Transcript: Brad Keselowski – Bristol

THE MODERATOR: Good evening. Thank you, everyone, for joining us and hanging with us for a bit. We’re now going to roll into our post-race press conferences here at Bristol Motor Speedway after this evening’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

We’ve been joined by Brad Keselowski, who is the race-winning owner this evening here for Chris Buescher and the No. 17 team. Brad, thank you for joining us and being willing to sit with us, as well, after a probably semi-disappointing night for you from the driver’s seat.

Talk a little bit about what it means to have Chris go to Victory Lane but also just what it meant to you tonight to have the opportunity to lead several laps in the race.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it was quite a night first off I’ll say. We had two really fast cars between Chris Buescher’s 17 and my No. 6. I was thinking for a while there I was going to be in here wearing both hats as the owner and driver, but unfortunately had a tire go down for an unknown reason there with about 75 to go.

That was quite a roller coaster of emotions, and then obviously Chris and his team, Scott Graves made a really bold call there to put two tires on, and I think they had a great car, don’t get me wrong, but the call to get the lead and knowing what they had was really clever.

They capitalized from there.

Chris was in position all day to — you run in the top 5 long enough and things kind of work their way out. Just glad that we had kind of the redundancy between our two cars with the speed that we showed this weekend to make something happen.

Really proud for him, really proud for his team, and I certainly wanted to win for myself, but if there’s any solace, that’s a good one to have.

I’ll say for Chris, he’s done such a great job growing this year. I’m really proud to work with him and see that, and his focus is top level. He deserves a lot of credit. This is not an easy race to win. It never has been. But it’s a big race to win for your career. The Bristol Night Race is a race that champions win, and I think the growth that he’s shown this year shows that he can be just that.

It’s a big moment for him and a big moment for our company to be able to win races. It’s really so important at this level. You’re really not relevant if you can’t win races. If you’re not relevant, you can’t have sponsors. You can’t have sponsors, you can’t go to the racetrack every weekend. We need to win. We need to win for our partners.

Fastenal is a key partner for us, and it’s good to see them rewarded for their loyalty to us with a big win at a big race.

Just a lot to be proud of today, even though from the driver’s side I didn’t get what I wanted out of it, but certainly a huge night for us.

Q. Brad, this is the first time in the playoffs an entire round has been swept by non-playoff drivers. Does that show the parity of this car?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I mean, there’s been a lot of circumstances, but parity, as well.

I thought last two races Bubba drove a great race, Erik Jones drove a great race. There were some other crazy things that happened, as well.

It’s hard to say how that all is going to play out, but I would say parity is certainly a part of it for sure.

Q. Like you said, you wanted both hats tonight, but when you made the move from Penske to what’s now RFK, I think a lot of people probably openly questioned it. It’s been a building process. Did you see the pieces that were necessary to get to this point where you guys would be back in Victory Lane as an organization when you made the decision to move over?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, it’s painful, but anything in life worth doing is painful. It’s a little bit like working out. I moved up a weight class here and I’ve got to build a lot more muscle and get better off the track as much as I have to on the track.

There was a lot of room for growth within the company. We’ve been making major investments to try to get to where we can get this thing to where it can win, and when you make those investments, you want to get a result out of it, and it’s really important that you get those results when you do them.

There’s been a little bit of a lag, and some of that — one of our biggest problems is there was a ton of supply chain issues that probably affected us as much as anyone else this year, or more, and we’re just now starting to realize some of those investments, and they’re paying off with results.

Q. Brad, you’re a race-winning team owner in the NASCAR Cup Series now. Is this one of the most satisfying moments of your racing career up to this point?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It’s certainly a good feeling. I’ve got to try to clear my emotions and memory out of not winning the race as a driver and working your butt off to do that and coming short of it.

But also I’m trying to remember to be grateful because it’s super hard to win races in this sport even as a car owner. In that sense, a big moment for us.

I know to you guys this is our first win. I would say the Duels felt more like our first win, but you get in all these qualifications of points races and exhibition races. I’ll tell you, I felt like that was our first win.

But with respect to that, this is a different type of win. This is a legacy type of win. There’s some tracks that winning at is always great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s some tracks that winning at is just not as special as others, and Bristol is right up there at the top of being special. Big moment for us.

Q. With your own race tonight, first you stay out — you don’t pit at all in the first stage, but the tires still held up pretty decent, and then you’re leading, you have a flat tire. Is there any explanation? How do you reconcile those two things?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t know. We looked at all the tire wears after the first run and the tires showed they’d go almost 300 laps. I don’t think the tire wore out; it either failed or we ran over something.

Q. Following up on that a little bit, you run the entire first stage without pitting, and then your teammate takes two tires and wins. Did you guys have that feeling coming in that you were going to be able to play that strategy out that way?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, we spent a lot of time talking about our strategy for the race. Tires seemed to not be an issue until they’re a really big issue today. We kind of thought that was how it was going to play out, and it’s a little bit of a lottery of when it’s going to happen.

