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Why a Daytona 500 breakthrough has eluded Brad Keselowski

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Like so many sublimely talented restrictor-plate drivers before him, Brad Keselowski somehow still lacks a Daytona 500 victory.

But the Team Penske driver doesn’t lack for awareness and knowledge of what it will take for a long-awaited breakthrough in the signature race, and he was reminded of the winning key while recently browsing a military handbook.

“(It was) on how to handle different things, all kinds of different game plans, strategies for attacks,” Keselowski told reporters on a national media call last week. “One of the things in the back of the book is, ‘Remember, everything here is for normally trained soldiers going up against another normally trained soldier.’ There’s no way to prepare for a kamikaze, no way to train for somebody that does crazy shit.

“I read that book and I laughed because that’s a lot how the 500 is.  Moves that should work don’t work because for whatever reason that race gets people amped up, crazy, and they do weird things. And so your normal playbook, a lot of times it doesn’t work for the 500. It’s part of the randomness of the race.”

With a series-best six wins at Daytona and Talladega, best on plate tracks among active drivers, Keselowski will enter Sunday’s Daytona 500 trying to snap a 0 for 9 record in the Great American Race – but he takes some solace in the company he keeps.

It took Dale Earnhardt, the winningest driver in Daytona history, 20 tries to win the season opener. Darrell Waltrip won in his 17th attempt. In 17 tries, Tony Stewart never won it despite four victories in the July race.

Besides Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. (0 for 14), Kyle Busch (0 for 13) and Clint Bowyer (0 for 13) are among the active notables still winless in the Daytona 500.

“I think it’s an astute observation, one that’s not lost on me,” Keselowski said of the long waits for several big names such as himself. “I think the moves that should work and normally would work on plate tracks don’t work on the 500 because of kind of the chaos of that race. It’s almost like you need a different playbook for the 500 than you do a normal plate race. I know that’s kind of hard to explain.

“A lot of your success is dictated by others specific to getting crashed out. It makes it very difficult, especially for me and probably drivers like Kyle would probably say the same thing. It makes it very difficult for us because we’ve built a playbook of things we feel good about and we know are the right moves. They’ve worked for us on the other plate tracks, and they don’t work at the 500 because of the randomness of that race. It’s frustrating.”

The 2018 season renewed the urgency of ending that frustration.

With victories at the Brickyard 400 (the first for team owner Roger Penske) and the Southern 500, Keselowski added two “major” wins to his resume, which leaves the Daytona 500 as the glaring omission.

“Last year after winning Darlington and Indianapolis, gosh, the thrill from that, I’m still kind of on a high from that,” he said. “That was almost six months ago.

“But Daytona is, of course, the 500, one major I don’t have. I feel like it’s a race we’ve been competitive at.  We had opportunities to win it.  For a number of reasons, it hasn’t come together, which is sometimes unsettling.  People ask me all the time, ‘What race is the one that got away?’  It’s the 500, has been so far. I want to change that.”

He has been close to winning several times.

In 2014, he finished third after being outdueled by Dale Earnhardt Jr on the last restart. In 2015, a blown engine eliminated his No. 2 Ford from contention with 40 laps remaining (in a race won by his teammate, Joey Logano). Crashes have knocked him out of the past two 500s with strong cars.

“(Survival) has been the hardest part for me,” Keselowski said. “I feel we’ve been good enough to win it multiple times.  We get caught up in somebody else’s wreck or problem. I think you see that a lot.

Besides the luck factor, first things first, you got to be running at the end of that race.  For whatever reason, I think maybe because it’s the first race of the year, maybe because it’s one of the biggest races of the year, I’m not entirely sure, but the Daytona 500 has traditionally been a race of very high attrition. Getting to the end has been very difficult for us.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte, who was Earnhardt’s crew chief for the ’14 win and two prior runner-up finishes, said the pressure compounds the difficulty level for even the best drivers.

“The guy that wins the Daytona 500 is the one that was fortunate enough to make zero mistakes in the last 20 laps,” Letarte said. “Because it builds to a crescendo like no other race in the world. It just builds and builds and builds over three hours. And you know when you leave pit road for the last time, and you can see the energy, all the drivers know it.

“They make very few moves until they’re very calculated. In most races, you can make mistakes in the last few laps of a race and still have a chance to win it. In the Daytona 500, you just can’t.”

And it might actually be tougher for drafting aces such as Keselowski

“I think a lot of people see them as the most threat, so I think they get the least amount of help,” Letarte said. “While you would think they would get the most, I think if you have a chance to hang out any of those big names, that’s who you hang out. Because not all mistakes are a mistake, sometimes you zig, and you just know the guy behind you is going to zig, and he zags. And you’re done.”

