How I Got Here with Joey Meier

Joey Meier, then an employee for Dale Earnhardt Inc., brings Dale Earnhardt Jr. the American flag after the famous 2001 victory at Dover — the first race after 9/11. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

Each week, I ask someone in the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Joey Meier, who serves as both spotter and pilot for Brad Keselowski.

Are you the only pilot/spotter full-time guy in NASCAR history?

No, no. That’s actually where a lot of pilots used to be. Dale Earnhardt’s pilot, Terry Labonte’s pilot, Harry Gant’s pilot, they all spotted back in the day. Before a spotter was required, the pilot was already at the racetrack and with the limited manpower and the availability of the pilots (it made sense).

One of the things we do well, as you know from most piloting, is we talk on the radio well. So Mike Collier, Danny Culler, Eddie Masencup, those three come to mind. They would actually spot. Eddie Masencup stayed with Terry Labonte the longest. I’m kind of the second generation pilot/spotter, but I’m the only one right now that does both fly and spot.

You’ve been with Brad for quite a while now — I guess his whole career?

So Brad and I met when I was at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated back in 2006. To back up just a couple of years, Martin Truex Jr. ran the Busch Series in ’04 and ’05 with Chance 2. I was with him, and at the end of ’05, he went Cup racing, I went with him in the Cup car.

We didn’t have a Busch team at DEI. A younger, new kid came through the garage in 2006 who was driving for a lower funded team out of Tennessee, Keith Coleman Racing — Brad Keselowski. He asked me, “Hey, I need a spotter.” I had never really heard of the Keselowskis; only saw his mom on the roof a little bit, but had never met any of them. And I started spotting for him at Keith Coleman Racing in 2006.

Then he went to JR Motorsports in ’07 a little bit, and they only had a single car team over there. Whenever he would run a second team with Dale Jr. driving, then I would spot for Brad, and then essentially TJ (Majors) was spotting Dale Jr. So I stayed with Brad and did at least one race from 2006 all the way to when he came to Penske in 2010.

I was at DEI spotting for Truex. Then Truex left DEI in 2009, Jamie McMurray was coming over to fill that spot, but he was bringing his own spotter. So I was going to be out of a spotting gig, but I was still going to be able to fly at Champion Air (owned by DEI). Everybody was trying to figure out how I was going to fly for one race team and spot for another, and as you can imagine the logistics of that weren’t going to work out well.

The fall race of Michigan in 2009, Brad approached me and says, “Hey, I think I’m making a deal here, I’d like you to come fly my airplane that I don’t have yet and spot for me for this new race team. Can’t tell you who it’s with, but it’s a big name team.” I said, “Let’s talk about it as it gets further.” And the rest is history. He came to Penske in January of 2010 and I left DEI at the same time and came with Brad and I’ve been with him ever since.

I didn’t even realize that you were with Brad before he was the Brad we know today. So going back before that, what came first — the piloting or the spotting? I’m assuming that it’s the piloting based on what you were saying about flying with Champion Air. How did this all get started for you?

So we’re going to back up to even before I was born. My father (Fred Meier) and my uncle were involved in NASCAR in 1958. They both raced on the beach. The last year that they raced on the beach, dad and uncle drove a Sportsman car and a Modified car on the last race in 1958 on the beach.

Unfortunately, my father’s car broke during qualifying. He qualified, but wasn’t able to start because we didn’t have backup engines in 1958. But my uncle qualified I believe in the top 15. Got a really nice picture that’s actually in the Hall of Fame — Mr. (Glenn) Wood was in the pole, and in the shot you can see the number 237 is tenth row, maybe eighth row back there. So he actually qualified.

Fred Meier, father of Joey Meier, qualified for the final race on the beach but did not run due to a mechanical failure. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

There’s been racing all my life. When I was born, I was actually born on a Wednesday — and my mom was on the track the previous Saturday before I was born, at the race with my dad.

So now we fast forward and now I’m old enough to work on cars. That’s what I’m going to do for a living, I’m going to work on cars.

