Brad Keselowski is the perfect interview subject. Patient. Informative. His answers are often well thought out whether you agree with them or not, and even better, they stay on topic. Keselowski listens to the question before jumping to respond. He engages with the interviewer, and so often mentions them by name it’s become a viral sensation.
Keselowski will need those skills tenfold in 2022, because he will face one question repeatedly. In all honesty, it’s already started, even if he’s yet to run one race under the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (RFK Racing) banner.
How are you balancing being an owner and a driver?
“I’m going to get those questions a lot, and I understand them,” Keselowski said. “Ultimately, the answer won’t be my words. It’ll be the results on the track.”
Keselowski is methodical and dedicated. He has no problem educating himself on the things he doesn’t know. Becoming a team owner was not a whimsical decision, and it’s not the first time Keselowski’s been in charge. Undoubtedly, there are many lessons he’s learned from years past and mentors along the way.
But being a driver and owner in the Camping World Truck Series, where Keselowski fielded entries from 2008 through 2017, is much different than doing so at NASCAR’s highest level. Dare we say ‘harder’?
Keselowski will need to be more involved and more strategic, and he’ll see how things are going firsthand, driving his equipment 38 weekends a year. That is much different than the one-off Truck Series race here and there.
And results, as he mentioned? The balancing act question Keselowski will face is likely to come with a tinge of judgment about how he’s impacting the company and the role he’s playing to turn it around.
Keselowski wanted to have more say in competition matters, which is part of what led him to an office next to Jack Roush. Meanwhile, the folks at Roush needed a succession plan and wanted to be more competitive.
“There’s a lot of great pieces moving,” said Keselowski. “I have a lot of confidence that although there are some people who question the things we’re going to be able to do, I have a lot of confidence we’re going to do some great things, and we’re not going to skip a beat with respect to performance on the track and off.”
Since the race season ended, Keselowski has been elbows deep in his new role. Not just getting behind the wheel of Next Gen, but the learning process of a new organization, meetings, decision making, and lots of time spent with team president Steve Newmark.
There have been personnel shakeups and a shop makeover. While that’s a breath of fresh air, at some point the talking and organizing stop, and racing begins. When it does, the stat sheet is going to say everything.
Keselowski being in the hot seat will give a reprieve to Denny Hamlin, who faced the same questions last season as a driver for Joe Gibbs Racing and the owner of the high-profile 23XI Racing alongside Michael Jordan. Critics jumped at having new material to fire at Hamlin, such as ownership being a distraction. Every time he was asked, Hamlin was upfront about the time he had to spend during the week focusing on his No. 11 Toyota or the days he needed to be at the 23XI shop handling business.
Newmark knows Keselowski is going to face that question and that responsibility. He isn’t worried.
“I think he’s going to be fantastic,” Newmark said of Keselowski being an owner and driver. “I think Denny has a much tougher situation than Brad because Denny’s ownership interest is in a team he’s not driving for, and so that puts up a whole hurdle that I’m not even sure how… I sympathize with Denny. I don’t know how you navigate that. For [Keselowski], it’s one-stop shopping, and I think you’re going to see him involved in everything that we do.
“Some of it, he has a strong opinion on right now. Some of it, he says, ‘I just want to learn. I want to understand how you guys do this. How do you guys arrive at this result, whether on the sponsorship side or hiring practices?’ Or he got to jump in, unfortunately, on our least favorite topic: what is our mask policy going to be? What type of safety protocols are we putting in place around COVID? And I had to say, here are the metrics we’re tracking. We’re using these barometers for CDC and Cabarrus county.
“He’s intellectually curious, right? So, he really wants to understand all of that. But I think he’s respectful of the areas we have – our HR group has explained to him how we do different things. He’s had some suggestions, but he’s not coming in dictating we overhaul certain procedures. But he’s going to provide his input.”
There will be growing pains, and some have likely already started. A media-friendly driver and one who’s always warranted attention, Keselowski will continue to get plenty next season. And it’s a good thing he knows that a specific topic is going to come up over and over and over.