“It’s a chess match. It’s months and months and months for one 2.5-mile lap. There is no guarantee you’re ever going to win this race. All you really do is try to be one of the players with 5 miles to go. That race builds like no other. You can just feel it every lap.”

That makes preparing for the race tricky for Keselowski, whose study of military tactics speaks to his meticulously analytical style. While the research can help in some Daytona 500s that unfold as strategical masterpieces, it’s much less effective when the races become crashfests that eliminated many contenders (which was true the past two years).

“Probably the worst thing you can do is be prepared for it because then you have preconceptions of moves that should work, and they don’t because the race is so random,” Keselowski said. “It actually gets you in more trouble. It’s a very, very difficult race to prepare for.”

But he will do so nonetheless, hoping that he can erase the agony of having the current “best plate driver without a Daytona 500” label.

“I’m definitely very frustrated,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.  But on the other side, I’m confident if we keep doing the right things, not to sound too cliché, but trust the process, it will come together.  That means you put the work in, you follow the playbook the best you know how, that we developed, try to make it count.

“I feel like the car is there, the team is there, I’m there.  We’re all ready to win this race.  Hopefully the time is now this year in 2019.”

Brad Keselowski reveals vision for his new 3D printing company

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STATESVILLE, N.C. – Brad Keselowski unveiled his long-anticipated new business Thursday, which is designed to be “at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution.”

Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, which will be housed in the 70,000-square-foot shop that once was the base of the 2012 Cup champion’s NASCAR truck team, will be a hybrid manufacturing factory that Keselowski said will help build “the world of the future.”

In a release, Keselowski said “tens of millions of dollars” would be invested in “equipment and expertise.” The company has a staff of 30 with plans to expand to 100 by the end of the year.

Keselowski told reporters that he has no investors, and it’s all his money. He said he didn’t leverage the spend by going into debt.

“I already owned the facility so that was advantageous,” he said. “I liquidated the truck series assets, and that helped to pay for this. I wanted to do it myself so I could go fast.

“I’ve been very frugal for a number of years. I didn’t put my house on the line. There are some risks, but you have to believe in something. I wasn’t going to just retire from racing and do nothing. The opportunity was right. I feel I hit the market perfectly.”

Keselowski is hoping for a return on the investment within five to 10 years. He envisions it as possibly providing an avenue for staying involved in NASCAR after his driving career ends, perhaps as a team owner (though he also cautioned he “didn’t want to get too far over his skis” on the future).

“I feel like I’m planting a really nice seed, so we’ll see where it goes,” he said.

He said the business also wouldn’t curtail his driving career, where he said winning another Cup championship remains a major goal.

“I need a job to pay for it, especially for the next few years,” he said. “I don’t think it affects my timeline of being a competitor on the NASCAR level.

“In some ways, I hope it potentially extends it as we see the market shift with drivers in a position where they can no longer really be paid. Or sometimes they really have to pay to race. I hope it can extend that because I’ll be immune to it.”

Partnering with several equipment and technology companies, KAM will focus on “additive manufacturing,” also known as 3D printing, that can bend and form metal into parts.

“In North America, no one will offer hybrid manufacturing on the scale we will,” Keselowski during a 20-minute presentation to media and industry members.

Though there could be motorsports applications, Keselowski said the vast majority of its clients will be outside racing. “If this only serves motorsports, it’ll be a tremendous failure,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll dabble some.”

He does have some NASCAR faces on his payroll already, though, hiring former Roush Fenway Racing crew chief and executive Robbie Reiser as production manager.

“His ability to build teams at the NASCAR level is a direct parallel to what we’re looking to do here,” Keselowski said of Reiser.

Keselowski said the company plans to hunt the NASCAR job market for “a lot of people behind scenes in engineering and manufacturing talent. That’s part of the reason I liked this sector. The talent pool here is phenomenal. As the motorsports sector continues to change, I expect the pool to overflow and find top talent.”

The Statesville location also is attractive because of its adjacent airport, which allows for swift transport in an industry with on-demand needs.

Keselowski said his company will focus on “new and exciting products the world has never seen” in industry sectors such as aerospace, nanotech, biotech and quantum computing that he believes will lead the fourth industrial revolution. Keselowski said KAM already has aerospace and Defense customers and hopes to branch into automotive and medical contracts.

Keselowski, who turns 35 next month, said his background as a NASCAR driver makes him “perfectly positioned to lead an advanced manufacturing company” because his “years in motorsports have taught several lessons in the harshest of environments where failure to perform could mean not only your job but also your life.” He learned more about advanced machines and tools from his exposure in NASCAR, which has become heavily focused on engineering over the last 15 years.

