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Monday, April 12, 2010

Keselowski: “I’m putting my future in my own hands”

Associated Press photo
Brad Keselowski, above, is excited about his new ride at Penske Racing and says the team is on the right track.

One year ago, rising NASCAR star Brad Keselowski’s career was up in the air, figuratively.
The Rochester Hills native was racing part-time in the Sprint Cup series for the Hendrick Motorsports team, but Mark Martin’s decision to keep racing left him without a Cup ride at that powerhouse team. Everyone wondered if he would wait for his turn, or seek other opportunities.

In the past 12 months, Keselowski has won a Cup race in dramatic fashion, feuded on and off the track with Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, and was literally up in the air last month after a controversial altercation with Carl Edwards at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Now driving for Penske Racing (he didn’t stick around and wait at Hendrick), Brad has emerged as a target of veteran drivers like Edwards and Denny Hamlin, who claim he is reckless and has no respect for veteran drivers.
Keselowski doesn’t see it that way, and said the attacks him are not based in reality, and won’t change how he races.
“Absolutely not. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. It doesn’t mean you can be a bull in the china shop. But you can’t lay over every time. It’s a balancing act. “

He said that there have been times he was overly aggressive, but that wasn’t the case in the instances to which Hamlin and Edwards responded.
“There’s been a few times I’ve been overly aggressive. But on average I don’t feel like I have,” he said. “The times where I’ve been overly aggressive, I haven’t gotten any kickback. When I haven’t, I have gotten a kickback. At Atlanta, I wasn’t overly aggressive. The times with Denny, I wasn’t overly aggressive. But there have been other times I didn’t do as good a job as I could have. It’s ironic.”

Keselowski is working his hardest to put aside all the drama and focus on what’s really important, running well in his new ride. It’s still a work in progress, as he sits 27th in points, but that number is skewed in part because of the Atlanta wreck, which happened when he was running in the top-10 and ended up in 36th place.
He said that his points position isn’t reflective of how well the team is running.

“If we had finished Atlanta we’d be 20th in points, and you look at Daytona we got a flat tire on Lap 2. That’s just rotten luck. If you get rid of those 2 weeks, we’re a legitimate top-20 team.”
Just seven Cup races into his time at Penske, Keselowski said he is pleased with the progress the team is making.
“I’d say we’re right where I expected and hoped to be. I have a lot of respect for the competition and to think I’d come in and dominate with Penske Racing would be a farce. We expected to be competitive, and we’re building momentum,” he said. “So far, we’re on task with that.”

In addition to the Cup series, Keselowski is running a full season in the Nationwide series, which he hopes will lead to a championship trophy. So far he’s on target, as he now leads the Nationwide standings after a solid run this weekend at Phoenix.
“When I came to Penske. I wanted to win Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship,”  Keselowski said.
This double-dipping in Nationwide is helpful now, Keselowski said, but isn’t something he will do forever.

“On the short term it’s good for me. On the long-term, there’s going to be some negatives. For the next year or two, trying to create a footing at Penske Racing, it’s very healthy for me. It’s good to establish a base, energize the team. It helps me become a better driver, and it’s paying off.” he said. “A couple years down the road, it’s not going to be as big of a deal and might harm the Cup side.”

He is also continuing his part-time efforts as a team owner and occasional driver in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck series, racing whenever the funding will allow it.
“I’ll run as much as it makes sense financially. We’re still trying to figure it out. It’s another way to become a better driver and remember what makes this sport fun.”

When Keselowski made the move to Penske from Hendrick, many doubted whether this was a good choice, considering how dominating Hendrick is in the Cup series right now.
Keselowski brushes off those attitudes, saying the move was necessary for his career and that it puts the weight on his shoulders to succeed.
“The best way I can answer that is I came to Penske because I feel like I control my own fate. The resources are here. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t feel like I could get there. At Hendrick, I didn’t control my own fate. I don’t know how things would have gone over there,” he said.

Keselowski traveled to Michigan several times to meet with Michigan business icon Roger Penske last year and seal the deal to drive the #12 car in the Cup series.
Despite being involved with so many businesses and forms of racing, Keselowski said Penske is still closely involved with his team and the Cup series effort.
“The best way to summarize it is at 7 p.m Easter Sunday, we were on a 15 minute phone call together. I talk to him once a week. He’s been at (several) races this year,” Keselowski said. “I would call that fairly committed. I feel good about it. I’ve seen him in the shop several times.”

Despite his name becoming more and more recognized among NASCAR fans due to the recent controversies, Keselowski said he isn’t feeling overwhelmed by everything and remains thankful of fan support.
“I don’t feel like that many people know me. I don’t have a real good base for that. If that’s the case, I don’t see it. I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “I’m happy to have the fans I have. I’m amazed by the things they do, the way they energize me week to week. Ever time I walk through the garage, they tell me to not change. I appreciate that.”

The controversies involving Keselowski’s driving style began last year with a back-and-forth with driver Denny Hamlin and continued this year with the Carl Edwards incident. Both Hamlin and Edwards have gotten “payback” against Keselowski by purposely wrecking him in retaliation for what they deemed to be unnecessarily rough driving by Keselowski.

Edwards’ payback sent Keselowski flying, and the video of the incident was so popular it even make some of the networks’ nightly newscasts, a rarity for any NASCAR clip. Keselowski said the ride was pretty intense.
“I remember it. But I couldn’t tell you that I could break it down step by step. It just happens so fast. It’s a really quick hit. It rivals any hit you’ll take in the NFL. It’s one hell of a ride.”

He said that while TV commentators may get excited when he’s around Hamlin or Edwards on the track, he won’t race them any different than the other drivers.
“That makes for good TV, but I don’t think of it that away. That would be a disservice to my team,” he said.

On the personal side, Brad is getting a little more family time in now that his brother Brian’s Nationwide team has moved down to North Carolina. As part of the move, their father Bob Keselowski has moved in with Brad.
“My dad moved in with me, when he’s here, so I am enjoying that,” Brad said. “It’s another person to have a base off and make decisions.”

So in this transition year, what are Keselowski’s goals for 2010?
“There’s not one specific goal on Cup side. The goal is more of a feeling, That we’re getting better every week. And we’ll be contenders to win. We’re not setting specific target dates, we just want to get better, get up there in the points,” he said. “This isn’t going to be easy. No one is going to hand us anything, we know that. On the Nationwide side, we want a title.”

As he works hard to get to the next level in Cup, Keselowski knows that he has to carry the burden of reaching that level of success, and has high aspirations for his future at Penske.
“There’s a saying: Put your life in your own hands and a terrible thing happens -- there’s no one to blame. I’m putting my future in my own hands. The tools are there. It’s a matter of getting a team to gel together. A large part is my responsibility. I want to make it what Hendrick has over there.”


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