CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Brad Keselowski admits that one of his dreams as a kid was to be president of the United States.
“I think it’s a very American thing to dream for, don’t you?” Keselowski said. “It’s like [dreams of] being an astronaut, a fireman or being the president.”
A driver known to have an opinion — and whose opinion might be viewed through a different prism than many in the garage — Keselowski said he hasn’t seriously thought about becoming a politician once he hangs up his firesuit.
The Team Penske driver wouldn’t say in a recent sit-down with reporters just how he would vote in the upcoming presidential election, only that he is not happy with the current election vibe.
“I would be sad if I was in a debate like was on the other night,” Keselowski said about Sunday’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. “I would be very sad. I would not relish that. If I was in a real debate about real issues, I would relish it.”
In reality, if Keselowski likes politics, he’s in a fine place. Navigating the politics of NASCAR can be rough, and Keselowski now has a little bit bigger voice since being selected by his fellow drivers as one of the members on the Sprint Cup drivers council.
The nine-member council was launched in May 2015 as a way for NASCAR executives to have better dialogue with drivers. The top driver from each manufacturer gets a spot on the council the following year, with the rest elected by their peers to have a mix of past champions, new drivers and drivers from throughout the standings. Drivers on the council this year are Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The drivers will lose one of their biggest voices after Stewart retires following this season. Stewart and Jeff Gordon could be vocal with their opinions with the media, and their opinions could carry a lot of weight. Other drivers, for fear of not wanting to upset their teams or sponsors or just not wanting to have to deal with the fallout, appear more inclined to sidestep issues.
“I’m tired of being responsible for it,” Stewart said. “It’s somebody else’s responsibility now. I’ve had my fill of fighting the fight.
“At some point you have to say, ‘Why do I keep fighting this fight when I’m not getting anywhere?’ It’s extremely exhausting.”
Could Keselowski pick up that role? Does he want that role?
Keselowski said that with the emergence of the drivers council in the past two years as well as a technical council made up of one team technical director from each manufacturer, NASCAR has much more open dialogue now than when drivers needed to use the media to have a voice.
“Tony’s right — it’s not easy being the driver that has to step up and say things,” Keselowski said. “I would say that if you check the books at the NASCAR Foundation, I have made enough donations [by paying NASCAR fines] as well to maybe have the right to say that.
“But I’d really like to see the forums and formats that there are to have an active dialogue in the sport and have that opportunity. If those fail, then somebody needs to be the jerk. If I get anointed that, I’m fine.”
The drivers council has met with NASCAR three times this year and also has met with Speedway Motorsports Inc. executives. It has one more meeting left this season with NASCAR.
“We’ve made a lot more progress as a sport, at least behind the scenes, collaborating or moving forward where the need to have conversations through the media has not gone away but certainly been dramatically reduced in my mind,” Keselowski said. “I’m very thankful and happy for that.”
The councils often discuss big-picture items rather than go over recent NASCAR decisions. For instance, the drivers council more likely would talk about potential ways to reward the regular-season champion rather than going over specifics like whether NASCAR was right to retroactively set rules for the race at Chicagoland and not penalize Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
“The council is, in my opinion, is … something that wants to look forward and wants to try to help divert problems instead of create problems,” said Harvick.
Keselowski said the drivers are so focused on the Chase this time of year that they aren’t thinking too much about the health of the sport at the moment. They’re thinking about winning another trophy.
“Everybody’s so focused on [the] championship and Chase and all that — sometimes we lose vision outside of our own implicit needs,” said Keselowski, who sits fourth in the Chase standings. “Which is good and bad — it’s good for our teams, maybe not great for the sport.
“I don’t think there is any one emergency hot-button item coming up that we need to look at, but there is still a lot of stuff to work on.”