As a driver at “the top of the fastest and most rigorous feedback loop in the world,” Keselowski said he watched how Team Penske’s 500-plus employees responded to solving racing problems and wanted to apply it to manufacturing.

“Teams meet massive challenges with speed, precision and reliability,” Keselowski said. “So I asked, ‘What if this was available outside motorsports? What could these technologies and talents achieve?’”

Keselowski, whose grandfather spent World War II making military drill bits, said he was inspired by the manufacturing background of his Michigan-based family.

“My vision of KAM was born of fire and competition, and the ability to act fast,” said Keselowski, whose family owned team raced its own Late Models.

Keselowski traveled through Europe last summer to learn about “factories of the future” that rely on heavy automation, robotics, cloud computing and “the Internet of things” for building.

“All of those maximize communication and efficiencies,” Keselowski said. “All of those tools will be used in the facility today.”

 

The road to NASCAR can be dirty

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The story of how Chase Briscoe made it to the Xfinity Series doesn’t begin in a one-stoplight town in Southern Indiana.

“Actually, we just got a second stop light about two years ago,” Briscoe says.

The town, Mitchell, is 33 miles south of Bloomington in Lawrence County.

Before you ask, there isn’t much to do there.

“I remember in high school one of the fun things and cool things to do is just go walk around Wal-Mart,” Briscoe says.

Luckily for Briscoe, growing up in a county that produced three astronauts provided some benefit to the future Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Dirt racers. “A ton” of them.

One of those was his dad, Kevin Briscoe.

Chase Briscoe celebrates his win in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17, 2017. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

FAMILY BUSINESS

The son of a longtime sprint car owner, Richard Briscoe, Kevin continued in the family business, competing for more than 20 years and winning more than 150 feature events.

But for much of Chase’s childhood, Kevin didn’t want his son involved in racing.

At 7, he raced twice in a quarter midget, winning both a qualifying race and his feature. But that was almost the end for Chase.

“My dad was still racing so much, and we didn’t really have the money to be doing both,” Briscoe says. “He just never really had the desire for me to race. He just didn’t see the point of it. He didn’t think it was the safest thing. He didn’t think I could make a good livelihood doing it.”

His dad’s mind was changed one night at Bloomington Speedway when Chase was about 10.

While at the payout window, the mother of another driver asked Kevin when he was going to let his son race.

When he told her he didn’t want Chase to race, the woman launched into a story.

Her son had once written a school paper about what racing with his family on the weekends meant to him.

The teacher failed the paper. She didn’t think it was right for a kid to be racing.

The next week, the teacher’s son was arrested for drinking and driving underage.

“My dad, it kind of clicked with him,” Briscoe says. “He was always with his dad on the weekends not getting into trouble and was always at the shop working throughout the week and kept him out of a lot of trouble he thought. That was kind of his mentality to let me start racing, was to keep me out of trouble.”

Briscoe wasn’t immediately throwing dirt on the weekends. It wasn’t until 2006 at 11 that he returned to the track in a mini-sprint car.

When he was 13, he made the jump into his dad’s old 410 sprint car, which had an engine built in 1993 (the year before Briscoe was born).

In his first season, he amassed 37 starts but didn’t win until the last race of the year. By doing so, Briscoe broke Jeff Gordon’s record (14 years old) as the youngest person to win a 410 sprint car race.

Even now, Briscoe doesn’t see himself as an exceptional dirt racer.

“It’s something I’ve always been passionate about, but I’m not the best dirt racer by any means,” Briscoe says. “I’m not the best pavement racer by any means either. It was hard to kind of race against guys that were running 140 races a year experience-wise.”

DIRT TO PAVEMENT

When he graduated high school, Briscoe knew he was within a few years of an expiration date for anyone wanting to make it as a pavement racer.

“I knew I was in that age category where if you’re over 23 years old, you’re probably not going to get a chance if you’re just starting out,” Briscoe says. “I just figured, ‘What the heck? The worst they’re going to tell me is no.’ If it doesn’t work out in three or four years, I can always move back and race sprint cars and go get a full-time job or go to school or what not. I kind of just went for it, and I honestly expected it to never work out. But I figured it was something I could do, and if I was 60 years old sitting on a porch, I wouldn’t have any regret about it.”

The first step in that goal was being invited to the Michael Waltrip PEAK Antifreeze Stock Car Dream Challenge in July 2013 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Briscoe competed in the three-day event against eight other hopefuls for a chance to win a ride with Bill McAnally Racing. He made the final round before losing to Patrick Staropoli.

