Brad Keselowski unplugged on sport’s direction

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RICHMOND, Va. — It started off as a question about lug nuts and what Brad Keselowski’s take was on the hot topic in the sport, but, as happens from time to time, Keselowski took a look at the bigger issue in NASCAR that the lug nut debate is only a part of.

He noted “that as a sport we have some major decisions to make as to how we want to be identified.”

He discussed what the lug nut debate meant and how pit road impacts races. He also mentioned as the sport looked at what direction it needs to take who truly needs to be making those decisions and how fan input should be taken.

Here’s what he said to reporters at Richmond International Raceway:

WHERE ARE YOU ON THE LUGNUT ISSUE? SHOULD NASCAR GO BACK TO REQUIRING FIVE?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: “It hasn’t been an issue that I have put a lot of thought into. I think the only real example we’ve had since the new rule was implemented being a difference maker or potential safety hazard was at Texas with Carl (Edwards).

“My line on it is that as a sport we have some major decisions to make as to how we want to be identified. How do we want to compete? What are those aspects? Whether that is NASCAR themselves, the drivers, RTA (Race Team Alliance), the fans, we have to make a decision of what tools do we want to determine who is a winner and who is great. Who is not? The history of the sport has been a balanced approach. That is why we don’t have spec cars. The cars are all different. Even though they might not look it, they are all different. You can put an elite driver in a 40th-place race car and he might run 35th. That is where the sport is right now.

“That has changed in the six or seven years I have been in Sprint Cup where the car and driver have always been significant. but we have seen this emergence of the pit crew to be more and more important over the years. We are seeing that become part of the race format, the race on pit road, more so than ever before. It kind of harkens back to the older days of our sport where if you had a bad pit stop, more times than not if you had a fast car you could overcome it. Now the increased level of parity with the cars has put us to a spot to where it is much harder as a team or driver to have a car or a driver that has enough talent to overcome something that might happen on pit road.

“So this specific change has been a direction that has again increased the significance of pit road. As it is, my stance in the sport is that we have to be very careful to make a decision collectively of how we want to race, how we want to compete and how we want to determine who is great. Do we want to determine who is great off of pit road? Then we should just have a pit road competition every weekend if we come to that conclusion and every race would be a pit stop competition. I don’t think we want that.

“I don’t think we want pit road to mean nothing either. I have seen that side too. I have seen the Truck Series when they had pit road as lock-down and retain your position and halftime breaks. I think that took a little something away from the sport. As a whole, the percentages that dictate the outcome of greatness, of a winner, have shifted and continue to shift more and more toward the pit crew and in some ways I like that because I have a great pit crew.

“In other ways, I am not sure I like it. I would like to see the team and the cars and the drivers not lose the ability to affect their days. In a nutshell, when I read between the lines of any driver on their comments of that I think that is really what they are trying to get at. Certainly there are some safety implications, which I brought up with Carl and that thing, but in the grand scheme of things those are not minor or major, maybe somewhere in-between in my opinion. I think more or less we all wear the glasses as drivers, teams, owners, sanctioning body, of trying to determine the other pieces of the puzzle which is so critical to determining who we are as a sport.”

HOW DO YOU GET TO THE PLACE OF DECIDING WHAT THE SPORT WANTS TO BE?

KESELOWSKI: “I think collaboration. I think if we can herd all the cats into the same room and get into an active dialogue, which I think we have made major steps on over the last year or so, certainly not all the steps we want to make but still major steps, and understand that there is going to be a lot of self-interest. Of course I have a great pit crew, so I have self-interest and I am not afraid to admit that.

“I am sure there are a handful of other guys who say they have a great pit crew or new widget that makes their team great on pit road and you don’t want to lose that advantage. Sometimes you wear those glasses where our own interests supersede the interests of the sport. That is tough to get through but in time will work themselves out if everybody collaborates.”

IS THAT ULTIMATELY THE FAN’S DECISION? DON’T THEY ULTIMATELY DECIDE WHAT THE DIRECTION OF THE SPORT IS?

KESELOWSKI: “I would answer that with first off Ryan McGee pretty much answered that this week and gave the answer I want to give. I like quotes. I like to read about things. I always remember when I am asked that question, the Henry Ford answer when he was asked about painting his cars a different color than black.

“He basically said there were a lot of customers out there that thought there should be different color options on the Model T and he answered back that, ‘If I would have asked the people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.’ Our fans are our consumer and our customers and are very, very important to us and they always should be and will be.

“In a global sense we know what is best for the sport when we are honest and open with each other, more so than anyone else. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. said this once to me being a Redskins fan and I am a Detroit Lions fan, ‘I can general manage a football team from 1,000 miles away and make all kinds of decisions that I think are great, but I don’t live it every day and at the end would probably just make it worse.’ That doesn’t mean I am not important as a fan to my football team, but I don’t live it every day and know all the nuances and key players and stakeholders, etc.

“We can get there, we just need to focus on our own. Our fans are important but listening to every fan sentiment or answer is not the ticket.”