You wanted to be a mechanic?

Yep. Worked on cars, grew up at Hialeah Speedway, I was going to be around race cars, was going work on cars for a living. Took auto mechanics in school for two and a half years. I graduate. My mom and dad were divorced when I was very young, so I never knew them together. Lived in the same town, had very good parents, saw both of them all the time.

I graduated on a Wednesday, and my mom was at my dad’s house for one of the first times that I can ever remember as a get-together. And that Saturday I was at Hialeah Speedway as I normally would be, working on McCann Motorsports’ Street Stock or Thundercar, and my mom was involved in an aviation accident. She was severely injured, recovered later on, but I had never been in aviation up to that point. That sucked me into aviation.

I was going to be a race car mechanic or an automotive mechanic. That was it. So in ’84 with her accident, it drew me into aviation. I moved down to Marathon, which is where she was recovering, and I worked at the airport as a line guy and they gave us a really good incentive to get my pilot’s license. Even after I got my pilot’s license, I then quit flying and went back to aviation maintenance for two and a half years. Got my airframe and powerplant license and I was still trying to pursue that career.

Somewhere down the road of aviation maintenance, flying was really a secondary thought because I was a gearhead, gotta turn wrenches. Moved back down to Marathon as an A&P mechanic working in the back. Started flying a little bit again, trying to fulfill some of my licenses.

Well, Dale Earnhardt flew into Marathon, Florida. He’d gotten one of those King Airs, and he flew into Marathon, Florida in 1988. The day that I met him and my future boss, Mike Collier, who spotted for Dale in the Busch car back then, it instantly changed my career path. Now I went from being a possible airline guy, most likely gearhead aviation maintenance guy, to now I want to combine racing and flying because I didn’t know there was an ability there. So then I got all my ratings.

So how did the meeting with them go, or why?

Well I was a huge Earnhardt fan, a huge NASCAR fan. So I had my toolbox back in aviation maintenance and one of the line guys, Alex, came over and said, “You won’t believe who’s out here.” So the tail number was 1 Delta Echo. Before the logo/crest became famous, he had the Dale Earnhardt signature on the tail. He’s like, “You’re not gonna believe who’s here. Dale Earnhardt’s here.” I’m like “No way.”

I rolled my toolbox out to the plane, he signed the back of my toolbox, which I still have. And I met Mike Collier, my boss. Wore him out, all day long. Just a superfan. He was in the FBO, just bullshitting with this huge fan.

He made the mistake of giving me his cell phone number. And I have it — same number to this day, from 1988, he had a cell phone, to this day, it’s the same number. So it’s kind of cool.

But I called him all the time and I finished all my ratings and said, “This is what I want to do, I’m gonna work for you one day.” Called him every month and would say, ”Hey man, cool race.” He didn’t care about racing, he was flying. But I was a huge race fan. So I left when I got all my ratings and went down there, then went to Connecticut for a couple of years to do charter cargo maintenance and went to the airlines from ’92 to ’97.

What airlines?

It was the Trans States airlines, the TWA regional carrier, and we did that for five years. But in the middle of that, in the late ’96s I really wanted to pursue getting out to the North Carolina area. I was living in St. Louis. And I moved, came out with my resume, dressed up in a goofy suit.

My best story about that is I walked into a race shop — back then there wasn’t a fan zone — and I walked into the back of the shop and I sat in one of they guy’s offices. Here I am, goofy blue suit, packet of resumes, and a gentleman walks in, he says, “How did you get in here?” I said, “I just walked through that door.” He says, “Make sure it’s locked on your way out, have a nice day.”

That gentleman was Paul Andrews (the famous crew chief). Now we fast forward really quick, years later, he worked at DEI. Flew on my airplane, and I had to remind him of that stupid story of some guy in a blue suit. He’s like, “I remember that. Some guy was just sitting in my office.” I go, “Yeah, that was me.”

So in ’96 I went over to Mooresville, I attempted to get a job. Mike Collier actually set me up with an interview with Jasper because they were in Indiana. I called and said, “I really don’t want to work there, I want to work for you.” He said, “Well, I think we’re going to expand. I think we’re going to expand. Hold on.”

