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Ford Performance NASCAR: Brad Keselowski Martinsville Media Availability

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Ford Zoom Media Availability | Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series, has two victories at Martinsville Speedway, which is this week’s stop on the tour.  Keselowski, who sits fifth in the point standings, was a guest on today’s Ford Zoom call and discussed his season to date with members of the media.

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Autotrader Ford Mustang THIS IS THE MONTH OF THE MILITARY CHILD AND YOU HAVE SOME INITIATIVES GOING ON THROUGH YOUR FOUNDATION.  WHAT CAN YOU SHARE WITH US ABOUT THAT TODAY?  “My foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, does a lot of things to support our nation’s heroes, including their families.  You can’t be a hero without a family to support you more often than not, so we want to celebrate them.  The military has what they call the Month of the Military Child, which really showcases some of the sacrifices that families and specifically sons and daughters make to be a part of their lives with servicemen and servicewomen, so we’ve got a number of causes going.  You’ll probably see some names on the roof of our car.  Usually, they’re known for being in purple.  I do like the color purple, not as much as my wife and daughter do, but the color purple is really  meant to signify those that are military children.  I think there are quite a few that might even be on this call from what I know about members of the media, so it’s real special to be able to honor and recognize them.  Of course, way too many of them have seen the traumatic side of losing a parent in service, so we want to recognize them as well and give a salute to them.  We have a name on our car coming up.  We have three people that we’ll be honoring at Martinsville, Richmond and Talladega.  Jacob, Andrew and Steven, so all of them have their own unique stories.  All of them are NASCAR fans, which is always great, so it means a lot to them and we’re proud to support them through our foundation and appreciate Team Penske allowing us to put their name on our car for the next few weeks.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY STANDARDS YOU WOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH IN TERMS OF HAVING MORE INTERACTION WITH FANS OR GUESTS AT THE TRACK?  “Everybody’s standard is different, so I can only speak to my standard, which might not be a shared standard and let me be the first to recognize that, but as far as I’m concerned I’m comfortable just going.  Open it up.  Let’s go.  Not everyone might be in that same spot, but I’m 100 percent comfortable to get back to normal.”

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT STREET RACING AND AS FAR AS THE 40 PERCENT SHORT TRACKS WHERE WOULD SOME OF THOSE PLACES COME FROM THAT AREN’T CURRENTLY TO BE SCHEDULED OR ON THE SCHEDULE?  “And the other thing I would add to that is I never considered that we’d go to a dirt track, so shame on me.  I think those number still feel pretty reasonable to me.  A street course, to me, is a road course, unless it’s a street oval, which I don’t know if they even have those, but I still like those numbers.  I’m really excited about, and I don’t know what the update is on this, but I’m really excited about Fontana switching to a short track.  I think that will be really interesting.  I’ll miss the big track, I’m not gonna lie.  That was a really cool track to run on, especially as it aged it became one of the best racetracks on the circuit, so I’m gonna miss that, but not as much as I think I’m gonna enjoy seeing it turn into a short track.  I’m not aware of where that stands today, but that’s one of the tracks we can obviously pull from and a really important market.  I would still like to see us find a way to run on the short track in Canada.  I think that market is really strong for us and under-utilized.  I’m very excited about the Nashville Fairgrounds being picked up as well.  I’m not fully aware of the timing or how exactly that’s gonna work with respect to what date it will get, but those three right there probably stand out to me as some targets.”

HAVING A DOWNTOWN SETTING IS THAT SOMETHING YOU SEE AS VALUABLE?  “It can be.  I think Indy Car has had a lot of success with it.  To some extent, Formula One has over the decades.  You bring the action to the people, but one of the things I would say is we have racetracks that are in the city right now.  Richmond stands out.  Indianapolis is really in the city.  It might not be on city pavement, but it’s in a city area as far as I’m concerned, so I wouldn’t say that we’re devoid of any exposure to that as it stands today.”

WHAT KIND OF THOUGHT DO YOU HAVE ON WHEN DRIVERS AND TEAM MEMBERS SHOULD GET VACCINATED?  “Everybody’s got their own level of comfort.  I’m not judging those who have or have not in the workplace.  I don’t think we should force anyone to get it or not to get it.  I think it’s a personal decision that everyone has a right to, and so accordingly I think once it’s open to everyone those who feel comfortable getting it should certainly get it if that’s what they want to do.  I haven’t made a decision on what I’m going to do yet personally.  I haven’t been in a position where I need to because it hasn’t been available to me, but it’s a discussion that my family and I certainly will have when that time comes.”

THREE STRAIGHT SHORT TRACKS.  WHAT KIND OF BONUS IS THAT FOR YOU TO HAVE THAT KIND OF STRETCH?  “I’m pumped.  When we got out of Bristol I left with a smile on my face knowing that we had Martinsville, we had Richmond — those are two of my best racetracks.  At Martinsville we’ve been just so solid the last few times, and then Richmond was kind of a dominant race for us last fall.  I was super disappointed that Richmond in the spring got cancelled because of COVID because I thought we would be really good, but I’m looking forward to going back and hopeful to have the same success we had last fall.  It’s certainly a track that I’ve had circled.  Jeremy Bullins, my crew chief, and the whole team did such a great job preparing the car for that racetrack, so hopefully we can repeat.”

