This Sunday, NASCAR will head to Phoenix Raceway for the Season Finale 500 where four drivers — Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin — will have a chance to win the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
The race will be on NBC at 3 p.m. ET and those four will, in that order, begin the race in the first four positions, with whoever finishes first winning the championship. On Thursday, we got a chance to talk with Brad Keselowski about Sunday’s championship race, his thoughts on the finale moving from Miami to Phoenix, why this season has taken him back to “old school racing,” and the nuances of his growth as a driver more than a decade into his Cup Series career.
How are you doin, man?
Good, good. Just chillin in North Carolina, and by chillin’ I mean it’s freezing.
Well, Phoenix will be a little warmer for you this weekend at least.
Oh yeah. I’m looking forward to that, I’m a warm weather guy.
How are you feeling coming into this weekend and with a shot to win your second championship?
I’m feeling pretty darn good to be honest with you. Cars are fast. Get to live my dream, and just ready to make it happen, you know.
You’ve got three straight Top 6 finishes to get you to Phoenix. What’s been clicking for you and the team and getting good cars to the tracks?
Well, having good cars is always the important part, right? It’s hard to make a slow car go fast, but it’s really easy to take a fast car and screw it up. So, you gotta have good fast cars and then you’ve gotta execute, and our execution has been pretty strong. Had a little slip up at Martinsville where I sped on pit road, but other than that, I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to run our race and get good finishes and make the most out of everything we have.
This is the first year y’all are going to Phoenix for the finale rather than Homestead. What are your thoughts on finishing at that track and your approach going in?
Um, I feel good about it. A little bit selfishly I think I’m going to run better at Phoenix than I would at Homestead, so, I’m not complaining about that. But I do, I feel really good about it. I feel like our car is going to be really strong and I like Phoenix, I like the area. One of our sponsors is out there, so that’s always cool. And, I’m just pumped. It’s hard to say or express it strongly enough how pumped I am.
This is your seventh straight year in the Playoffs and ninth overall. What have you learned over your career about how to approach the Playoffs and how to make it through stages and get as far as you can in this to have a shot at a title?
Well, I think probably the biggest takeaway is not to let the highs be too high and the lows be too low. It’s really easy to get caught up either way, and I think you always have to have a rebound mentality and expect bad things to happen and be prepared.
This season I feel like that’s had to be a feeling throughout, given you start off the year and then we have the shutdown with COVID and then coming back and everything changes. What has been your experience this season in handling the changes with the new protocols and without the track time and garage time.
Well, obviously it’s been a change. You know, I don’t enjoy seeing people get hurt and knowing that there’s people suffering and that’s the reason for this. That’s not any fun, but the actual changes to the schedule themselves, if you somehow separate that mentally, I’ve actually enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed going to the racetrack without practice. I’ve enjoyed you know, get to a racetrack, drive my butt off, and go home. I’ve enjoyed some of those different aspects, and you know, it’s not sustainable, but I’m not complaining and I try to find the opportunity along the way.
Yeah, when I talked to Alex Bowman a few weeks ago he said something similar. Does it feel like it once was, where you’re pulling up to the track and you go race and it’s maybe, it’s still a grind but does it take you back to the way racing was when you first got into it?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. It’s like old school racing where they’d just show up and race. Didn’t have time to do all this other stuff, they just did it. And I like that.
When you look back, you’ve been doing this for a decade now, and you compare 2020 Brad Keselowski to when you came in the Cup Series, where do you think your biggest growth has been as a driver?
Well it’s hard to pick one area. If you do it right it shouldn’t be one area, it should be all areas. But there are gonna be areas that are more than others, naturally. I think I’ve probably grown the most on my short run speed. The ability to run fast early into a run. That’s probably been the biggest growth for me.
Is there anything specifically there that’s helped you do that, because there are guys that are better on short runs and others who prefer to have those continuous laps and get in that groove. What do you have to do to pick up that short run speed?
Well, that’s a little bit more tribal knowledge, I don’t want to share too much of that. But there’s things, how ’bout that?
Fair enough. I guess one thing with that, for a lot of casual fans you look at it and, it’s like, alright they go out and are racing. What can you tell, without giving that tribal knowledge as you said, everything that goes into your growth as a driver, the nuances that aren’t as apparent to someone just tuning in a few Sundays a month?
Well, you know, at the end of the day we drive in circles. It looks pretty simple from the outside, because it is pretty simple. How you get there and how you do it fast, that’s the challenge. How do I do it better than the next guy? And you know what, they’re pretty darn good. So there’s a lot of refinement that comes along the way. Physically, mentally, across the board to try and get there. It’s not an easy process. It’s an iterative process in a lot of ways, which means you’ve got to put in the reps and do your homework. It makes it rewarding at the end of the day when you are successful, but I can certainly understand why from the outside it looks a lot easier than it is.