Keselowski Tops Final Cup Practice at Daytona

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Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 6 Nexlizet Ford Mustang, posted the fastest single-lap speed in today’s final NASCAR Cup Series practice. Keselowski, who paced the session that featured Ford drivers claiming the top six spots, came in the infield media center to answer questions from reporters.

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 6 Nexlizet Ford Mustang – HOW WAS THIS FINAL PRACTICE? “We made some really good improvements. We were super strong here last year for the 500 and when we fired off the Duels we weren’t where we wanted to be, so we made some adjustments and went back to where we were for last year and then got even better from there. I feel really good about it. You come here and there’s no guarantees of any success, but there are things you can do to help your position and, of course, executing the race and having good speed are always good things, so I think we found a little more speed and feel really good about our ability to execute the race. We’ll see if the other pieces come together, but really pleased and looking forward to tomorrow.”

YOU STARTED A LEGACY AT PENSKE AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA WITH THE SUCCESS THAT ORGANIZATION HAS HAD. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOU AND HOW HAVE YOU SEEN RYAN TAKE WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED AND APPLY TO HAVING SUCCESS? “It was a really good run of nine or 10 years and probably still counting for them. I was glad to be a part of it. I hesitate to say I was the main point. I think all of the drivers came together and really brought something to the table, but I think there was a huge cultural transformation that I was a part of, for sure, that went from, ‘Hey, speedway races are just where we go to wreck four cars a year,’ to ‘Hey, let’s go here and try to win the race.’ That naturally inspired and bred confidence in the drivers and the teams to really focus on it and spend the time, whether it was with the car prep or the studying that went with it to be able to put themselves in a position to where when luck didn’t go against them, you could win the race. That’s really where you want to be at these plate tracks. You want to be where if you don’t have bad luck, you can win the race and I think there’s a lot of philosophies in the teams that are probably the opposite of that where if we get good luck, we can win the race, which is fine and sometimes candidly that works just as well, but more often than not it doesn’t and you can control some of these races. I think they certainly have got them in a really good position to run well for years to come with the drivers and the culture that they have there. I don’t know that anyone could argue against Penske having the best yearly superspeedway program based on the results, but certainly we’re trying to replicate that with things we’re doing at RFK and I think Chris Buescher is doing a really good job as well. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for where he’s at as well. I would look for probably the five of us to all be in position to win the race tomorrow accordingly.”

HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE WITH THE NEW NOSES EACH MANUFACTURER HAS THIS YEAR? “No, I don’t think there’s a big difference there. I think maybe the Chevy’s are a little bit better for qualifying and maybe the Ford’s are a little bit better to race, but that comes with intention. I think the OEM’s pick that themselves, not necessarily NASCAR, but it certainly is interesting to watch it all play out, but I don’t feel like it’s a big deal with the way the cars drive or anything like that. I think people like to chase the numbers in the wind tunnels maybe feel a little bit better, but on the track I don’t see it being a big difference.”

WAS THERE ANYTHING THE FORDS WERE TRYING TO FIND OUT TODAY IN PRACTICE AND WHY WASN’T CHRIS OUT THERE? “The best practice is not when you get it right, it’s when you can’t get it wrong. I think we’re practicing to where we can’t get it wrong and looking for any little hole and what we have to be able to remedy it. I think Chris’ car was dialed in really well and they were in a great spot, and they still are in a great spot. I was a little less happy with mine and wanted to try to find something, so I’m happy to put that work in this morning to see if we could find it and I feel like we did.”

HOW SOON DID YOU KNOW YOUR CAR WAS GOOD? “The Daytona 500, once you get in the race, is a different animal. It’ll be a little warmer than it obviously is this morning come race day and you transition from day to night, which is a big deal for the cars and the way they drive. In the daytime it’s more about handling and in the night time it’s probably a little bit more about just the raw speed in the car, so in order to be good here you need to have both – the raw speed and the handling if you’re going to be in position to win this race without catching some extreme luck event like we were talking earlier. You try to work through those things and, like I said, I knew in the Duel we didn’t have what we needed to win the race with both of those, so we put in the effort today and tomorrow to make sure that we could and I feel much better about it.”

