  “Without a doubt once you’ve had success you feel established, it’s easy to feel like – I should clarify – that the world owes you something just because you’ve been successful once.  That’s not how the world works.  That’s why we don’t race the stat board.  That’s why we don’t race any of that stuff.  We race the race track every week and it’s a whole new race and what you’ve done in the past is great, and it certainly gives you respect, but there’s a reason why we still run the race and that’s part of what makes sports so great and so much fun for me is because every week is an opportunity to prove yourself for the better and sometimes for the worse.  And what you’ve done last year or even last week once they drop the green flag is irrelevant.  It’s a different day and a different time, but it’s also another opportunity and that’s how I view it.”

THIS TRACK SPECIFICALLY LOOKS LIKE IT WOULD BE ONE OF YOUR FAVORITES, SO HAS IT BEEN A CASE OF NOT CATCHING THE BREAKS OR DO YOU NOT LIKE IT AS MUCH?  “I like Atlanta, absolutely.  I love Atlanta, actually.  This is one of my favorite tracks and we’ve had some good runs here.   I think we finished third and sixth the last two times here.  We haven’t been quite good enough to win, but we certainly had very respectable runs.  You knock around the top-five and you’ll get wins.”

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BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – DID YOU FIND THE FEEL YOU’RE LOOKING FOR IN THE CAR DURING YOUR RICHMOND TEST TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT NEXT WEEK?  “Yeah, we found some inherently fundamental flaws in our car and that’s why we picked Richmond to test at, and I feel like we worked them out.  I would say that’s why my confidence going in there is a little bit higher than before.”

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE IN RACING FOR A TITLE AND RACING TO TRY AND RACE FOR A TITLE?  “When you’re racing for a championship, you’re racing to prove you’re the best.  When you’re racing to make it in the Chase, you’re racing for survival, you’re racing to prove that you just belong.  It’s a completely different mentality and I think that’s why you see people that when they make the Chase they just take a deep sigh because you feel like you’ve lived.  I think it’s definitely a separate mentality, and I think you see people that are OK with justifying their whole season by, ‘Hey, we made the Chase.’  I’m not one of those.  I think that there are quite a few drivers that aren’t one of those.  It’s interesting because I spent some time over the last few weeks looking back at Tony Stewart’s season in 2011 because I think there are a lot of parallels between his season that year and where I’m at right now.  I feel like if we hit everything right, we have an opportunity to do something very similar to him, and I see that in our team.  One of the things that stuck out to me about him and that year was the attitude that he had as far as he’d rather not be in the Chase than just take up a spot.  I think that’s the attitude of a true racer and I think that’s the attitude I have as well.  I’m not here just to make the Chase and go home quietly.  If our team makes the Chase and does its job right, we’re going to make a lot of noise.  I really believe that, but we have work to do to make that happen.”

DOES THAT PHILOSOPHY ALMOST CREATE AN EXCUSE?  “Basically what you’re saying is I’m not happy with just surviving.  There’s a pool of people that just make the Chase and survive – you’re prolonging your career, you’re like, ‘Whew, now I can go on to 2014 and say I made the Chase.  I’m good enough to keep my job in this sport.’  I don’t have that mentality.  Guys like Tony Stewart don’t have that mentality.  They’d rather be here and be successful or not be here at all.”

WHY DID YOU LOOK AT TONY’S SEASON?  “What Tony did in 2011 is quite easily the most remarkable Chase that I think we’ve seen so far, and at this point in the season he was very similar to where I am right now.  I’m one of those people that believes in history, believes that there are lessons to be learned from it, and I’d be a fool not to look at someone who has been in the same situation and came out at the end of it having one of the best seasons ever.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED — AFTER MICHIGAN JAMIE ALLISON SAID THE AERO PACKAGE FOR THIS GEN-6 CAR IS IMPORTANT.  HAS THERE BEEN ANY IMPROVEMENT IN THE AERO PACKAGE FOR THESE REMAINING RACES?  AND IS THERE ANY DIFFERENT SETUP REQUIRED FOR THIS NEW GOODYEAR TIRE?  “I’m not aware of any aero improvements of significance over the last month or so.  I know that there are a lot of requests to change the aero of the Fords for next season, and I would surmise that those will be approved.  It’s hard to say how that process is going to work.  Essentially, the Ford came in and I’m sure some of you guys remember this from media day, but Ford came in as the first car, and I guess that would have been the spring of 2012.  I think they launched it on media day and everybody got their pictures, so it was the first car through the gate for the Generation 6.  From that time period on, there were several changes and modifications made to the Generation 6 race car that were permitted to the other manufacturers, where the Fords had already essentially submitted their car and did not get those.  That said, 2014 it’s my understanding or impression that Ford will be allowed to essentially catch back up, which will be very interesting to see how that plays out.  Quite honestly, it was something that internally in the Ford camp I think there’s a lot of disappointment around how that scenario unfolded, but that’s the way it unfolded and it’s something that we’ll work around and do the best we can with.”

ON THE GOODYEAR TIRE SETUP.  “I’m not really sure about the new tire requiring a special setup.  I think we’re all gonna learn that together this weekend and over the next few weekends as the tire continues to progress.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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