Transcript: Brad Keselowski – Press Conference – 05.12.24

THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by our race-winning driver and owner. It’s the first time the 6 has been in Victory Lane since 2011. I’m curious if that means anything to you just from a historical sense.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes and no. I’m not a huge numerology guy, but it’s still a historic number in the sport. All the single-digit numbers I think in NASCAR kind of have this legend to them. It’s nice to get it back in Victory Lane.

There’s a lot of things to be excited about, so it’s really hard to pick one over another, whether it be just winning as a whole, winning at Darlington, winning and locking into the playoffs, winning with my family here, winning on Mother’s Day. I don’t know how to pick which one means the most, but they all mean a lot. I can tell you that.

It’s good for Jack to have been here, too, good for Ford, first win with the dark horse. They’ve had a rough go the last few months. There’s a lot to be excited and a lot to like about it.

I’m not sure I know how to scale it which ones are more than others.

Q. Obviously Buescher was not the happiest after this one, and I’m curious, does he need to race any dirtier to get a win? What would you tell him if he asked you that or people said he needs to be not as polite?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Chris has his style, and it’s worked really, really well for him. I don’t think Chris needs to change a darn thing about what he does. It might not have worked out today, but there’s other days where it works for him and makes him what he is. It makes him special. It makes him good.

I hate that he didn’t get the result out of it. I know he had some damage on the car, and that was holding him back a little bit, so he wasn’t able to drive away like you would assume a leader would do in a situation like that.

But I thought he did a great job of putting himself in position, and to not get a result, I’m sure it’s hard to stomach, and it should be hard to stomach. That’s what you want out of your driver. You want him to be upset when he doesn’t win.

Yeah, I would say Chris isn’t sitting in front of me now, but I would tell him just keep being Chris, keep doing what you do.

Q. You’ve had a lot of important wins, monumental wins in your career. Where does this one rank for you personally, for your driving career, given the last two, three years where you went without a win?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, ranking wins is hard. Your first win is always really special, and then there’s these other moments in between. Winning here in ’18 and sweeping the weekend was awesome. That’s one of the best weekends of my life.

I remember coming home from that and thinking this is as good as it gets.

Then you have other wins that mean a little less. I feel guilty about that. I don’t want to take those for granted.

But Darlington to me has its own thing about it, its own mystique where it’s always been this really tough driver’s track, and to win here multiple times kind of puts you in a crowd of drivers that I think most of us would recognize as elite.

It feels really good because — whether it be the fame or the money or all that, not really even about other people cheering and being excited. I’m glad my fans are happy. That’s awesome. But it’s like a self-respect thing when you win at Darlington.

As a driver, we all know when we come here how tough this place is, and when you win here as a driver and you know what it means, it’s like you almost respect yourself. That sounds kind of egotistical as I’m saying it, but I don’t know how else to say it.

There’s certain wins that you just look back on a driver’s career and they look back on a driver’s career, and they say this one means a lot to me personally because I know what Darlington is. I know what it means to the sport. I know what it means to win here. I’m glad to be on that list multiple times.

Q. Brad, you talked about this one meaning a lot in a lot of different ways. You came to RFK from Penske. You said at the beginning wanting to make the organization better. We’ve seen a lot of that over the last three years but not just as a driver but from the ownership standpoint and what you’ve poured into the organization, how rewarding is finally being able to sit in Victory Lane in your own right?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think no matter what you do in life, you want to leave a mark, some in other ways than others. I’m really proud of the career I’ve had at Penske and always will be. It was a really special place to work with some special people.

This is just another chapter, right? It doesn’t replace that chapter. But it’s another chapter where I can look in the mirror and say that I’m leaving some kind of mark on the sport, maybe even some of the people.

I take as much pride in anything as helping the people and being on teams and seeing the 19-, 20-year old kid that comes in as an intern and watching them learn something or seeing the 23-year-old that just graduated college and didn’t make the NFL draft but comes in as a pit crew member and is now going over the wall and has a good job and does a great job. I take as much about that as I do my own success because it feels so good to leave a positive mark on others that way.