Then if you remember, if we go back in history, Jeff Green was just starting to drive the 14 car, the (Racing) for Kids car. We actually missed a race, then Steve Park was getting into the Busch car after Jeff Green got out of it. And then we started expanding on the Cup side. When we did that, we got our second King Air. And the minute they got that second King Air, Mike called and said, “Are you still interested?” Two weeks later I was there, and I started at DEI right away.

Joey Meier, shown early in his flying career. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

I went to school at the end of June for the King Air, went three days, the fourth day I came home to unload my truck, the fifth day I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the Busch team and the truck team racing Milwaukee, and that was how fast it happened. So then right away, the minute I was at the racetrack, had wrenches in my hand, had no idea of spotting at the time. We had the perfect spotter, Steve Crisp, who spotted for Dale Jr.; Kevin Cram spotted for Ron Hornaday. And I was listening to those guys and said, “That’s really cool, I think I can do this.”

I was still working in the garage. That’s what I did. Tony (Eury) Sr. used to tell me, because I’d run back and forth at the time from the truck team to the Busch team — I was the only one flying then so I knew both teams really well — he was like, “You’ve got to pick a team, son. Who are you gonna work with?” So that’s just one of those funny stories, I showed up in my white tennis shoes and here I am at the racetrack working on one of these cars.

And that kind of worked its way through the 90s. Dale Jr. went Cup racing, still worked in the garage, worked alongside Jeff Clark, did a lot of underneath, helped them changed valve springs right there.

And then they had that fatal ARCA wreck at Charlotte (in 2002). And NASCAR changed the rules — because up to that point, we didn’t have to have a spotter for practice. We’d spot from the top of the truck.

Well, we only had a couple of King Airs at the time, and manpower was very low. I was at the racetrack, so I was able to go spot. I worked on the car, would go spot practice, go back down, work on the car — we didn’t spot qualifying then.

And then for the race, the other spotter, who was Stevie Reeves, would fly in. Ty Norris would do the 8 car — which I did during practice because I was working on that car at the time in the garage. And then Stevie would fly in a do the 1 car.

But during practice on Fridays and Saturdays, I would spot for Dale Jr. Ty would spot for the 1 car, and then Stevie would fly in on Sunday. So I was doing practice only, really staying in the garage.

If we go back to 2001, there was a very famous scene at Dover, where a kid runs out and hands Dale Jr. a big flag. That was me.

You were the one who gave Dale Jr. the American flag after the 9/11 race?

Yes, that’s me.

I did not know that.

I actually cut it down. We were going to Victory Lane, I grabbed the snips, cut the flag off, I was walking to Victory Lane with it and he said, “Come bring me that big flag!” So I jumped over the wall with it and walked out and I’m the one that put it in the car. So that’s again, very small world.

So then, when Michael came to DEI in 2001, initially Danny Culler was spotting for him, and I made the move to go spot full-time on the 15 car. We won the Daytona 500; we were the first car in the new Victory Lane at Daytona. We won one of the 150 races. In fact, it was the first 150 race because I couldn’t get to victory lane at the time, we had no crossover. So my very, very first win was at Daytona as a spotter.

And then Michael’s career changed and I was with Truex in ’04-’05 on the Busch team, and went full-time with Truex in ’06, ’07, ’08. Got Truex’s first win at Dover, which was fantastic.

I thought we were in really good shape at DEI. At the time, we were expanding, things were going very well. And then something really small happened — some driver left. And then everything kind of took a turn downhill, and I met Brad and here I am years later. So it’s a bit of an interesting path from where I started to where I am.

Joey Meier spotted for Martin Truex Jr. during the Busch Series days.

So that raised a couple questions through this story that you just told. First of all, so you were a big Earnhardt fan and a big NASCAR fan. Once you got to be working for the airline, with his company, did you have much interaction with him and what was it like to be around him?