IN LIGHT OF NOT HAVING WON YET THIS SEASON IS IT CHALLENGING, FRUSTRATING OR ANNOYING TO NOT HAVE A WIN AT THIS POINT WHEN IT’S SOMETHING YOU’VE GENERALLY ACHIEVED BY THIS POINT?  “I would say right now I don’t have a super strong emotion about it.  I feel like we came out of the gate really strong at Daytona.  We were in position to win.  We had a good run at Vegas, not quite as strong as we wanted to be at Phoenix, but still solid, so we’re knocking around the door.  Atlanta was disappointing, but outside of Atlanta I wouldn’t say we’ve had any bad races, so I think there are some things to build off of and learn from, but we’re right there knocking on the door, so I’m encouraged and fairly optimistic.  Like I said, we’ve got three of our best tracks right in front of us, arguably five of our best tracks right in front of us and I feel really strong and optimistic.”

YOU’VE AVOIDED STRUGGLING AT MARTINSVILLE, BUT IT SEEMS TO THROW MANY TALENTED DRIVERS FOR A LOOP.  WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT CAN PRODUCE SUCH PROLONGED STRUGGLES FOR SOME?  “I think it’s a really hard track to practice at, even more so because we can’t practice, but even when you could practice there it was really hard to get anything out of it because the track is so much different in practice than it is in the race.  That was something that I struggled with very early at Martinsville a lot, that we would be really fast in practice, we’d be kind of patting ourselves on the back and then we’d go to racing and it was just meh — racing where we’d run 10th to 15th.  I think in that sense it was frustrating but not awful and you try to learn from that and it’s just a really hard track to implement continuous improvement towards.  I think a lot of it comes from confidence.  It’s a track that requires a lot of confidence.  You find a technique that works and you stick with it, but those techniques only work when you have a car that’s good enough.  What ultimately happens a lot at Martinsville is you get a technique, you get a good car and you get in a rhythm and someone starts to dominate and vice versa.  If you never find that technique and you never have a car that works well, you get lost.  I’ll never forget my first year in Cup, really my first two or three years in Cup, running just awful bad at California Speedway.  It was heads and tails one of the worst tracks for me, and it was one of the tracks I really struggled to give feedback at because I never had a good car in those first three races and I wasn’t able to say, ‘Hey, here’s what I need the car to do.’  I just didn’t have that experience and with respect to that I couldn’t provide the feedback to the team, the car wasn’t good, which meant I wasn’t developing the right techniques.  Finally, I had one or two races where an epiphany hit and I had a good car, I made some mistakes but then I learned from it and I was able to apply that and run well there from there on out, but it just took a number of attempts.  Some tracks it just seems like it takes longer for things to click and Martinsville seems to be one of them in my mind.”

GOLF BEGINS ITS MAJOR SEASON WITH THE MASTERS THIS WEEKEND.  IN NASCAR THE MAJORS HAVE BEEN THE DAYTONA 500, SOUTHERN 500, COCA-COLA 600 AND BRICKYARD 400.  I’M WONDERING WITH THE BRICKYARD MOVING TO THE ROAD COURSE WOULD YOU STILL LIST THAT AS ONE OF NASCAR’S FOUR MAJORS?  “That’s an interesting question.  I actually had a really small conversation with Roger Penske about that topic as well.  He and I kind of batted that one back and forth and I don’t know if we really even came up with an answer as to what it means when you switch it from the oval to the road course.  Ultimately, we don’t get to decide.  Ultimately, the industry decides collectively what the majors are, and I agree 100 percent with you of what tracks are considered majors right now.  I would say those four without a doubt.  As to whether or not Indy stays that way, I don’t know.  I think it’s a good industry question that will be answered with time, but, for the most part, I would say you’re spot on in the way you’re thinking.  I’ve also quasi-considered the All-Star Race as being maybe a fringe major, so I would probably put that close on that list, but I do love the fact that we do have races like that, that have the history and tradition and just mean more to win, so that’s very special for our sport.”

AS A FORMER BRICKYARD WINNER DOES THE MEANING CHANGE AT ALL NOW THAT THERE MAY NOT BE ANOTHER RACE ON THE OVAL?  “Yeah, I think it’s pretty cool I’ve got one of the oval wins.  I kind of hope it stays on the road course just so I can always hold that over some people’s heads.”

