When NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman said "we all have planes," he couldn’t have been thinking about Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski, the 26-year-old Penske Racing driver from Detroit who doesn’t really look much older than 20, flew into Toronto today (Sunday) for an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo and although he didn’t fly Air Canada (as Indy car star Dario Franchitti did when he arrived Friday night for an Expo date Saturday) he did arrive by special charter.
"No, I don’t own my own plane," Keselowski told me in a brief interview shortly before he went onstage to chat with, and sign autographs for, about 500 people in Hall 1 of the International Centre.
"I was flown up. The pilots aren’t here (at the Expo); they’re at the plane making sure there isn’t ice on it."
This season – which starts in about a month with NASCAR’s most famous race, the Daytona 500 – Keselowski will drive the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger for Penske, a ride previously occupied by his teammate, Kurt Busch, who will race under the No. 22 Shell/Penzoil banner.
He finished January’s NASCAR test sessions at Daytona on Saturday with the fastest time set all month – 198.605 miles an hour. He hit it while running in a two-car draft with teammate Busch, whose car was a tad slower at 198.579.
Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Carl Edwards were also fast.
That last name – Edwards – led up to my next question for Keselowski: what’s going through you’re mind as you’re flying through the air at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as happened last year, as the result of being nudged by Edwards as payback for something or other.
"I was thinking, ‘I just hope I don’t go into the grandstands,’ " he said. "I knew right away that that could happen and I didn’t want to hurt anybody.
What about hurting yourself?
"Until the wreck is over, you rarely think about your personal safety. You’re thinking, ‘how can I save this race car and do the least amount of damage to it?"
As far as his apparently ongoing feud with Edwards is concerned, Keselowski was non-commital: "I have a lot of time left in this sport," he said, "and things have a way of working themselves out."
Keselowski won the 2010 Nationwide Series Championship but NASCAR has now decreed – in an attempt to keep Sprint Cup drivers from hogging the limelight in the lesser series – that all NASCAR licensed drivers must declare, before the season starts, the series in which they'll run for points.
Translation: as a Sprint Cup star, Keselowski won’t be able to score points in the Nationwide series and won’t be able to defend his championship.
"There nothing I can really do about that," said Keselowski, who started thinking about being a race driver when he was "about 1."
"I can’t file a protest, or anything, so it kinda is what it is at this point. But we have some unfinished business; we can still run for the owner’s championship – we’re going to do that and see if we can get that for Roger.
"I hope we can live up to all the commitments that we had before, with sponsors and so forth. We certainly plan to run all the races. I’d love to be able to defend it (his title) but we’ll move on and focus on winning on the Cup side."
Keselowski said it’s a pleasure to be part of the Penske organization and considers his relationship with "the Captain" to be a good, personal one.
"I don’t know why, but he gets a stigma or something like he gives all his drivers ‘the speech.’ That doesn’t happen. If you didn’t have the skills or the lifestyle of which he approves to begin with, then you wouldn’t work there."
Having said that, Keselowski admitted that he was delighted to be part of the Penske empire.
"You know, I’m from Detroit and Roger obviously has his huge operation out of there so there’s a level of pride I have of being associated with him just from that standpoint.
"But then you look back at the history of excellence there and that makes it even more gratifying."
As he left the interview room to begin his public session, Keselowski was introduced to a family of four – the parents and two little boys – and he was just charming. His ability to relate to children will serve him in good stead as NASCAR evolves and will give him a leg up on other Cup drivers, some of whom are frequently less than cooperative when asked to interact with fans or media.
And his public performance that followed was similarly delightful. The fans were forthright with their questions, talking to him as if he were their friend or neighbour, and his cheerful demeanor indicated he was enjoying the session as much as they were.
Here are some of the questions he was asked, and the replies:
How busy are you?
"I do 73 races a year plus sponsor appearances."
Who’s your favourite drafting partner?
"The one you’re fastest with."
How do you like driving the Dodge?
"This is a funny story. My grandfather (John) went to Detroit in the 1920s, early 30s, to work in the auto industry. He wanted to get into racing – in this thing called NASCAR. He went to a dealership to buy a car and he couldn’t get a car from Ford so he went across the street and bought a Chrysler. Ever since, my family (father Bob, uncle Ron, brother Brian) have raced Chrysler products. So it’s great to be back with Dodge and Mopar."
How hard was it for you to get to where you are?
"To make it as a race car driver is like trying to make it as a band. There are so many talented drivers out there. My brother is trying to get to the top in car racing and it hasn’t happened for him yet."
One question included a sentence about Canadian speedways and Keselowski mentioned that he’d travelled to Delaware Speedway near London when his father, Bob, was racing. (In fact, it was while he was watching his father race that he became convinced he could become a race driver.)
Then he said this:
"I have a real appreciation for the local racer, who does all he can to get by. He probably has another job and he’s trying to raise a family as well. There’s quite a bit of sacrifice that we all make for the love of the sport. It’s great to see those folks out there, racing."