So it’s just another chapter for me. I don’t know what the next chapter will be. I’m not done with this one. I hope I’ve got a lot more pages to write. Took a little longer than I would liked to have to have gotten an official run, although I did win the Duel right there right out of the gate, but I guess that doesn’t count, does it.

I’m just thrilled that I’m able to put some meaningful pages in this chapter, and I hope there’s a lot more to come.

Q. I had a picture in Victory Lane where it’s you, Paige and the three kids. Those are the moments you can’t trade. How special is it to have one where these two certainly are going to remember it as much as you are, but to have all three of them be a part of this?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, one of my probably favorite childhood memories is being in Victory Lane with my dad, and I think I was 10 or 11 years old, just a year or two older than scarlet here. I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget the butterflies in my stomach as my dad was leading with just a few laps to go. I want that same memory for them. It’s one of those core memories that I have.

Just glad to see it come together for them.

Q. Following up on the organization, you talked specifically about how big wins at Darlington are. The last one for the Roush organization was with Greg Biffle in 2006. What does it mean in the time that you have been a part of RFK to see the transformation from where it was to a point where you get a win like today but also have two cars that are obviously capable of winning races every week and perhaps competing for a championship?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it’s a heck of a ride. So much has changed over the last three years from when I walked in the door, and I see just a group that keeps getting stronger. It’s tough because I feel like there’s been a lot of two step forwards, one steps back, and you keep doing those and you keep doing those. Everybody kind of looks at it like, we just took these two steps forward, why are we taking another step back, and it leads to the next gain. We took a pretty big step back over the off-season. It was with a lot of intentionality in a couple critical categories. We paid for that dearly to start the year and kind of lost some performance.

But it was in the name of being able to do this right here: Win races honest and be competitive, and the two steps forward are just now being realized.

It never comes as quick as you want it to. It’s a tedious, painful process that takes a deep grind at all levels, whether that’s the driver level, the organizational level, the pit crew level. But that grind is worth it when you have moments like this.

I surely appreciate it.

Q. Why was Matt McCall, going back three years plus into this, why was Matt the guy? You talk about leaving a positive impact on other people. How much are you proud and happy for him as you are selfishly for you?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I hope he would say the same thing that I pushed him forward and he’s pushed me forward. There are a lot of things I like about Matt. Matt is a grinder. Matt came in and wasn’t afraid of the challenge. He and I both knew, and we sat down before we made the decision together to pair up, and I told him, hey, look, I’m just going to be honest with you; this is going to suck. This is not going to be fun. There’s going to be a lot of moments of pain here with expectations that are probably unrealistic.

I think Matt appreciated that honesty. I appreciated the fact that he didn’t run from it. He wasn’t like, oh, what do you mean. But he could see it himself.

So I think there’s a mutual respect there.

Q. I asked him this, too, but you were up front with him and said it was going to suck, but I could say looking at it from our standpoint that there were points over the last three years where things were not going right, there were penalties or just performance woes that have broken other teams and pairings apart. What were the factors, the honesty or trust, things like that, that prevented you guys from — allowing you guys to stick it out and see it through?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think we have open and honest conversations with each other where we are able to kind of have the normal conflict resolved that a team would have and then probably some on top of that.

I’ve never looked at Matt and said, hey, you can’t do this. I’ve never felt that way. We both, I’m sure, have had moments where we’re like, oh, this is not going right. Kind of the moments of doubt.

But there’s been some wins that got away from us where we were like, I made a mistake or maybe we left something on the table with a car, and those sting. But that’s part of it. I appreciate the fact that he likes that I’m willing to take risks, calculated risks, and doesn’t blow up over it and vice versa. I like the fact that he’s willing to do that. When they don’t work, it’s really easy to kind of just point a lot of fingers and divide and conquer.

