Keselowski: Local races make drivers 'tick'
August 12, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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The last time Brad Keselowski ran a short track race outside of NASCAR was last summer, when he took part in a charity event in Canada to benefit his Checkered Flag Foundation. It was an exception, given that the 2012 champion of NASCAR's top series doesn't typically compete in local track events. The reason is simple -- his car owner, Roger Penske, doesn't want him to.
But that doesn't mean Keselowski believes all NASCAR drivers should steer clear of local races, an issue which raised its head again this past weekend when three-time champion Tony Stewart was involved in an incident at an upstate New York sprint-car venue that cost fellow competitor Kevin Ward Jr. his life. That came one year after a crash at a sprint-car race in Iowa that left Stewart with a broken leg, and cost him much of his 2013 season.
Although Stewart co-owns his NASCAR team, instances like those have led some to wonder whether it's time to end the practice of elite NASCAR drivers moonlighting in extracurricular events. But you won't find Keselowski leading the charge on that front.
"No, not really, to be honest with you. I think there's no one‑size‑fits‑all program that really makes sense for this. Each driver has his own interests. Those interests vary between one guy might want to go run sprint like Tony, another might want to run late model like Kyle Busch. Who knows. Maybe it's a dune buggy. I've heard some guys doing that. Travis Pastrana went BASE jumping one week last year," Keselowski said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.
"That's what makes us who we are. That's what makes us tick. The racing grind can really wear down on you. You have to do certain things that work for you in your life to make you happy to keep you going, to keep you at a very high level with your own happiness. It's difficult to try and limit anyone to those things. That's not just a racer, that would be any employer. So I don't see coming in and stopping those things. I think every situation's different."
In Keselowski's situation, he does virtually none at all. The Team Penske driver estimated that the charity race in Canada was the only local-track event he's run in the past five or six years.
"That's at the request of my car owner. I respect him for that. I get a lot of opportunities. I had one this week to run in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for one of their big races. I had to turn it down. It's not because I don't want to do it. Believe me, I want to do it. I'm a racer. I'd love the opportunity. Those were huge races that I never got the opportunity to race in on my way up, and would love to fulfill that opportunity now, go out there and have a shot at winning," said Keselowski, a Michigan native who came up on short tracks in the region.
"The reality is, there's 350-some employees here at Penske Racing. Each one of them has their salary compensated through revenues generated by sponsors and fans that are counting on me to drive the car. If something were to happen to me in those races, whether we want to admit it or not, there's a higher chance of that happening, all of our sponsors, all of the people that pay for us to do these things, have the right to go away. It threatens the job and the livelihood of 350 some employees at Team Penske, Penske Racing. That's the decision, that's the balance that we have to make, that we have to weigh out."
Keselowski still has a full plate when it comes to racing -- he's competing for the Team Penske stable in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event at Michigan International Speedway, and owns the entries of Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano that will be in Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race on the 2-mile track. Keselowski has also competed eight times this season in Penske's No. 22 Nationwide Series car, which will be driven Saturday at Mid-Ohio by Alex Tagliani.
"This sounds a little bit ridiculous, but I think you have to dream big. One of my goal sets for the year was being a part of winning all three championships," Keselowski said. "The Sprint Cup championship is a priority. I think we're in position to make a run at that. The Nationwide owner's championship for Roger Penske, we are certainly in a position to win that. I think we're five or six points out with a lot of races left. Then the Truck championship with Ryan Blaney, who is leading the championship points. In a lot of ways this is shaping up to be a career‑best year for me if we can close it all out. I think we have a great opportunity for that."
For Keselowski these days, that pursuit doesn't include local-track races -- although he sees no issue if other top NASCAR drivers, or their team owners, feel differently.
"When those opportunities come up, everybody walks that line a little bit differently," he said. "At Penske Racing we probably walk it the furthest on the conservative side. That's worked for us so far. Then again, we've missed out on some opportunities. It's a very difficult balancing act and line to walk. Everyone is entitled to their own right and own way of walking it."