News & Media


Happy Hour: Keselowski 'mentally tough' and ready for Pocono

August 05, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Long Pond, Pa. -- After an accident in testing fractured his left ankle earlier this week, Brad Keselowski said Friday at Pocono Raceway that he considered himself lucky just to be at the track.

His crew chief, Paul Wolfe, said his team was lucky to have Keselowski as their driver.

Wolfe worked with Keselowski for a year in the Nationwide Series, winning the 2010 championship. Team owner Roger Penske kept them together for the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule and they won in their 13th race together at Kansas.

Wolfe's background , which includes years of building and racing his own cars, is enough to appreciate what his driver has accomplished this week. But all that experience isn't enough to prevent Wolfe from learning a lesson.

"Drivers have been calling about getting into my car. But I'm not getting out. This is our life. This is what I do. I drive race cars for a living."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

"I've learned how mentally tough he is, I guess," Wolfe said of Keselowski between Friday's Cup practices. Keselowski turned the 10th-best lap during first practice, a session where drivers had to exert extreme pressure on the brake pedal in Turn 1, then delicately feather it in Turns 2 and 3 while shifting several times.

Keselowski said he does all his footwork on the brake and clutch pedals with his left foot. Wolfe said the only time at Pocono that Keselowski would use the clutch would be when leaving the pits after service stops.

The conversation returned Wolfe to the nightmare he experienced Wednesday at Road Atlanta where the team had gone to prepare for next weekend's Cup event at Watkins Glen International.

"It was a pretty scary deal that I was there for," Wolfe said. "I rode in the ambulance with him and it was definitely a side of him I'd never seen before and I didn't like to see, with him hurt like that."

Keselowski had only tested the team's primary No. 2 Dodge when the telemetry-equipped car lost its brakes at the end of the 155 mph front stretch and speared into a temporary barrier at 100 mph.

"He was in a lot of pain and I was pretty scared that he wouldn't be getting back in the race car this weekend because he was that tore up," Wolfe said. "To see how quick he's recovered -- I know he's definitely not 100 percent yet, with his foot -- but to be to be able to come back here [Friday] and jump in a car after having a scary wreck like that says a lot about him and how strong he is, and how much this team and trying to get into this Chase means to him.

"He could have easily sat out the weekend or had someone else practice the car. But he was determined and told me [Friday] morning he didn't want anyone else in his race car and he was gonna be good to go. So far, seeing the speed we had in practice, I'd say he's doing a really good job."

Keselowski met with the media for 15 minutes between a pair of 90-minute practices.

"Both feet are tore up pretty good," Keselowski said. "But certainly I'm still able to do what I want to do. I'm not gonna get out [of the car] -- I don't care how much it hurts me."

Keselowski said he was wearing an ankle brace similar to what a basketball player would employ on an ankle sprain. As a result, he's wearing a driving shoe one size larger on his left foot.

"[The brace] makes my foot move as one with my leg, which makes it a lot easier," Keselowski said. "But then again you can't really use the ball of your foot to modulate the brake pedal, and getting through Turns 2 and 3 here really requires a lot of finesse with the brake pedal, so [being hurt] makes it a little more complicated."

Ryan Newman had the fastest lap in the opening practice; Kurt Busch was second and A.J. Allmendinger was third. Keselowski turned 22 laps.

"Him not running Iowa is key, because that gives him another day of rest on the foot to make it stronger for Sunday."

--PAUL WOLFE

During Happy Hour, Keselowski's cut a tire and spun while exiting Turn 1 and ended up eighth behind top-three Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick.

"You come to Pocono and Turn 1 is pretty fast," Keselowski said. "I ran over something and cut down a left rear tire. Glad to bring the Blue Deuce, at least in one piece on the race track. Other than the tires, we've got no damage.

Keselowski has made it clear at Pocono that he has no intentions of letting someone else get behind the wheel of the No. 2.

"Drivers have been calling about getting into my car," Keselowski said. "But I'm not getting out. This is our life. This is what I do. I drive race cars for a living. And the second someone else gets in there, you just got replaced.

"And you fight so hard to find your seat, your spot and your way in this sport, that you're not going to let somebody else replace you."

The Penske group decided Keselowski, who was scheduled to compete in the Nationwide Series race this weekend at Iowa Speedway, would stay in Pocono and allow teammate Sam Hornish Jr. to do the Nationwide event. Wolfe said moving forward, Keselowski's Nationwide schedule would be determined week-to-week and that he preferred Keselowski not return to the second series until he's 100 percent.

"[Friday] morning, after he had a chance to sit in the car and feel it, he said he wanted to go to Iowa," Wolfe said. "He's not going. He would if he could, but he's smart and he knows how much this [Cup] side means.

"Him not running Iowa is key, because that gives him another day of rest on the foot to make it stronger for Sunday."

Keselowski is 16 points behind Juan Montoya for the 20th spot in the Cup drivers' standings. He needs to get into the top 20, and more than likely win another race to have a chance to make the Chase.

"This is about the worst time [for an accident], knowing we're coming up on the Chase, knowing that we need another win to get in, knowing that we have tracks coming up that require a lot of finesse with the brakes -- Watkins Glen and here at Pocono," Keselowski said. "And then, you've got one of the toughest races of the year with Bristol -- it's 500 laps on a short track. There's no good time, but this is certainly the worst time."

Wolfe said he didn't have to make any adjustments to the clutch master cylinder in order to soften the pressure needed to depress the clutch.

"Whether or not he's hiding the pain, he was pretty confident," Wolfe said. "The speed he was able to run in practice says he's OK."