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Keselowski not satisfied to just be a driver

November 28, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Keselowski not satisfied to just be a driver

LAS VEGAS -- Brad Keselowski's reign at the top of NASCAR's premier series may be only weeks old, but it's clear the new Sprint Cup champion isn't content just being a driver.

The 28-year-old already wields a degree of authority within his Penske Racing organization, as evidenced by his championing of Joey Logano to be his new teammate, something that becomes a reality starting with the 2013 season. But Keselowski also hopes to one day exert influence within NASCAR itself -- although he doesn't necessarily believe that entails following Roger Penske's lead and fielding vehicles on the Sprint Cup tour.

"I want to be a leader in the sport, and I want to make the sport better tomorrow then what it was today."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

"I don't know if I ever want to be a car owner. That seems really hard. But I want to be a leader in the sport. And I think you can be a leader in the sport without being a car owner," Keselowski said Tuesday at the 2012 Motorsports Marketing Forum, which coincides with NASCAR's Champions Week activities in Las Vegas.

"You look at some of the stuff that goes on with TV, the broadcast partners and so forth, the different spokesmen up there. And then I also look at some of crew members who have come back to work for NASCAR -- you've got [VP for competition] Robin Pemberton, as an example. I think the biggest thing I could say is, I want to be a leader in the sport, and I want to make the sport better tomorrow then what it was today. That's kind of my MO. Wherever that opportunity exists, I'll help."

Heady words for someone whose first premier-series title was clinched just Nov. 18. But Keselowski has always seen more than just what's in front of him on the race track, whether it's in interacting with fans over social media networks, owning a Camping World Truck Series team, or bringing suggestions to the 75-year-old Penske -- who's been fielding vehicles in NASCAR since 1972, but had been without a Cup championship until Keselowski delivered one this season. Penske credits Keselowski's recommendations with helping the team break through, but the two didn't always see eye-to-eye.

Particularly at the beginning, when Keselowski was first negotiating with Penske, and the former JR Motorsports driver wanted to compete on the Nationwide tour in addition to Sprint Cup. Penske said no, and the marriage that netted this year's title almost never happened. "We broke off discussions," the driver said. But Keselowski and Penske shared an agency that was putting together a Nationwide package for sponsor Discount Tire, and the company wanted Keselowski behind the wheel. Together he and Penske won the 2010 Nationwide crown, and then the big prize this season.

"Without them doing that, I don't go to Penske Racing," Keselowski said, "and where I'm at today -- I don't know."

Now, he's at a point where he clearly has his car owner's ear. When AJ Allmendinger was released and Penske had an opening for 2013, it was Keselowski who steered the team toward Logano. It was Keselowski who suggested the team upgrade its fitness center. Even in his tipsy celebration after the clincher at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he promised Penske he was armed with a list of more potential improvements.

To Keselowski, it's not just clout -- it's an important part of staying ahead of the competition. "I think as the guy who's out there making things happen as a driver, you're on the field, so to speak," he said. "You have a vision for what happens that's justified or recalibrated on really a daily basis. That wisdom or knowledge that you gain, if you can turn that into real-time leadership, you have a significant advantage over those who are on the sideline. So I want to play that as a strength, and it's worked for me."

Hoisting the trophy


Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are the only driver-crew chief combination to win titles in both the Cup and Nationwide Series.

Keselowski said discussions he and Penske have are primarily about personnel. "This is a people sport," he said. "You have to have resources, you have to have people -- they're your No. 1 resource -- and you have to have funding. You give that enough time and enough talent, and you know you'll be successful. And I think that's where we're at. Now obviously, things came together a little quicker than what we would have thought, but that's the recipe for success. We know we keep that, we'll be successful long-term. Maybe not every year, but long term you'll have more good years than bad."

Keselowski also wields sizable influence through his social media following, which took off after he snapped a photo from his car of the burning jet dryer that interrupted the Daytona 500. On the immediate horizon, he sees two things capable of reshaping NASCAR -- the introduction of the 2013 Sprint Cup cars, which will include physical features that more closely resemble their respective showroom models, and data service at the race track to better support social media involvement that he believes is integral to the event-day experience.

"I went to the Lions game at Thanksgiving, big Detroit Lions fan, and my phone was dead after 20 minutes. I couldn't get a text or tweet out," said Keselowski, who has more than 342,000 followers on Twitter. "I can tell you for my generation, that is the majority of the experience. Got a friend on the other side of the stadium, [text] 'What was that play?' Push send -- and it doesn't go through. That kills the experience. So our ability to adjust the model of NASCAR to those two things is going to be very important to our future."

Important to Keselowski himself is aligning with companies that understand who he is -- something he has with Miller Lite, the primary sponsor on his No. 2 car. That relationship affords him the freedom to speak strongly about on-track retaliation at Phoenix, or celebrate his title with gusto one week later at Homestead -- complete with an oversized pilsner glass in one hand.

"I think the most important thing for me is to be associated with brands that are OK with me being me," he said. "I know that's very simple sounding. But it's also very important to me. I don't want to answer the phone to a question of, aw, you shouldn't have talked about that. I don't want that. And you know what? I might miss out on a few business deals in between, but I'm much happier as a person and a lot better with a fans when I'm just me."