The 6 car we lost that lottery today, and the 17 we won it.

Q. I heard some guys talking about it was difficult to pass, the speed’s really high in the corners. When you got out front did you feel like you could control the race?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes and no. I restarted third there on the restart — probably 150 to go, and was able to pass the front two cars for the lead. I feel like yes, I could pass. It wasn’t easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy.

Would I like to see us continue to work on the cars? Absolutely. I’ve said this to NASCAR and I’ve said it to the media before and I’ll say it again. If the Next-Gen car looks the same as it does this year then we’ve failed. We should continue to grow, we should continue to learn, we should continue to make it better.

There’s probably some car owners that don’t want to hear it because it costs money to change the cars, but like anything, when you create something new like the Next-Gen car, there’s going to be things that are optimized and there’s going to be things that aren’t.

I think there’s opportunities to continue to make this car better and the racing better with it. I think it’s still a step forward from where we were in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen some great racing because of that great parity. I think that’s what Jacob was trying to allude to, and I think he’s right.

There’s a lot of big positives. Like any industry we probably get caught up in the negatives more than the positives, but that’s not to say — that’s the issue at hand, I feel like there’s two camps.

There’s the everything is wrong with this car camp and there’s the nothing is wrong with this car camp, and I’m trying to say, Nah, it’s a pretty big step forward for our sport, actually pretty good, but I’d like to keep working on it.

It seems like much like many things today, that polarization means there’s no room for middle ground.

In my eyes I’d like to see some small tweaks, but I’m thankful and proud of our sport and where the Next-Gen car has taken us so far.

Q. I realize you’re biased but there were a ton of durability concerns tonight and a lot of attrition. I’m sure that’s going to be the narrative going forward, like you said. Do you think the car deserves a passing grade for how it performed tonight?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m not aware of all the durability issues so it would probably be unfair for me to comment, but I just know we didn’t have any other than the tire. I maybe heard some power steering issues. We didn’t have those, so I couldn’t comment on that.

I heard there was maybe a fuel pump issue, but from what I understand that’s not related to the Next-Gen car, it’s similar parts if not identical to the older car. But that’s all I’m aware of at the moment.

Q. Brad, a few weeks ago Steve Newmark told me that when you all put your deal together, one of the first things you said to him is how long is Chris Buescher signed for. He didn’t know how to take if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but you were very pleased to know that he had a few years on his contract. Is he someone that you envision that you’re going to work with for a long time; you want him in the company? He’s earned his place?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. You know, I wanted Chris Buescher to drive the 21 Cup car about five years ago. I thought that highly of him. There was a number of reasons why it didn’t come over, timing and so forth. But I thought that was a natural fit for him.

I thought a lot of his talent then.

I went to a Ford driving school with him somewhere around 2015, and I was blown away by his talent and his feel for the car. I just felt like he didn’t have the support system around him to be successful with the teams he was with.

I kind of felt like he was a hidden free agent gem that wasn’t being scouted properly and felt that way for a handful of years. So yeah, the first thing — it was literally the first thing I did when I signed the papers at RFK.

The next step after signing my papers was putting an offer in front of him to give him a contract extension. I thought he was somebody we could build around and get results, and today clearly shows that that was the case.

Q. So he has an extension? I think the last we heard was it was through ’24.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, he’s got multiple years left in his contract.

Q. Tonight you both were in the top 5 when you had your tire issue. Is tonight a good showing of what this team — these two teams are capable of? Was tonight just a Bristol specific type thing?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, with Next Gen, somebody wins one week and runs 30th the next. I’d like to sit here and tell you, yeah, we’re going next week to Texas and we’re going to lead every lap and win the race. But as you can tell, it’s not that simple.

I think as a whole the Fords seem to be more competitive on the short tracks, so that’s probably part of our strength. The mile-and-a-halfs have been a struggle.

I hope we can go to Texas and have a good run next week and think we’ll run really well at Talladega if we can not get wrecked. In that sense, it’s hard to say — it’s kind of one week at a time.

Q. From a business standpoint, winning the races at Daytona and now winning the Bristol Night Race, in what ways does being able to give those moments to your partners help you kind of build another foundation on this company as you guys want to grow?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, we want to get back to being at least a four-car team. That’s been our goal all along. Before you can get to a four-car team, you’ve got to get to a three-car team. Before you can get to a three-car team, you have to be relevant as a two-car team.

For us, again, relevancy is winning races, multiple races a year with both of your cars and competing for playoffs.

Obviously we’re not in the playoffs with either of our cars, so we have more work to do. But our stated goal internally is to get back to being a four-car team. That’s not going to happen if you’re not winning races and you’re not relevant as a two-car team.

