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Monday, January 4, 2010

Keselowski family team heading South, hopes to contend in 2010

In order to make it to the top, you have to be where the action is.

That’s the case in any industry, and in the case of NASCAR you have to be in North Carolina.

That’s why the Michigan-based K Automotive Racing team has decided to head down South for the 2010 racing season, in hopes that the move will help grow the small family-run team into a Nationwide series contender.

Brian Keselowski, a Rochester Hills native who will drive the team’s #26 car for the 2010 season and also oversee its operation, said there are a few reasons for the move. For one thing, the Nationwide series will be using “Car of Tomorrow” cars in four races in 2010, requiring approval of every detail of the new cars by NASCAR – something that would be hard to do from several states away.

Then, most importantly, there is the matter of needing to find qualified employees who are familiar with what it takes to win in NASCAR.
“The main thing is trying to find enough people in Michigan who were experienced to do this work. They don’t understand what’s involved. It was difficult to find anyone committed to doing something,” Keselowski said. “I’d rather not leave Michigan, it’s my home. But I need to be down there, it’s where everything revolves around. You have to make the business work.”

The team will move from its bare-bones shop in Michigan down to North Carolina, where the K Automotive cars will occupy part of a garage once used by Cup Series team owner Travis Carter. Keselowski will be working with a new crew chief, Dave Suge Jr. After starting 2009 with just a few cars, 2010 begins with the team having 12 cars in the shop.

“It’s fully stocked, ready to go,” Keselowski said. “It’s 3 times as big as my Michigan shop. I just moved my race cars down there.”

The move is mostly completed, and Brian said he’s already working hard at lining up top-notch talent to help the team compete more in 2010.
“I was just down there last week, after Christmas. I had 25 interviews for people to work on the race team. Experienced guys, which was a big thing for me,” Keselowski said. “I’ve never had that. It was never someone who had worked on NASCAR equipment. Now I’ll have people who have done this before and understand the commitment.”

As of right now, the K Automotive team has no sponsorship, though there are some promising leads. In place of tradition sponsorship, the team will run either one or two additional cars that will likely “start and park” most races to fund the main car that Keselowski will be driving.
“Dennis Setzer is committed to running the #96 car full-time. I’m probably going to do a third car too, as a start-and-park, with either Willie Allen or Johnny Chapman driving. If I’m not going to get any sponsorship, that’s my sponsor.”

“I’m trying to work out a deal where I can have the extra cars run the full race a few times, too, and not just start-and-park,” he added.

After starting last year with the hope of just surviving and staying in the top 30 in owner’s points, the team was able to hang on and achieve that goal, meaning they have an automatic spot in the first five races of 2010, and can focus on racing well enough to maintain that for future races.

Now that the team is established, the goals this year are higher.
“I want to run a competitive team, consistently run for top-10s,” Brian said. That will be difficult until we can get major sponsors. Running good helps, but at this time and age right now, I don’t see how it’s going to automatically get you money. There’s not millions laying around for racing. You have to be lucky, too, sometimes. Running good never hurts, though.”

In addition, he wants to run a trustworthy organization, and uphold the good name his family had had in the sport since it began racing 40 years ago.
“My goal again is to pay all the bills, obviously,” Brian said. “I’m not going to owe people millions of dollars like some people. Part of the reason I survived last year is I got a lot of credit, and could pay people at a late date, because of my family’ reputation. We make sure people get paid, no matter what.”

The move down South will be a family affair, as is always the case with the K Automotive team. Brian will be living in North Carolina full-time, and his father Bob Keselowski will spend a lot of time down there helping the team out. While he is in North Carolina, Bob will stay with Brian’s brother Brad, who rose to fame while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team in Nationwide the past two seasons and made the jump to drive in Cup for Roger Penske in 2010.

Brian said it will good for his brother to have family around.
“One good thing is my dad’s going to stay with him when he’s down there, and he hasn’t had a lot of family around him in recent years,” Brian said.

But just because they’ll now be in the same state, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll see his brother more often.
“We’ll be around each other more, but he’ll be busy running full-time in two series and I’ll be busy running my team basically by myself,” Brian said.

Last year was a struggle, and Brian took himself out of the car for a while when things weren’t going so well. During that time, a talented but out-of-work driver named Michael McDowell put in some impressive performances for K Automotive. In his efforts to make ends meet, he also leased the car number out a few times to another driver, Kevin Conway, who wanted a guaranteed starting spot in a few races.

“It got to the point when I was struggling to find people to do what I needed to do. I could work on the car or drive, but I couldn’t do both. It worked out McDowell was looking for a ride,” Brian said. “We did not pay him to drive the car. He was hoping to stay up in the points, so it worked out. He finished in the top 10 a couple times. I had to do what I had to do to pay the bills. We did that to survive. Same with the Conway deal.”

While he was glad to see the team do well with another driver, Brian is amped up to get back behind the wheel and hit the track in 2010.
“I can’t wait to get back to work,” he said.


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