The Frontstretch: Down For The Count: Fading Dreams Of A NASCAR Independent by Bryan Davis Keith -- Friday September 24, 2010

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Down For The Count: Fading Dreams Of A NASCAR Independent

Bryan Davis Keith · Friday September 24, 2010


Brian Keselowski has spent the last two seasons as an owner/driver, an attempt to establish himself on the Nationwide Series circuit after a lack of sponsorship derailed a driver development deal with Jay Robinson Racing. While the driver perhaps best known as Brad’s older brother has tried to do it all on his own since then, the challenges of running a team and driving an unsponsored race car continue to multiply. Frontstretch caught up with Keselowski at Atlanta to discuss his future on both sides of the fence, reflecting on a career that thus far has demonstrated a considerable dedication to NASCAR’s second-tier division.

Bryan Davis Keith, You’ve already found yourself start-and-parking a number of times this year to make ends meet. For a team such as yourself, literally how much is there left that you can cut before it’s not possible to feasibly run a car?

Brian Keselowski: I had this same conversation with NASCAR in their owner’s meeting about cost cutting. They asked if I was going to leave [if they don’t do anything], and I said there’s nothing out there. There’s nothing they can do to save me money. I don’t buy brand new motors every week, I don’t buy new cars, I don’t build new stuff. I don’t see how they can cut anything. They can’t cut another person off my crew and save me money, I don’t have any in the first place.

I mean, what are they going to do to save me money? Maybe they can cut costs on entry fees, but we’re talking $200, $300 a week. We need to be saving $10,000s out here, a couple hundred bucks isn’t going to do it. And I don’t see how that’s going to happen, so really it was kind of pointless for me to go [to these meetings]. It’s all well and good to talk about cutting costs, but that’s for the bigger guys, it’s not for us. I don’t know how we can possibly do it cheaper than how we’re doing it.

This motor I’m going to race today, I’ve had since California. I raced it at California, I raced it at Bristol, Darlington, Watkins Glen, and now I’m going to race it here. It’s got well over 1,000 miles on it before we even started here. How can we go further than that, this thing’s on its last leg as it is. I just can’t afford anything different right now.

Keith: You’ve gone to one car recently for a couple of races. Is that another product of this?

Due to a lack of time and a small stable of race cars, K-Automotive’s second No. 92 entry has not been making the trip to every race over the course of the summer (photo courtesy of the Hot Lap).

Keselowski: Well, the Bristol deal was that I didn’t feel like I had a car that was competitive enough to make the race for a second car. When we wrecked a car at Iowa, that pretty much killed us. The car I’m running today is a car that we’ve struggled with all year. It’s been a real struggle, and between all of our numbers it’s probably missed four or five races this year. I can’t afford to do that. Now, I completely rebuilt it. I actually took it to Watkins Glen because I didn’t have a road course car. I completely rebuilt it and we didn’t go to Canada last week. From the ground up, it’s been better, but it’s nothing spectacular. Of course, the old motor in it is about dead, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do at this point.

At Bristol, I wanted to do some Cup stuff anyway, and it seemed like a good weekend to do it. So we ran the Cup race. Didn’t run very well, but at least we weren’t at home just thinking about it. There’s some other races we’ll probably do that; as for the [Nationwide] CoT races we don’t have one, and we’re not going to put one together. We might just run one car a few other races, depending on what we’re going to do. I’d like to do some more Cup stuff, see if we can make some races.

Keith: What does your stable look like? Can you get through 2010?

Keselowski: That’s a really good question actually. We’ve got 10 races to go and eight are with the current car. If I wreck [at Atlanta], that leaves us with one car left together right now. Editor’s Note: He kept it off the wall; the team finished 31st, eleven laps off the pace and with the car in good condition.

We’re going to run the distance tonight, I kind of need to for a couple of reasons. One is that if Parker can get going with some of the stuff he’s been doing, driving our number to move us up in the points and I can help that along, too, we can move up there. Not far enough to lock back in, but enough that if some teams go away like they’re talking about for next year we might be locked in at Daytona. So we’re doing that, we’re going to run some races and see where we’re at. Like this week, I took the oldest motor I had. If it blows up, it blows up, but it’s not doing anything sitting on the floor in the shop. I can do that, and the way the purse breaks, I can score some of the extra money for owners that don’t have Cup drivers. We need to try to get that.

I want to race. I’m sick of start-and-parking. I don’t like it. It was one thing to do one car, or even two cars, if you’re going to race one. But to park two, it wears on you fast. You still do the same amount of work, you just don’t race. And that’s what we’re here for, we do all of this work so we can go race.

Keith: From an ownership perspective, how hard is it to tell your guys that they’re coming to the track to work their asses off, but I’m going to pull into the garage on lap 3?

Keselowski: It’s probably not as hard on the guys as it is me, because they’re going to get the same paycheck at the end of the day. They’re disappointed, for sure, but it’s probably not near as hard on them as me because the only reason I started this deal was because I wanted to race. And if I’m not racing, what’s the point of even being here? Now, at this point, the purses are getting so bad that I can’t even afford to do that. And I’m not willing to put myself out there like that if they’re not going to pay me to do it. It’s been pretty disappointing, very disheartening for sure.

Keith: You’ve been here as an owner for a few years now, you’re established on the circuit. Where is the disconnect between you and the sanctioning body?