We’ll back up even before. At the airlines, you have a pilot bag. Everybody’s seen the pilots walking through the big black briefcase looking thing. I had his white decaled signature on the side of my pilot bag. So yeah, I was a huge fan.

So now we fast forward to being hired, flying Dale Earnhardt and working for Dale Earnhardt was essentially like working for my dad. It was that big of an honor.

I lost my father on my 30th birthday in 1996 and got hired at Dale’s in ’97. He was instantly the guy that I not only looked up to, but wanted to impress. I wanted to make sure that my standards met him — before, that would have been my father. And Dale, not that he even knew it, but he was the guy that whenever you work for somebody, regardless of who that boss was, you wanted to make sure Dale was happy.

And the flying side, normally he rode on the plane, so I flew him quite a bit on the team plane to the racetrack and then Teresa and Taylor, who was young enough to be in school at the time, would ride out either Saturday or Sunday and he would ride home with them.

But a little bit of trivia, I was actually fortunate enough to be one of the spotters at the 24 hour race (in 2001). I spotted for Dale at the 24 hour race with Ty Norris, and we had Andy Pilgrim and Dale Jr. and Mr. (Franck) Freon and those guys drove the Corvette.

We flew home after that 24 hour race, and Dale handed me a little cash money, and said, “Man, I really appreciate it. Take your wife to dinner for being gone so long.” So working for him, there’s nothing but accolades that I can say. He’s everything that everybody has ever said good that I could ever remember, and it was a huge crushing blow to me personally — as it was to the industry — when he left us in February of ’01.

But up to that point, my life was set. I was going to be there forever. And I would have been there forever. If there was ever a chance for me to get a tattoo, it would have been the DEI crest. I don’t have any tattoos, but that was as close to where I figured I was going to be there forever. A lot of people’s worlds changed in ’01, but working for him was fantastic.

Given your roots in racing and everything, I guess, do you ever reminisce with Dale Jr. or people like that?

It’s interesting, because I was fortunate to — Dale did a video with the Matthew Good Band and we went to Memphis, we went to Texas, we went to Vegas. We were gone for the whole week doing that video. Well I was the pilot, and they stuck me in a couple of scenes of the video. It’s really a lot of fun.

So if we went back on YouTube and found that…?

Yup, Matthew Good and Dale Jr. You’ll see a couple pictures of me and the plane. So it’s pretty funny.


But no, we do (reminisce). A lot of us, when we go “back in the day,” (people say they) didn’t realize back in the day how good we had it. Well that’s a unique thing about that time, specifically when Dale was around, and even soon after he left ’02, ’03, ’04. We all knew how good we had it. We had so much fun at the time.

It’s a different mentality in the garage now. Not that it’s bad, but you’re worried about the future more now. Then, there was no concern about the future, you were there to enjoy every day and you got to enjoy every day. Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip, Steve Park, Ron Hornaday, Kenny Wallace was there for a little while, Darrell Waltrip was there for a handful of races. They just made things so much fun that you enjoyed every day.

So when we go back in the day, it’s not like, “Man, I wish I had known how good we had it.” We all knew how good we had it. I still am very fortunate to our planes were parked very close to each other in the airport in North Carolina. So I see Dale. We don’t go to lunch every day, but I do see him. In fact, about a year ago, I actually flew his airplane out here with his main pilot, and there’s also been that relationship.

I’ve got a couple texts that I’ve saved on my phone that have come from Dale over time that just make me realize that he has always appreciated the people around him and fortunately I’ve been one of those people around him. He really has an appreciation level a lot like his dad. He’s not going to go on the mountaintops and scream your name, but behind closed doors, which is really cool, he does make it very known that you’re appreciated in the time that you’re around and helping.

I helped on that team when he was coming up on the Busch car in the 31 car. I was one of those crew members that was the extra guy. Wesley Sherrill, who’s now on the 18 over at Gibbs, there was a scab crew that was thrown together. Well I was one of those guys. It was really cool to be a part of that.

