It’s been a popular topic of conversation for years. Lately though, it hasn’t been Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards name included in the discussion about whether Sprint Cup Series drivers should compete in the Nationwide Series.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”232″][/media-credit]The red-hot Brad Keselowski has been at the top of list after he stepped away from his NNS ride following a crash testing his Cup car last month. While Keselowski watched other drivers take turns behind the wheel of his No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge, he won two Cup races and skyrocketed to a wildcard position. Then he earned a spot in the Chase for the first time in only his second attempt.
Keselowski though, has returned to his NNS duties and he won for the first time since on Saturday in Chicago. It’s also the site of the first race in the 2011 Chase, which Keselowski starts from the 11th seeded position and sixth on the starting grid.
When asked about his time away from the NNS, Keselowski seemed taken aback by its implications. He too, has heard about Cup drivers ruining the lower series or how they should focus on Cup. In his case though, he says there has been no correlation.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Keselowski said about him running well in Cup because he didn’t run Nationwide. “I don’t think it’s fair to a lot of different people or to reality. The reality of it is we have become more successful as a team as we’ve been able to execute the weekend on the Cup side. Part of the reasons why we’re executing the weekend better are just plain luck.”
Cautions flying at the wrong times or having flat tires didn’t have anything to do with him running the Nationwide car the day before says Keselowski. Because of such he says he doesn’t connect Cup and Nationwide performance but understands that it’s easy for others to. And that it’s easy to say that when he stopped running the NNS his average finish on the Cup side got better.
“Sometimes you have to look at it in a bigger picture than that,” said Keselowski. “Than a simple stat and I feel that I’ve been able to do that and I don’t see where the two are connected. And I see the bigger picture, which was the reason I cam into the Nationwide Series with Penske Racing to begin with, the bigger picture of training people and giving opportunities to future superstars in our sport and that doesn’t mean drivers.”
According to Keselowski his involvement is to help find the next great mechanic, tire changer, crew chief or any other individual who needs and is looking for a shot. He wants to be apart of what takes place and in order to do so he must work alongside them by driving the car. If not that, Keselowski sees other positives to his double duties.
“Maybe it’s as simple as putting a part on the Nationwide car that we’ve been running on the Cup car and it breaks and we take it off before the Chase starts,” he said. “Maybe it’s that simple but there’s so many ways that I think it helps. I want to be a part of it. I was a part of getting the sponsor in here, Discount Tire, to run the Nationwide program and without them this program wouldn’t be possible.”
If Keselowski was to turn around and change his mind about running the NNS, he said it would be hurting a lot of people. After coming to Penske and winning the 2010 championship he wasn’t about to act like he got what he wanted and then didn’t have need for them. Instead, he’s perfectly happy where he’s at, what he’s done and what he continues to do.
“The last thing I was going to do was stab them in the back and leave the Nationwide car just because of a stat that I don’t believe to begin with,” Keselowski said. “Without them quite honestly I don’t feel like I could be where I’m at right now and I wasn’t going to leave and stab them in the back just because it wasn’t convenient for me.”
While some would say that it would be convenient for Keselowski to focus solely on Cup now that the Chase is starting, he’s still running Nationwide and winning. Saturday was his third victory of the season and it came in dominating fashion after starting second and leading 158 of 200 laps. He posted a perfect driver rating of 150 on his way to a seven second win margin.
Time will tell if his continued NNS succeeds leads Keselowski toward putting up a good challenge for the Cup title. Crew chief Todd Gordon though, agrees with Keselowski running both series, saying he has a ton of talent that helps out the Penske organization.
In going along with his driver’s point about finding new stars, he revealed that an engineer the No. 22 team started with at the beginning of the year has since moved up to the Cup Series. To Gordon his driver is the whole package.
“To speak of his double duty, his passion and desire for racecars is 24/7,” said Gordon. “It was 10:40 [Friday night], I was frankly asleep but my phone goes off and what is it? It’s Brad because he’s got some questions about some things we can do to make our racecars better. He eats, sleeps, breathes racecars and with that I think he does a very good job of handling the two.”