I think he’s done a great job of doing the opposite of that, and I’d like to think I have, too, when it comes to our relationship.

I made a commitment to him when he came over that he was the guy and that we’re going to work through those issues as they come. Of course you always hope they don’t come, right? But there’s an inevitability to that. It’s been really painful. It’s been painful for me, painful for him, but we found a way to build and get better through it.

Q. You’re going to be in the All-Star Race next week. I think you would have anyway with the championship deal. When you look to that, the excitement of going back old school again this year, but the idea of racing on these Goodyear tires that have an option, what are your thoughts about the All-Star Race and playing out that option tire and the ability to do this next week?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it’s a one-week-at-a-time kind of sport. I can tell you that. I’m probably not going to think about the All-Star Race for another day or two, to be quite honest. I’m going to try and enjoy this, and I know the work that comes with it before and after. But it should be good. I like the concept. I like the fact Goodyear is willing to take chances, and they’ve done a great job.

Q. Chris has got four wins since you’ve taken over. Obviously we know you haven’t. What has it been like to digest that, seeing the success they’ve had? They’ve found something, they’ve been in Victory Lane, they’re having those moments that you haven’t. How do you process that as you go through this?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I’m happy for him. He’s my teammate and in some regard an employee, right?

Q. As a driver, though —

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, there’s a natural comparison. Everybody likes to do the comparisons. I get it. Some of those comparisons are fair and some of them aren’t.

I think that Chris has done an excellent job at putting himself in position to win races and catching the good breaks that go with it. I thought last year when he won Michigan it was a perfect example of just that. He put himself in a great spot, just dug hard, didn’t have the fastest car and won the race. That’s amazing.

He’s been able to make things happen. He’s in a good spot personally and professionally. Good age, good experience level. He’s surrounded by some really good people. He’s significantly underrated. I don’t know why nobody else tried to steal him from us. When we re-signed him last year, I thought for sure somebody else was going to make a run at him, and to my knowledge they never did. I don’t know why nobody else sees in him what I see in him, which is a guy that’s a winner that you put in the right situation can be a multiple-time not just race winner but champion with the right equipment.

He doesn’t get that credit and respect. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because he’s so humble. But I’ve been happy to see him be successful. I’ve never really spent a lot of time looking in the mirror comparing our success.

Q. I want to condition firm, you mentioned that you have re-signed Chris to a multi-year contract extension?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, we did that sometime last year.

Q. December?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It wasn’t December. It was in the summer.

Q. Over the past month or so, you’ve been very realistic about inching forward, moving forward. You guys are getting closer with the dark horse. Now you’ve got the win. Realistically what’s that next step?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Multiple wins. I’m just ecstatic about the Coke 600. We’ve worked so hard to have fast cars, and I hope that carries over to that race. The Coke 600 is a special race, as well. I thought we were really good at Dover, and I screwed the race up. I thought we were really good at Kansas, and we kept catching bad breaks.

Now we’re finally — today we didn’t catch any bad breaks, and we ran competitively the whole time, and I’m just curious to see how the Coke 600 is going to be. It’s nice being able to go into those races and not having to worry about points, just being able to do what you need to do to go for a win.

Q. Greatness is not achieved without risk. I think a lot of us in this room have our idea of what risk you took when you went to RFK, but what risk did you feel like you were taking that maybe we didn’t see?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t know, depending on which press headline I read. I heard from some fans, I can’t believe you’re throwing your career away, and then you’re kind of like, well, maybe they’re right. But then on the flipside I was looking at the sport and I’m just thinking to myself that if I dig deep here, I can get this thing where it needs to be.

There’s been a lot of deep digging moments. That’s been part of the journey. They’re not all fun. In fact a lot of them aren’t fun. But it’s part of the journey.

I sleep well at night with that decision. I was okay if it failed. I had a lot of people that poked at me when Cindric won the 500. I had a lot of people poking at me, oh, that could have been you in that car. Same thing when Joey and Blaney won the championship last year and the year before, and they’re right.