That’s really fascinating. I think one thing people might want to know also was you mentioned your mom was in an aviation accident in ’84, and that is what sucked you into it. If we can go back to that for a minute, why did that create sort of an interest in aviation? Was she in a plane that crashed, or what happened?

So the gentleman who she was dating at the time was actually a seaplane instructor from the factory, it was a Lake Amphibian. And a Lake Amphibian is a very unique looking airplane — if you saw one, it doesn’t sit on floats, it actually lands on the hull of the airplane. The engines are on top and it’s turned around backwards. It’s a unique airplane and one of the most fun airplanes I’ve ever flown.

They were flying, he was goofing around and they wrecked. Unfortunately when they wrecked, he was thrown out of the airplane and had no damage. Her seatbelt was very loose on her, as we tend to do in the airlines when anybody rides, they don’t put their seatbelt on tight. Well when they wrecked, she was bounced around and she ended up breaking her neck in two different spots.

From that point on, it intrigued me because I didn’t know about aviation or how to prevent her accident, or how it happened or what caused it and that drew me an interest in to making sure I was more educated on that subject and then I started taking flying lessons. It was that simple.

It was something that I never thought about. As a kid you grow up and you’re thinking of an airline pilot and doctor — they’re like right together (in terms of brainpower). Well now I understand it’s different. I’m not saying you don’t have to be smart, but at the time, I didn’t think I was smart enough to be an airline pilot or any pilot for that matter. So it drew me in realizing that I am capable of being a pilot and being good enough at it over a long term to excel in the industry to promote the aviation industry — which I’m a huge proponent of the industry.

I speak once a week just about the (aviation) industry, trying to promote the industry because it has such a bad rap. After Michigan, we were able to run a couple of friends down to Myrtle Beach for a couple of days, they thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Ran a bowling tournament last week in Syracuse, brought the truck driver of the 48 home, we bowled together. He had never been in a small airplane, thought it was the greatest thing in the world.

So every time I have a chance to introduce somebody to my industry, I want to be prepared mentally and educationally that I can promote the industry. That’s how it got me started. I’m like, “If this happened to my mom, I’ve got to be able to prevent this.” And the only way to prevent it was to be in the industry and educate myself and that’s how I started flying.

Do you think, given the modern day NASCAR, is there a path for somebody else to be a spotter/pilot?

It’s interesting because the industry itself relies on aviation. It has to to survive. As you know — you run the (commercial) airlines, extremely unreliable. You have to build in lots of cushion before and after trying to get home or trying to get to the racetrack. Race teams simply can’t do that.

So private aviation may be a luxurious way to travel, but it’s not a luxury — it’s a necessity. We have to use it, we have to have private aviation. So there’s always gonna be a spot for pilots in the NASCAR industry.

Conversely, there’s 40 race cars on the track on any given Sunday. Every one of those cars has to have a spotter. So there’s always going to be a need for a spotter.

But guys today, the relationship between a driver and a spotter is tighter than ever. When I got started and drivers came to a new race team, they just used whatever spotter that was, because the spotter worked for the race team. Now if Brad were to leave, like we saw Carl Edwards leave — we see drivers move, like Matt Kenseth, and when they move, they bring their spotter with them.

So it’s very important for somebody trying to get into the industry — the only way to get a job in the industry is to be in the garage. They’re not gonna call you at home and go, “Hey, we’re looking for a spotter.” It’s somebody that has to be at the racetrack.

The best way to do that is to be that voluntary crew guy and you get hired onto a full-time job. And that’s not starting at the Cup Series, that’s starting on the K&N side, starting on the ARCA side, starting at the Truck side, which is what I did originally working at the garage. I didn’t walk into the Cup garage and they said, “That guy looks like his head will fit a headset.” It didn’t work that way. You worked your way up, and that’s what’s really important.

Fortunately, I have a really cool job. I’m very aware of it. Flying and spotting are two really cool things. But it didn’t start there. As you’ve heard back in the 80s I flew cargo and charter and flight instructed — which I still do —those things that still keep me in the sport.