WHY DO DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA RACE SO DIFFERENTLY? “The Daytona 500, to me over the years, has probably been more focused on the speed of the cars and the willingness of the drivers to make bold moves. I think, accordingly, I haven’t been able to close the 500 out. We’ve had really fast cars and caught some really poor breaks, and then there have been some races where I felt like I didn’t execute at a high enough level. I think there’s probably a little mixture of all those things on why I haven’t been able to win this race, but Talladega there’s probably been some races that candidly I didn’t execute at a high enough level and caught some breaks and I just haven’t caught the break here. There’s the old Indianapolis saying I think that you don’t win the Indy 500, the Indy 500 kind of picks the winner. Sometimes it feels that way here, that the winner of this race – if you go back and watch the last three or four laps, the winner is usually decided, at least for the Daytona 500, by the move that the third and fourth-place car makes – almost every year – and you can’t drive the third and fourth place car and the first place car all at the same time. That said, you’re at the mercy of that car and I feel like to some degree you are at Talladega, but probably to a lesser degree and it’s easier to manipulate the third and fourth place car at Talladega than it is at Daytona, and so when all those pieces come together, I guess my individual breakdown is I haven’t had the right third or fourth place car behind me when I’ve been in a spot to win the race, which is part of the frustration that comes with it. But that will be what to look for on Sunday. If I’m a fan in the stands and I’m watching the field go under the white flag, candidly, I’m not looking at the leader. The guy who is running third or fourth is gonna decide who wins the race – the move he makes, who he goes with, what he does will impact or determine the winner. That’s just not something you can control. You only drive one car at a time, but you hope to be fast enough that that person decides to go with you or that he has his best opportunity with you, or that he just quite frankly has the speed to do it.”

WOULD YOU RATHER BE THE LEAD CAR OR BE THAT THIRD OR FOURTH PLACE CAR? “I mean, there are a million different variables that go into that. Generally speaking, it’s usually the best idea to be the leader on the last lap, but every race is a little different and how it plays out, and how you can control it. Generally, the single-file races you certainly want to be the leader, but the double-file races where you’ve got the field two-by-two-by-two, maybe not. So, I don’t think there’s an answer to that question that’s always gonna be 100 percent right.”

WAS THAT PRACTICE AN EXHIBITION OF ONE FORD? WILL WE SEE IT PLAY OUT LIKE WE HAVE THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? “Most likely. I think the Ford’s have done an excellent job of bringing a lot of depth to the racetrack. You look at the depth that they have, and I don’t think it’s rivaled by any of the other manufacturers in the quality of cars and drivers that they have, and so when the Ford’s get together, especially at a race like this, we can be pretty much unstoppable. That doesn’t mean you can’t lose the race, like I said, there are a million ways to lose it even with having the fastest cars and the best drivers, but it certainly puts you in a position to control the race.”

IS THIS THE LAST MISSING LINK FOR YOUR CUP CAREER? “It’s the last crown jewel I don’t have. I’ve got the championship and the Brickyards and the Coke 600 and the Southern 500 and the Bristol Night Races and the Talladegas. Those mean the world to me, they really do, but the Daytona 500 is still our biggest race of the year no matter how you look at it and it still stings to not have it. It stings to have been so close in so many different ways. I’m not Dale Earnhardt in 1998 or anything like that, but I feel like we’re due more than probably anyone else to win this race. That means nothing when you get on the racetrack. Nobody cares. The other drivers don’t care. The other teams don’t care. They’re all out there to win it for their own and you’ve got to go earn it, so all I know to do is just to continue to run up front, be in position, not have to count on lucky breaks and hopefully they go our way or at least we don’t get any bad breaks.”

DOES THE PAIN GET WORSE EVERY YEAR THAT YOU DON’T WIN THIS RACE? “It don’t get better. Yeah, again, you just feel like you’re in position and it doesn’t happen. Yeah, it’s super painful. The closer you are to winning the race, the more painful it is. The last three years we’ve been either leading or second place in the last few laps, so you know you’re right there. You know that it’s just barely out of reach and so that certainly builds the frustration. We came down here a couple years where we weren’t even close and you left here going, ‘Well, that sucked,’ and it didn’t hurt as bad. It hurts a lot worse to be close. The Olympic saying is the worst thing you can do is get a silver. Bronze, you’re happy because you get a medal and gold, of course, you’re happy to leave, but silver you’re that close and it just didn’t happen and I feel like I’ve got a lot of Daytona 500 silvers. We’re really hopeful that we can leave with the big trophy this time.”

