On this episode of “In Depth with Graham Bensinger,” Graham Bensinger sits down with 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski. During the episode the twenty-eight-year-old recalls growing up in a racing family and blames himself for the failure of the family business, K-Automotive. He discusses his pivotal late season showdown with five-time Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson, and the emotion of winning NASCAR’s most coveted prize. Keselowski also describes how he helped his brother, Brian, qualify for the Daytona 500 and the disappoint of being unable to drive full-time for the Hendrick Motorsports team.
Bensinger asks Keselowski how devastated he was when, in 2009, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, re-signed veteran driver, Mark Martin: “As soon as (Martin) won that race, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the ride at Hendrick Motorsports in 2010, the one that essentially we talked about and I’d been promised… he walked up to Mr. Hendrick and told him he wanted to drive the car for the next year or two which essentially meant there was no spot for me. I knew what it meant. I didn’t want to believe it.”
But, feeling a sense of betrayal, Keselowski tells Bensinger he had something to prove: “I was more heartbroken…. Maybe that’s something that comes from a sense of betrayal, but that’s a strong word. I would say it definitely added fuel to the fire of who I am and my desire to be the best.
Late in the 2012 season, Keselowski found himself at Texas Motor Speedway in a head -to-head battle with Jimmie Johnson with the Cup still in doubt: “It was a high-stakes game of chicken which, at that point in the season, the championship was on the line. He knew it. I knew it, and I had to send a message that I wasn’t going to blink.”
With both drivers teetering on the edge of losing control, Bensinger asks Keselowski what he was thinking as he forced Johnson high onto the track: “I’m thinking, ‘He better give me room or he’s going with me.’… He was smart enough to know that, which was really impressive. But either way, I had to send a message that I was serious.”
But even fierce rivals forget their differences when a fellow driver is in trouble. During a 2011 practice run, Keselowski was involved in a serious crash and Johnson was one of the first on the scene: “I was sitting in the car, and I just wrecked really, really hard. And at that point, I could feel my legs, but I knew that they didn’t feel right, and I was in extreme pain in my lower back…the next thing I know, Jimmie had pulled up to the scene in a rental car. He had took a rental car from the pit lane and drove over there… his ability to understand the moment and understand that the severity of what was going on and overcome, I think, the fear that every driver has which is seeing another driver hurt, and care more about the person than his own reflections of mortality, I think that really meant something to me.”
While most people would think that winning the Sprint Cup Championship would easily rank at the top of any driver’s list of achievements, Keselowski has a surprisingly different answer: “Certainly, winning a championship was a huge moment. It’s huge, but you know what, there’s races that nobody’s even saw or cared about, from my perspective, that meant a lot to me, too…”
And when Bensinger asks about the emotion of winning the Cup, Keselowski answers: “…winning a championship is a goal and a goal is a destination, but I love the journey. I live for the journey, and so, in a way, it’s bittersweet to actually win something because you know the journey is over.”
Bensinger remindsKeselowski that he said if he won the Sprint Cup, he would buy himself a military tank: “I think a tank would just be something really, really cool and different that nobody else has ever done… It would definitely be bad ass…Hell, I just want to run around and have some fun.”
In 2006, K-Automotive, the family racing business founded by Keselowski’s grandfather John, ran out of money and closed. While unfair, Keselowski inappropriately shouldered much of the responsibility: “To think I was part of bankrupting my family to try to pursue your own dream is a moment where you feel so selfish and incredibly low as a human being that you just don’t even know how you’re ever going to recover from that.”
Bensinger asks Keselowski why he thinks he put so much blame on himself: “Because I called for the ball. I accepted the responsibility. It was my job to find a way to be successful, and I didn’t find it. That puts the burden on me. That was my missed shot.”
Keselowski ultimately single-handedly pulled the family out of bankruptcy which prevented them from losing their home.
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