But you have to be in the garage. And once you’re there, then the opportunities exist, whether it’s a tire test and you’re gonna go try and spot because we don’t have a spotter for that, or even somebody being in the garage looking for some volunteer help. You have to be in the garage first in order to get a job in the garage. It doesn’t work any other way.

Race teams are always looking for help — not Hendrick, not Penske — but you can go down right now to StarCom, they’re looking for help. TriStar’s looking for help. Guaranteed if you show up wanting to push a car around the garage, they’re going to allow you to do it. Maybe pay you expenses and a little bit of per diem and you can get into the garage.

But definitely over on the Truck side, definitely over on the Xfinity side. People are looking for help. You’re not gonna go to work for Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson as your first job, and I think that’s what people tend to forget. Those opportunities exist, you just have to be open to moving around the country as I did and getting in the garage and pushing the race car around.

12 Questions with Joey Logano (2018)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Joey Logano of Team Penske. I spoke with Logano last weekend at Pocono Raceway. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I have dreams a lot about racing. I recently had a dream in Charlotte that it started raining during the race, so I got out of the car, went back to the hauler to get some food and the race started back up without me. And I went running back onto pit road and my team was changing out my seat and they were putting Paul Menard’s seat in.

So I woke up and of course it was raining — like in real life it was raining — and I was like, “Oh my God, am I actually missing this?” And I was nervous. Usually I have dreams about missing things. Which is probably why I’m early to everything in my life.

That’s a good policy though.

Yeah. I like being early. I get really nervous about being late.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Yes, I think it matters. I don’t know about apologizing, but what I’ve learned at least is sometimes it helps just to talk about it. You know? Say, “Hey, here’s what happened.” And if it’s good or bad, at least you know what happened. Talk about it.

A lot of times those conversations aren’t really good, especially if it’s recent, like if it just happened. It’s usually not a good conversation, but I’ve learned in life sometimes the tough conversations are the best ones.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I’d say the biggest compliment would be something about your integrity or who you are as a person. I think a good job, pat on the back doesn’t really hold much. But when someone talks about your character, it probably holds more value to me. Someone that knows me that says something about my character means the most.

Not somebody on Twitter or something?

I appreciate everyone on Twitter and their opinions. But it’s hard to know somebody from just social media alone, which is why I try to do things that show who I am more often, whether you like it or not. Sometimes I think social media, it’s all about the posts, it’s about what you put up — and a lot of people post things that aren’t real life sometimes. And I’m not talking about racing and all that, but just in general. People always post the good days, they don’t post the bad days or the work that gets to that post you put up. So I always take social media with a grain of salt when I look at other people’s stuff.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

(Deep sigh) I don’t know. (Thinks for a moment)

That was a big sigh. Are you not real big on celebs?

Not really. I mean, I think it’s great we’re bringing celebrities to the racetrack, that means there’s a lot of great things that come along with that for our sport. Honestly, I kind of live in my own little world sometimes. I get excited about meeting people — a lot of times athletes, because I like asking them a bunch of questions. Most of the time, I ask about their life and how they handle pressure and how they handle the family and work and putting all that together — what they do, how they prep for a game. I really enjoy meeting athletes more than probably anyone.

I guess like Tom Brady or somebody would be cool to talk to. But just because I’m a New England fan. No one else really sticks out in my mind, because a lot of times, it’s fun to invite people to the racetrack — but you’re still doing your job, so you never really have time to meet them. I’d rather have the time to go to dinner and actually get to know somebody than just like, “Hey, thanks for coming out, I’ll shake your hand, cool to meet ya.” That doesn’t really get anywhere to me.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Oh yeah.


So my wife and I watched this documentary called What The Health. Don’t ever watch it, because it scared the crap out of us. (Laughs) And we did go vegan for about two weeks until we said, “What are we doing?” (Laughs) I needed a hamburger. So that was the end of that. But yeah.

So with that being said, I’ve kinda done it already somewhat. If there was like a pot of gold at the end like a first pit stall, yeah. I think let’s do it.

Most people have said no to that?