Keselowski: There’s only so many people they can help. And right now, if they don’t help the big guys, they’re not going to be around either. Those are their bread and butter right now, they’re the guys up there every week winning the races. There’s only so much you can do when a guy has cut every corner that he can cut. Where are you going to save the guys any more money? How can they help us? From what I’ve heard about the way the purses are going to work next year, they’re going to cut more from the bottom of the race than the top. This year, the cuts have been pretty consistent from top to bottom, but next year it’s going to be more on the bottom. That’s great for the big guys, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve got to do what makes business sense for me, and that doesn’t work out.

Keith: You took this project on after your deal with Jay Robinson Racing dried up. Does the thought ever enter your mind to leave ownership behind and just try to find a ride?

Keselowski: I’ve thought about it, but if you don’t have a sponsor… I mean, there’s tons of drivers out there. The Kelly Bires and Landon Cassills of the world are scrounging for anything they can get their hands on, and it’s likely not going to happen unless they can find some money. That’s why I started this deal in the first place, because I realized that. It was more out of necessity than want. I don’t want to own my own stuff, I’d love to drive for Richard Childress or Jack Roush. I’d love to drive for those guys, but at this point it’s probably not going to happen, so I’ve got to do it myself.

Keith: From a sponsorship side, with all the work you have to put in just to get your cars ready, how do you handle any sort of marketing?

Keselowski: We do very, very little. It’s more just a few people here and there that know some people that know some people. That’s how we got some of the stuff we got this year, but it’s been few and far between. We haven’t had anything substantial on a car since literally Talladega. And that wasn’t a big deal. Even the big guys are looking for sponsors, and if they can’t get sponsors, how can we get sponsors? If a company’s big enough to spend that kind of money, they’re going to spend it on a team the TV is actually going to show. I could be running 10th all day long and the TV’s not going to show me but once or twice. Instead, they’re going to go to someone who’s going to run 35th but be shown all day because they have a name. That sucks, but it’s the way it is.

I hate to say it’s easier [to run unsponsored], but at least you don’t have to worry about anybody. It’d sure be nicer money wise, but you can do what you want when you want, and if tomorrow I decided I don’t want to do the Nationwide Series deal and want to do something else, I can do that. We’ve kind of put it on the backburner at this point. I don’t see how it’s going to happen, so I’m not going to even worry about it. We’ve got to worry about how we can pay the bills week to week.

Friday on the Frontstretch:
Dollars And Sense: Ganassi Racing And The ‘Value’ Of Creating ‘Value’
Dialing It In: Who And What To Watch At The Monster Mile
The Bleeding Won’t Stop Until The Chase Is Gone
Driven To The Past: Being Blessed

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

Photography for this article provided by Dak Dillon and Phil Cavali of The Hot Lap

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09/24/2010 08:28 AM

It is tough to see an independent owner/driver be in a position to lose his livelihood. WAIT A MINUTE…is it 1982?!? That’s about the time that the independent business model fell out of serviceable use in NA$CAR. Brian Keselowski should have asked someone how much money running a Nationwide team costs. Look at Kyle Busch Racing. Kyle Busch’s on-track success has had to have earned him a thicker wallet than Brian Keselowski. KBR runs in the CWTS, which is much cheaper than the Nationwide series. Without sponsorship, Kyle says it is just too expensive to run a team, and will shut down before next season. He can’t attract a sponsor when winning almost every time he takes to the track. Did Brian think that someone was going to say, “I like the way that car looks getting loaded into it’s hauler before the half-way point, I want to sponsor THAT car”? As a side note, did anyone ask Brian if he thinks that sponsors are less interested in him because Brad is about all the Keselowskis that NA$CAR needs right now?

09/24/2010 10:29 AM

With respect to this series, the viable car count (and ticket sales) is teetering on a precipice of making it irrelevant. There are plenty of reasons why. Cup drivers and the nascar organization taking the sponsorship dollars that could keep teams viable, no identity, no iconic drivers, no exciting young drivers that can keep a ride, a costly new car, tracks that are aero sensitive and favor the teams that can afford all that goes along with them… I don’t see nascar doing anything to fix any of these or the other significant reasons this sport, these types of drivers and this series is waning.

09/24/2010 12:20 PM

I think this is all fine and well but Brian admits he did this so he could “race” without having to hustle to get a ride.

There’s a lot of truth to the article but what bugs me is that many of these pieces seem to begin with the assumption that the fact that Brian cannot run his own team and sustain it is somehow NASCAR’s fault. It isn’t….they could’ve told Brian this wouldn’t work.

He chose to do it anyway and more or less comes across as a guy who just doesn’t want to go get a real job.

09/24/2010 04:25 PM

I don’t see anyway that this will work out for Brian, but I will give him credit for trying.

09/24/2010 07:47 PM

Why does anyone think that Nascar has some kind of obligation to make underfunded and over your head in a series you can’t possibly afford into a viable business plan?

Chuck Wilson
09/27/2010 02:13 PM

I didn’t read anything in this interview that said Keselowski felt entitled to a NASCAR bailout. I read a brutally honest interview about how even the most passionate racer can be crushed running a shoestring operation. But, it is in NASCAR’s interest to have full fields. Independents like Keselowski, throughout the history of NASCAR and especially in hard times, have been needed to keep that embarrassment from happening. NASCAR doesn’t need another reason like partial fields to drive more fans away.