IN THE LAST 10 RACES AT RICHMOND YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED WORSE THAN 11TH.  WAS THERE A MOMENT RICHMOND JUST CLICKED FOR YOU?  “Yes.  It’s very similar — Richmond and Martinsville.  It’s not quite as cut-and-dried as Martinsville is, but it’s a track that requires a super specific rhythm and feel.  I really enjoy Richmond a lot.  It has developed into one of the hardest tracks to drive.  I put Darlington and Richmond into kind of the same family, maybe Atlanta.  Atlanta is actually kind of not the same Atlanta since they repainted the lines, but Atlanta used to be a lot harder to drive than it is now today, so that’s a sidebar.  But, right now, I would say that between Martinsville and Richmond, just the rhythm and footwork and all that you have to have to be successful there is so precise.  I really enjoy that challenge and I feel good about the techniques.”

WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON YOUR CONTRACT DISCUSSIONS WITH TEAM PENSKE AND DO YOU THINK YOU WILL BE RE-SIGNING?  “We’ve had a lot of talks, but I’m trying to be careful to not negotiate contracts through the media.  I think those things will work out here over the next few months and hopefully there will be something exciting to announce for you.”

TALLADEGA IS COMING UP.  BASED ON WHAT HAPPENED AT DAYTONA, HOW HAVE THE CONVERSATIONS BEEN LIKE WITH JOEY AND RYAN WHEN IT COMES TO THE CLOSING LAPS?  “I can’t say we’ve had a full conversation.  We’ve had some conversations on how Daytona finished, but we’ll continue to work through that when the right time comes, but hopefully we’re in a position to where we have enough cars up front where things like, as unfortunate as they were, happen like Daytona that’s really the goal — be there at the end, be up front and have a shot to win.  From there, things kind of shake out as they may, and the way we’ve been able to do that is by working together as a team, and I certainly don’t want to see that change at all.  So, we’ll have to figure out a way to be able to bring it home so we all don’t end up in a wad at the end, but first things first, we want to be in position where you’re scoring stage points and you’re kind of controlling the top five at the end of the race.”

DO YOU EXPECT ANY ISSUES GETTING BACK TO RACING ON PAVEMENT AFTER THE DIRT RACE?  “Hopefully for everybody else, but not for me.  I hope they all forgot how to run asphalt, but I suspect that’s not the case.  You look at guys like Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, these guys run a dirt race on a Saturday night and come back and run an asphalt race on a Sunday, so the versatility that’s required to be successful in NASCAR between road courses, short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedway and dirt is pretty extensive and I think what you end up seeing is the cream rise to the top and these guys are pros.  They know how to switch back and forth pretty quickly.”

DOES SEEING BRAD AND RYAN WIN THIS SEASON GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE GOING FORWARD?  “Yeah, I think all of us have been in position to win races.  I think Joey was really impressive at Bristol.  He ran a great race.  I’m not sure he had the fastest car, but he made really strong moves.  That was pretty impressive to see.  Blaney was incredibly strong at Atlanta and made great moves again to win that, but had a strong car as well.  Those are good things to see, certainly I don’t think we’re by any means the fastest car week in and week out, but collectively our group seems to be right in that top five area and able to strike when the moment comes up.”

HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IS A RACE LIKE MARTINSVILLE IN TERMS OF THE PATIENCE YOU NEED TO HAVE THERE?  YOU CAN HAVE AN ISSUE EARLY ON AND FALL MULTIPLE LAPS DOWN, BUT STILL RECOVER AND FINISH WELL.  “The first thing I would say is if Martinsville were a golf course it would be a 50-hole golf course.  It’s a 500-lap race, so you get behind early there is plenty of opportunities to catch up, and even to expand upon that with the advent of the wave arounds and the lucky dogs and stages it’s never been easier to catch up from behind in NASCAR, so I think having the mental strength and capacity to acknowledge that, work through it and play that to your advantage is super important.  Not everybody has it, but the best do and they’re able to succeed.”

CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY THERE HAVE BEEN NO MULTIPLE WINNERS AT THIS STAGE OF THE SEASON?  “To put my finger on the extreme parity this season, it’s hard to put it on one thing.  I mean, if you had a deck of cards and you pulled from it, you’d probably have the same odds as what it is in parity in NASCAR that sometimes that’s just the way it works out.  You pull all kings or you pull all queens or whatever it might be, so I think some of it is random, but that’s not to say there aren’t external factors at play.  I think the body change or template change, rules change, whatever you want to call it, to start 2020 on the quarter panels of the car was pretty significant.  That leveled the field out pretty dramatically.  I think it hurt some teams pretty significantly that has probably been well-documented.  I think that’s probably a contributing factor.  Another factor is the schedule disparity —  a huge change in the schedule.  We’ve been at every type of track between dirt, short track, intermediate, road course, superspeedway in the first seven races.  It’s hard to see how that couldn’t play a factor into it, and then there’s just some all-out luck factors as well.  I think Kyle Larson has probably had the fastest car in over half of those races and he’s had a few mistakes, he’s had a little bit of bad luck to where it hasn’t played out for him to win, so a number of those pieces come together at the end of the day and end in the result that is at least externally looks like a lot of parity, but the reality is I think if you looked at parity in the sense of who has had the fastest car the majority of the races, in my eyes at least, there hasn’t been a huge difference in parity.  That might be a better way to judge it than race winners.”


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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