Yeah, most people said absolutely not, no way. Which I thought was kind of surprising.

There’s still a lot of things you can eat.

Yeah. And a lot of that food is disguised to taste good.

It’s not that bad. If you put enough barbecue sauce on something, you can make anything taste good. (Laughs)

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2014 Michigan spring race for Cup.

Hmm. Is that the one I won? I think I won 2015 there. I think we won that race? No…

No, I don’t make it that easy on you.

Top five?



The answer is ninth. You started ninth, finished ninth, you led 29 laps at one point. Jimmie Johnson won. You finished behind Kyle Larson and ahead of Clint Bowyer. That’s all I know.

Eh. I don’t remember that. (Laughs)

Are you typically good at remembering races or not?

No. Not at all. That’s why I have to write notes and have to rewatch races to remember what happened. I don’t even remember the last time we were at Pocono (in 2017).

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

(Crinkles his face while thinking.) Honestly, I don’t know many rappers.

I wish the face you just made could have translated to the interview.

Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I listen to a lot of different types of music, and I’ll listen to some rap — but it’s more like older rap, like 90s to early 2000s. But I don’t know. I’m not into music a whole bunch to know that. Like I said, I live in my own little world sometimes, and I don’t really know what’s going on.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

You, for asking the question. How’s that sound? (Laughs)

I’m surprised nobody said that yet. I think I actually do have a punchable face. I’m worried about it at times when I look in the mirror.

If someone’s going to ask that question, you’re probably going to get punched in the face.

That’s fair. I think I might get off this golf cart now though.

(Laughs) Has anyone answered me for that?

I feel like somebody probably has, but I can’t remember. (Editor’s note: It was Martin Truex Jr.)  I feel like somebody said you because it happened to you (with Kyle Busch last year).

It didn’t happen to me.

Oh, that’s right. He missed.

I slipped it. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a punch. Isn’t that how it went? If you can dodge a ball?

I thought at the time you were just saying you didn’t get punched — but you actually didn’t?

No! I did an interview after. You didn’t see it on my face, did you?

No, but I just thought you were trying to save face.

Not my face, at least. I know that.

I believe you.

I will say that the camera did show that it looked like (Busch connected). I will say that.

It was like The Matrix where you’re like barely getting out of the way.

It was close. I think I felt some breeze. Just a cool breeze. (Laughs)

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’m gonna say LeBron James is the crew chief.

You like sports guys, so you want him.

Yeah, I feel like he’s gonna have a little sports insight.

I’m gonna put Taylor Swift as the spotter because she’s got a good voice, and that’s a talking job and she’s a singer, so that makes sense. And then Tom Hanks is gonna drive the bus and we’re gonna hang out and have a good time together.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Some places, they don’t have a really good place to go. But whatever’s closest when you get off the truck after the parade lap — you just (go to) whatever’s closest.

It’s always kind of funny for us, because there’s always fans around because fans are smart enough that they figure it out this is where everybody’s going and they sit there and wait. And it’s kind of weird because they want to shake your hand. And I’m gonna be honest with you — I wash my hands, but I don’t see every driver washing their hands in there afterward. And then I see them (going for the handshake) and I’m like, “That’s…um…” and I go for the knuckles on the way out because I don’t want a chance for the germs.

So this is a public service announcement.

Yes. Go for the knuckles. Do that. (Laughs)

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

I’m not sure if I’m capable. I’ve never tried to do a backflip, not even on a trampoline or anything because I’m really scared of landing on my head and my neck. I’ve got a long neck, I’m afraid I’m gonna snap my neck. (Ryan) Newman probably wouldn’t have this problem at all. (Laughs)

But I think you have to look at it and say, how long is it gonna put you out of work? So if it’s gonna put you out your whole career, you need whatever the rest of your career is. Like if it’s gonna paralyze you, the rest of your career is paid. If it’s gonna put you out for three months, then you have to look at that, too. So I think you have to look at worst-case scenario, and that’s what it would cost.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Alexander Rossi and his question was: What do you think of Danica?