Both drivers made a handful of K&N Pro Series starts for Bill McAnally Racing, with Briscoe making three in the West Series. To date, Staropoli has made one Camping World Truck Series start, in 2016.

Within a year, Briscoe furthered his commitment to making it on pavement. He moved to North Carolina in January 2014 at the age of 19.

That’s where the Keselowski family came in.

TRUCKS

In the 2017 video game, “NASCAR Heat 2,” the career mode begins with a video of Brad Keselowski talking to the player as if they’re an aspiring NASCAR driver.

Keselowski says he’ll make a few calls to see about getting you a ride with a Truck Series team.

You’re basically playing as Chase Briscoe.

Unlike the game, Briscoe got to race for Keselowski.

The call from the 2012 Cup champion came after Briscoe, driving for Cunningham Motorsports, captured the 2016 ARCA Racing Series championship. He earned six wins – including four in row – during the campaign.

At the end of the process Keselowski spearheaded, Briscoe was signed as Ford’s first development driver. He drove Brad Keselowski Racing’s No. 29 Ford in the Truck Series in 2017.

But Briscoe’s history with the Keselowskis didn’t begin there.

Chase Briscoe at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It started when he made the move to North Carolina and began sleeping on couches and volunteering at race shops.

The first shop he lent his services to belonged to Keselowski’s father and brother, Bob and Brian.

“I’m sure they would say I didn’t help out much because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” says Briscoe, who served as a spotter for Brian when he raced while Bob served as crew chief.

Briscoe got to pay tribute to Bob Keselowski’s own Truck Series career last September when he drove one of his old paint schemes at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

After his tenure at the Keselowski shop, Briscoe wound up at Cunningham Motorsports, where he volunteered until he was awarded a test at Nashville Speedway. That test resulted in two ARCA races in 2015 and his championship campaign.

UNEXPECTED PROMOTION

The plan was for Briscoe to compete in the Truck Series two years and move to the Xfinity Series.

Plans changed.

On Aug. 18, Brad Keselowski Racing announced it would shut down at the end of the 2017 season.

Due to not being near his phone, Briscoe didn’t find out until about an hour before the announcement was made.

“I had like two or three missed calls from Brad and I was like, ‘This is weird,’ ” says Briscoe. “I called him and he pretty much just told me, ‘Hey, I wanted to let you know I went to the shop today and told everybody I’m actually shutting the team down. You’re going to run the rest of the year, and I’m going to keep you in the best stuff I can.'”

The news came with nine races left in the season. With BKR the only Ford-backed team in Trucks at the time, Briscoe’s NASCAR future was put in limbo.

Chase Briscoe competes in the Feb. 24 Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Three days after Briscoe closed the Truck season with his first series win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing announced he would be part of a three-driver effort to field the No. 60 Ford in the Xfinity Series in 2018 with Ty Majeski and his BKR teammate Austin Cindric.

Seventeen years after he first drove a quarter-midget, Briscoe made his Xfinity debut last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Briscoe finished 15th.

“It was very eye-opening to be there in the first place … I never would have expected to even make it in the Xfinity Series,” Briscoe says. “To be able to drive for Jack Roush in your first start in the winningest number in Xfinity Series history (94 wins) is certainly very humbling. It was just such an honor.”

Briscoe will make 11 more starts in the N0. 60 this season, the next coming on April 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. But Briscoe will make at least one other Xfinity start.

He is scheduled to compete April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

The race is significant for a driver who grew up in the dirt racing hotbed of Indiana.

“Being a sprint car guy, my hero is Tony Stewart,” Briscoe said of the native of Columbus, Indiana. “For me just getting to drive one race at Stewart-Haas is a dream come true. Just awesome and so humbling to be able to say I’m going to drive for my hero.”

The 23 year old Briscoe — at the age he once saw as a make-or-break year for his racing dreams — has a buffet of options before him.

In addition to racing for his home-state hero, he’ll compete in seven IMSA races, three Trans-Am races and roughly 25 sprint car races this year.

There’s not much a 60-year-old Briscoe would regret about the moment.

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Midrace contact but no postrace fallout for Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Busch pulled himself out of his No. 18 Toyota, wiped off his forehead and ran his fingers through his soaked hair with a final demonstrative flick.

For the second time this season, he was marching with purpose toward a Team Penske driver whom he felt had wronged him during a race. As Busch drew within 20 yards of the No. 2 Ford, Brad Keselowski’s PR rep sprinted past on the left.

But unlike five months ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver took a swing at Joey Logano’s back, Busch then made a hard right to AJ Allemendinger, exchanging a handshake, smile and a few friendly gestures before laughing and moving on again.

