It’s going to be a strange sort of season for Brad Keselowski.
First, of course, he’s reigning Sprint Cup champion, a position only a few folks would have predicted a year ago.
And, oddly, he rides into defense of the title in a different make – Ford instead of Dodge, and with a new teammate, Joey Logano.
It’s a situation not as settled as most defending champions enjoy, but it still holds much promise.
“If you win a championship, you are going to come in the next year with extremely high expectations,” Keselowski said. “For me, you have to look at our history, and we have been a second-half team the last two or three seasons, and I would expect nothing different this year. If you look at the past and know that we are stronger the second half of the year and that is what we have done to be successful the last two seasons, then that will carry you through any shortcomings at the start of the year.
“I am also nervous that if we start strong, we won’t be good the second half. We will see how it plays out. I feel like I don’t want to build in an excuse for our team, so I am not going to say that if we don’t run well at the start of the year we have nothing to worry about. I am not going to build in that excuse. But I think you can apply things logistically and know we are the type of team that gets stronger throughout the year. That is probably the best way to be.”
Keselowski, whose teammate situation was a zoo last year because of AJ Allmendinger’s suspension, said having Logano in place is a big positive.
“Pushing Joey to be a part of Penske Racing was something that I was behind, for sure,” Keselowski said. “I think we look for a lot of things out of Joey. He has the youth to be in this sport for a long time if he chooses to do so. He has a great attitude as far as the positive energy he brings and credentials that make him someone that you can look up to or respect as far as his personal life and decisions and so forth.
“I think you combine that at the end with his talent and, in theory, he should be around for quite some time and be able to make Penske Racing and that 22 team a perennial contender. It is just a matter of putting the other pieces together with him. I feel like what I look for out of him is to do just that, make that car a contender week in and week out, and if he is able to do that then I think it will make everyone at Penske Racing stronger.
“That is in all categories, whether it is increasing the level of funding because of sponsorship or the other side of it of pushing me to be a better driver and be more engaged. I am hoping for all those things across the board, and it might be something as simple as attracting more talent through the pit crews or what-not. It is important to have quality teams throughout the company because that is your reputation, and we want to have the best reputation possible at Penske Racing because the benefits will work their way down to all teams.”
Keselowski said the move from Dodge to Ford is a work in progress.
“We have a lot of work to be done for Penske Racing to make the conversion over from Dodge to Ford, and a lot of that work was done at the shop, and then you come to the track and test and you verify it,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done there and a lot of work to be done for the sport in general. There are a lot of things going on, including the new car that will get a lot of buzz here, deservedly so.
“We are all working hard to figure out things together. Track time helps us to work through that, and so far we are getting track time in. We might not be as fast as we want, but somebody told me that Ford stands for 'first on race day,' and it isn’t race day yet, so we don’t have to worry about that yet.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.