But I’m not upset about that. I’m happy for those guys. Like I said, I still have meaningful relationships with Joey and with Blaney, and I’m happy to see them be successful.

But I’m in a different place. I’ve learned so much over the last three years about people and culture and organizations and the technical aspects of what it takes to build a race team that can win, and that’s the action I crave, always craved, is being a part of that journey.

I have that. That makes winning so much more special and more impactful to me personally.

Q. Is there any way to define or explain just what these three years have been like? I don’t think any of us can relate.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, it’s not relatable. I don’t have an analogy for you. Just taking big risks and hoping they pay off. Still got more to do.

I’ve always done things my own way, and I think you guys probably all know that. I’m going to keep doing it my own way.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. But at the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and feel good about it. I feel good about today. Didn’t happen as fast as I wanted it to happen, but the journey has been really special.

Q. You were talking about risk. Out there on the track it was you and Reddick got together and Buescher swung down below you and got around and it looked like it was going to be Buescher’s race and you were going to be third.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It did, yeah.

Q. Then all of a sudden they get together and you go around. What are the emotions like? What are you thinking when that’s happening? You’re a team owner and you’re like, you’ve got a driver up there that’s a teammate but you’ve got the win. What’s all happening?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I was looking at when Chris passed, I didn’t know he had a lot of damage on his car, so I thought he was just going to drive away. He maybe did for a lap or two. Then Tyler and I started running him back down, and it was like, oh, no, he’s not going to just run away. I honestly thought Tyler was going to pass him and win the race. I was like, dangit. Chris came off of Turn 1 and 2 and he was really sideways, and Tyler got a half a car length behind him, and I think we could all see what was going to happen.

I was watching that and just going, oh, no.

Then when they hit together and they both kind of slid up in the wall or maybe the 45 didn’t slide up in the wall but smoke was coming everywhere, I saw that happen and I was thinking, I’m going to try to get both of them, and I didn’t get either of them. I’m thinking, oh, no, that was my shot. Then Tyler had a flat tire and then straight away Chris had a flat tire. Then I was just looking at my mirror thinking, I hope nobody else comes and runs my down.

I’ll tell you, it was a heck of a dogfight. I don’t know what the reactions were in the stands or people watching at home, but this race was a nail biter in a lot of ways. Three-wide passes for the lead a couple times, and it really wasn’t settled until the last 10, 15 laps amongst the leaders.

Pretty epic day regardless of our win, and just glad to be a part of it.

Q. You talked about among the special moments today Jack being here to watch. What did he say to you at the car? What kind of a moment was that when you guys talked after the win?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Before the race, he told me “race the racetrack,” and I said, yes, sir. We did that until the end. At the end, it was like, hey, we got to go. Then at the car, he was just saying that he hadn’t been in Victory Lane here in a long, long time. I think it had been 14 or 15 years, and we were talking about when the last time was he was in Victory Lane here, and he said, I don’t even remember. What has it been, 14, 15? When did they win here last? Greg Biffle in like 2006? Is that 18 years ago?

So I think that was pretty special for him.

Q. You talked earlier about having to make some hard-core investments in the team to try to get things turned around. I know earlier in the season you talked about looking at the ROI on pit crews, and I have to say from looking at the turn of events today, having the pit crew you did, investing in the pit crew, certainly paid off.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, the 6 team is one of the best pit crews on pit road. Really proud of them today. They were just flawless, put us in position there. We didn’t have the No. 1 pit stall, and that No. 1 pit stall was worth a solid one to two positions every time. We kept losing positions but it wasn’t because of them. The pit stops were phenomenal.

They just continued to deliver. It would have been easy for them to give up, too. It’s been a hard couple years for them, as well. But they keep putting the work in. They’re energized. They just grind it out. They’re all experienced, total professionals. I feel super lucky to have them.

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