This is a good step forward for us. We’ve got a long ways still to go. We need to be able to win multiple races a year. But before you can do that, you’ve got to win a first race. Not to take anything away from today.

Q. To your point, I think this car has definitely made intermediate tracks, bigger tracks better, and the challenge has been short tracks. Do you have enough data between here and Martinsville as far as a direction as an owner and a driver you would like to point NASCAR towards, whether it’s tire falloff or aero, what have you?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I probably don’t have a perfect answer at the moment for that. I know we won’t get there unless we try. I think there’s some effort being put into those things. I couldn’t specify what they are. Certainly we have some room to continue to grow and be better.

Q. Brad, you alluded to this a little earlier, but obviously this isn’t your first time winning a race as a car owner. You did it plenty of times with BKR in the Truck Series. Also not your first time winning a Cup race. You mentioned the Duels at Daytona; it’s not necessarily the first time winning with RFK Racing. Does that make the feeling of winning a points race with RFK Racing more of a satisfactory feeling than necessarily a high of elation or an emotion or anything like that?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, we’ve had an up-and-down year, so you do have to enjoy the wins, no doubt. But you also want to keep perspective.

What becomes really natural inside of any company and specifically in racing is when you win, to kind of become complacent.

I naturally probably hedge against that, maybe even too much, and don’t enjoy the moments as much as we should.

That said, we’ve got a lot more that we need to do and that I want to see us do to continue to be in a position to win more races than we’ve been in this year.

This is certainly a good sign, and I’m really proud of everyone in our company, but we’ve got to keep our head down. We have got to keep getting better.

Q. Are there any particular racetracks in the next seven races that you think this company has a particularly good chance of winning?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I really like what we saw out of our cars at Martinsville in the spring and at our test, as well. Then Talladega, I probably have that one circled, as well. Not to say that there aren’t other tracks I feel really good about, but those two are probably at the top of our list.

Q. Earlier this summer, you were pushing for more practice as — essentially more cost effective than relying on the sim stuff. I’m curious how as a driver-owner do you marry the issue of you’re taking hits, you’re feeling those hits more with the cost that at some point — obviously safety is important, but there does get to be a point, can it cost too much? How are you dealing with it? Because obviously this is a big issue in the sport is how much more can be done. The drivers want it to be everything done and the owners have got to look at a bottom line. How do you look at it since you have both perspectives and nobody else does?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, again, it’s a really polarizing topic. You have the owners that don’t want to touch anything on the car, and you have the drivers that are kind of screaming that we’ve got to make safety advancements on the car. Sitting in both rooms can get awkward at times, no doubt.

But I don’t think this car is end of the world unsafe or anything like that. I don’t feel that way. But I don’t think it’s optimized, either.

I’d like to see some small iteration changes to continue to improve it, and I think those are out there. But again, it’s a really polarizing topic between the everything is perfect camp and the everything is wrong camp, and I think there’s probably a spot in between.

Q. Are you a unifier or are you sitting in the back of the room and being quiet?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Right now all I care about is getting this team to win races, or company as a whole. I feel like that’s 99 percent of my energy is what is it going to take to get these cars to where they can compete at a high level to show the pace that’s required to be competitive, and in that light that’s where my bandwidth is.

Q. Obviously your schedule is always busy and obviously you had your business and you’ve done a lot of things, but can you give me a sense of what this year has been like and the double duty with everything and trying to build this organization up? How tired are you at this point? How much has this year taken out of you? How are you feeling at this point with seven weeks left in the season?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I’m not tired. I’ve probably wore some other people down, though.

CHRIS BUESCHER: He hasn’t slowed down at all, not the first bit.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m not tired. I’m driven. I want to see this thing be successful. Today is a clear sign that it can be successful. But it ain’t going to be successful sitting on our hands. You’ve got to grind it out. That’s a hell of a journey to grind it out.

I’ll tell you, there’s days you look back and say, did I get better today or did I get worse? And more often than not, you have to get worse to get better.

That can be really frustrating. It can be letting go of someone who’s good because they’re not great, and that ain’t fun; I can tell you that. Then biding it out until you can find great.

It can be tearing down the walls in the shop and having a mess everywhere and knowing that’s what needs to be done to be better in six months.

It’s a lot of playing the long game and having confidence that we’re doing the right things, and that’s not easy because, like I said, anytime we make a change, I think it’s really natural — not just for our company but for any company, for everyone to go, okay, where is the instant result. There are no instant results.

Every change, you don’t see a result for six to 12 months. That can be really painful because you start to lose people, and they start to not believe in you.

This is a big win for us to kind of regain the confidence of — not just our partners and the external factors that we race, but our internals, as well. I’m excited for them and excited for that for our company.

THE MODERATOR: Brad, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.