Brad Keselowski, 25, made a name for himself quickly in Sprint Cup, winning in 2009 at Talladega after a wreck that sent Carl Edwards flying into the trackside fence. That helped ignite a feud with Edwards that carried into last season, Keselowski's first as a full-time Cup driver with Penske Racing. (In a visit to Tampa last week, perhaps the best giveaway to Keselowski's youth was referring to Roger Penske as "just an awesome dude" then backtracking, saying, "Maybe I shouldn't say dude. He's an awesome guy.") Now Keselowski is moving to Penske's flagship team, the No. 2 car that has earned 45 victories with Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch behind the wheel. Keselowski shared his thoughts on the season, which starts Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500, and on NASCAR's decision to let drivers go for a title in only one series with St. Petersburg Times staff writer Jim Tomlin.
A couple of years ago you were a young driver in the Nationwide series, trying to kick in the door of Sprint Cup. So do you see from both sides what NASCAR is trying to do with its new rule about drivers being allowed to compete for just one championship?
I have a couple of luxuries a lot of other people may not have in regards to running in both series and win the championship, in regards to (others) coming from programs that are underfunded or struggling to find a way. I can see all sides of it (but) it doesn't matter at the end of the day because it wasn't my decision.
Do you feel any extra pressure driving the No. 2 car considering its lineage with Penske?
I felt pressure from Day 1 coming to Penske. I've felt pressure in everything I've done. I think that's good. That's what keeps you going, keeps you motivated, to get up and do this. That's the reason why I accepted the challenge and like doing the things we get to do in this sport, not because they're easy, it's because they're hard.
What's your take on the new surface at Daytona?
I think it's going to be a great race. You're going to see a lot of passing. … It seems kind of strange, it's the first race and knowing how big of a race it is. But the new surface is going to (provide) a thrilling, thrilling race. I'm really, really excited. It's interesting to go to Daytona and not have to worry about tires and all those things we're always worried about. Just knowing that if you have anywhere near a semi-competitive car you have a shot at winning the race is a great feeling and one I don't think has always been the case at Daytona.
Do you think the surface gives you and some of the much younger drivers somewhat of an advantage because you're not trying to supplant 15 years or 20 years of knowledge of Daytona?
It's a huge advantage for the younger guys that don't have the experience and don't know where every bump is and haven't been able to run the (qualifying) Duels, the (exhibition) Shootouts, the 500s for the last 10-15 years. I'm more and more excited about that as I think about it and about how it's an equal opportunity to race. It's going to be thrilling. You're going to see a lot of guys take a lot of risks to win the race.
What's your take on "Have at it, boys"?
I wish it was a little more defined. But I like the spirit of it.
After Chip Ganassi turned the double (becoming the first car owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in one year), has Roger mentioned that he'd like to see you guys do the same this year?
No he hasn't, but somebody brought up that the Daytona 500 happens to be on Roger's birthday. So no pressure (smiles).
When you won at Talladega did you have any immediate grasp on how much it was going to change your life?
I knew it was big but you don't know how. I knew it was going to do something awesome for me. But you just don't know to what scale. At the time I thought it meant that I would get the (No.) 5 car ride for 2010. Obviously that was not the case. … I knew it was going to be a huge opportunity to race and that it would somewhat secure the future that I have in this sport short-term. That's really all I took from it. But I still felt privileged to get to do that.