WHEN IT COMES TO THIS RACE DO YOU REMEMBER THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY EVEN MORE? “Oh, yeah. One hundred percent. I could tick down the last 12 years here of this didn’t go right, there was nothing I could do different. Or, this didn’t go right and I maybe should have made a different move here or there, but that’s how it goes.”

AT WHAT POINT DOES DRAFTING COME INTO PLAY WHERE YOU KNOW YOU CAN RELY ON CERTAIN GUYS? “If you’re looking when drafting matters, it matters the second we run under the green flag, but as far as finding the right partner, that’s super dynamic. You look at scenarios, like we have two cars here with RFK, and certainly I’m gonna do the best I can to work with my teammate, Chris Buescer, but if anything happens to him or me, you’ve got to find a friend quick. That can create some strange bedfellows and always has and probably always will here at these tracks, but it’s a dynamic race. There’s always gonna be a lot of attrition. You start 40 cars and at the end there are probably only 10 to 15 that really have a shot at winning it, and so you want to have a friend in that 10 to 15 that’s left at the end. There’s a good chance it’s not gonna be the guy you had as a friend to start.”

CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST DAYTONA AND INDIANAPOLIS? “I already have Indy, so once you have something you want something you don’t have, right? Isn’t that life? In the moment I would naturally answer that Daytona would be the one that stands out to me, but hopefully 20-30 years from now when I’m in a rocking chair they’ll probably both hold great value.”

WHICH TRACK IS MORE CHALLENGING? “Well, I think Indy is more challenging as a driver, but Daytona is more challenging overall because you have all these aspects of you’re trying to not just drive your car, but you’re trying to drive the field’s car. Every move you make to run these races it’s not about you. It’s about the person you’re around. Indy is like this really challenging game of solitaire and Daytona is this really challenging game of poker. They’re still two good card games, but you play them completely differently. and one is more about your individual talents and the other is about your ability to manipulate everyone else and Daytona is certainly the poker game.”

DOES ROGER GIVE YOU AN EXTRA PAT ON THE BACK WHEN YOU WIN AT INDY? “I think he gives everybody a pat on the back. Indy is a big track to him and always has been from his days as a child and going there with his dad and he could tell stories that far surpass my storytelling ability about Indianapolis, but they’re two great tracks. We’re so fortunate here in the United States to have two tracks like that. As of late I’ve been meeting a lot of people that are European and they’re just blown away by the motorsports facilities we have here in the United States and not just the quality of Daytona or Indy, but the depth of facilities we have. We’re very fortunate as motorsports fans, enthusiasts, what have you, to have these level of facilities and that’s not lost on me.”

WHAT IS THE ENERGY LIKE FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM GOING INTO THIS YEAR’S 500 COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? “I think, obviously, a lot less of the uncertainties. I feel pretty good about a lot of things we’ve got going on. Our team dynamics are significantly improved. We continue to make changes at RFK to bring out the best talent and best supporting tools to be successful and we’ve got a lot of systems that were clearly deficient last year and were really hard to fix and replace midseason, that we were able to take a good whack at here during the offseason and it’ll be interesting to see them come online. I’ve kind of lived this experience before. In 2010 when I came to Penske was pretty much a nightmare season. I think every headline I read was how big of a mistake it was to leave Hendrick and all that, and then 2011 started and we were able to use that offseason to make significant changes to our cars and to our overall approach and culture, and I feel that same thing here. In 2011 at Penske halfway through the season we started winning races and became the team we wanted to be, and I feel very much on that same path here at RFK. It’s just so hard to get anything done under 18 months, but I feel really similar timeline-wise and culturally what I’m seeing with the company as it continues to grow and evolve. I’m as eager as anyone to get out here and go race because it’s a chance to prove ourselves, prove our own merits and we’ve got a lot to be proud of and a lot I’m sure is going to challenge us along the way, but, overall, exciting to see.”

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