“You mean there’s a story?” Busch sarcastically asked a group of reporters converging as he made a beeline from the pit lane to the garage. “What’s the story?”

Seemed as if you were about to make an impressive comeback until that contact with Brad Keselowski?

“Imagine that,” Busch replied while never breaking stride.

A few minutes later, Keselowski smiled when asked if he thought Busch was headed his way (“Wasn’t a lot of thought put into that. I’m still just cooling off.”) and got philosophical while reflecting on their history at Watkins Glen International.

“This is a track where you fight for inches,” Keselowski said, “and we both probably aren’t willing to give one.”

The best rivalry in NASCAR added another chapter in a familiar place at the 2.45-mile road course, where Busch and Keselowski staged a memorable last-lap fight for the lead in 2012 (with Busch spinning out) and dueled again for a victory in ’13.

It happened at the race’s midpoint Sunday.

On Lap 45 of 90, Busch dove for seventh entering the inner loop, catching Keselowski off guard. The pair made contact and spun off course, sending both to the pits and Busch to the mic button on his radio.

“You all better keep me away from that (expletive) after this race,” Busch told his team. “I will kill that (expletive).”

After the race, he withheld judgment when asked what happened.

“Couldn’t tell you,” he said. “Hadn’t seen it.”

Busch was charging through the field after an extra pit stop for a loose wheel after winning the first stage. After winning Saturday’s Xfinity race from the pole despite a spin, he appeared set to repeat the feat Sunday.

Starting from the pole position for the second consecutive Cup race, he led the first 21 laps. He seemed a good bet for his second consecutive win (after breaking a yearlong winless drought at Pocono Raceway).

Right, Kyle?

“Yep,” Busch, who finished seventh, said in his final answer to reporters.

Keselowski simply said he didn’t have enough warning with Allmendinger behind his car as Busch made his daring move.

“I got to the corner, and my spotter said, ‘Somebody there,’” said Keselowski, who later led 20 laps but was 15th after a late stop for fuel and a pit penalty. “But I’d already got to the corner, and by then, I was already committed, and I think he was already committed, too. It looked like he tried to make a big move from a couple of car lengths back, and it was more than what there was room for all of us.

“It probably didn’t help either one of us. It was a bummer. … I wasn’t looking to get into him, and I don’t think he was looking to get into me. He probably had the dominant car, so he didn’t need any trouble, but neither did I.”

Sounds like there might be some common ground for two champions who have feuded more often than any stars (the Xfinity race at Michigan International Speedway was another recent flashpoint).

Any plans to hash things out soon?

“I don’t think he’s really the listening type,” Keselowski said with a smile. “Pretty doubtful.”

 

Brad Keselowski says ‘poorly designed car’ makes it difficult ‘to put on a show’

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SPARTA, Ky. – Brad Keselowski slammed the Gen 6 car for its lack of handling on 1.5-mile tracks Saturday after spinning in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

The Team Penske driver lost control of his No. 2 Ford on a Lap 88 restart, triggering a pileup that also collected Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

Keselowski initially took the blame for the wreck, but he expressed frustration with the car in a group interview after leaving the care center. He was asked about the 1.5-mile speedway’s efforts to widen its repaved surface by using its Tire Dragon.

“They made a good effort,” Keselowski said. “It was better than nothing, but there are limitations. The way this car is, it needs a lot more help than a Tire Dragon. It is a poorly designed race car and it makes racing on tracks like this very difficult to put on the show we want to put on for our fans.  You do what you can to gouge and claw on the restarts and get everything you can get. You have to put yourself in bad situations to do that and that is where we were. If you don’t make those moves on the restarts, then you run in the back. Or you have a bad day.

“It is time for the sport to design a new car that is worthy of where this sport deserves to be and the show it deserves to put on for its fans.”

On the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week, senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said meetings were beginning about the Gen 7 car.

O’Donnell said removing the splitter, a scourge of many drivers who dislike its effect on aerodynamics, was a probability in the next model, which he said was two to four years away from hitting the track.

The Gen 6 car made its debut in 2013 and was aimed mostly at adding manufacturer identity.

Though Keselowski struggled with traffic on restarts, Kyle Larson showed it was possible to make passes. After starting from the rear and falling back on a speeding penalty, Larson had gained more than 50 positions over the first 150 laps of the race.

Kentucky also marked the fourth time in seven races that Keselowski had crashed out.

“I am probably as much frustrated with myself as I am frustrated with the situation and frustrated with the sport that we can’t design a better car than this that you can race without having to do everything on the restart,” he said. “That is all part of it I guess. It is where we are right now.”