I think Danica is a pioneer in our sport from a women’s standpoint in the things that she was able to accomplish. I think what she brought to our sport as far as eyeballs that watched it, a lot of fans came from it, and I think the improvement and the hard work she put into it is admirable.

Obviously, as a woman in our sport has a lot of challenges. I think she overcame a lot of them. Honestly, I think she earned a lot of respect in here that no one really cared if she was a boy or girl or whatever. I don’t think it really mattered at the end. So I look up to her for that, because I think there was a lot that comes with that.

And I also kind of like how she’s smart enough to realize that racing is something that is sometimes here today and gone tomorrow, and she has put herself in position to invest into her future outside of motorsports. I don’t think all athletes do that, so that’s impressive to see. She’s got the wine thing, she’s got some clothing stuff. I think that’s admirable as well. So I think she’s done a lot. I think she should be proud of her career and proud of what the next steps are.

The next interview I’m doing is with a yet-to-be-determined NASCAR driver. Do you have a question I can ask him?

I thought about this a while ago, I was reading one of these articles, and I thought, “Man, I’ve got a good question for next time I do this.” And now I’ve completely forgotten. (Laughs)

That wasn’t the setup I thought you were going for.

I know! I completely forgot. So I’m trying to think of something.

How about, “What do you think of Joey Logano?” (Laughs hysterically) That could be funny. From Joey Logano!

So “What do you think of me?”

I think that’s an alright question. “What do you think of Joey Logano?” (Laughs) I think that’s kinda funny. (Laughs)

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Joey Logano:

April 7, 2010

Feb. 23, 2011

March 7, 2012

Feb. 28, 2013

Feb. 26, 2014

July 1, 2015

March 9, 2016


12 Questions with Brad Keselowski (2018)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Brad Keselowski of Team Penske. This is Keselowski’s eighth time doing a 12 Questions interview. The interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Probably three or four times a month.

That’s fairly often. Do you have nightmares? Just envision yourself driving?

A little bit of both. Sometimes it’s like I won a race. Sometimes it’s like the “I’m late to the car” thing. Or the “I don’t have any clothes on” dream, like you’re naked in the race car or at the race car. And then there’s sometimes the “Crash really hard and die” dream.

Oh! That took a dramatic turn there.

Yeah. It covers the whole spectrum.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Eh. I don’t know. I mean, it’s racing. I feel like when you get in the car, you can expect those things are going to happen.

If you do something intentional, then yeah. You should have enough humility to accept the fact those things aren’t always necessary.

I was at Martinsville a few weeks ago and we were struggling — I had run into the back of somebody and broken the splitter. I’d been really good at Martinsville for the last few years, and we weren’t running as well as I know we were capable of. I didn’t know the reason was the splitter was damaged.

But AJ Allmendinger came up behind me and he was a little faster. I was already agitated because we weren’t running well, and then the second he caught me, he ran into the back of me. In my mind, it was like, “Dude, make a move! Don’t just run into someone.” So I was mad, and I ran into him.

A day or two later and I thought, “Man, I shouldn’t have done that. That really wasn’t cool.” So I said something to him, because I felt like I was wrong. Those scenarios are appropriate to apologize.

On the other side, if the two of you are racing and you get a little loose and run up into somebody a little bit? Nah. That’s just racing.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

That one is pretty easy: It’s my wife or daughter when they say, “I love you.”

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Brad, we’re bringing a celebrity to the track and we’d love for you to host them.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

Probably Elon Musk.

But I feel like you’d start debating about self-driving cars.

Oh, absolutely. That’s part of why it would be fun.

You’d want to pick his brain and also say, “Here’s why it’s not going to work out for you.”

Pretty much. And he might say something that makes me think about it differently. And that’s OK. That’s part of why I’d enjoy it. I would enjoy it not from the cult of celebrity perspective, I would enjoy it from the viewpoint perspective.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Yeah. I don’t think that one’s too hard. It’s achievable. It’d have to be a good race though, not one of those races where the first pit stall doesn’t mean much — like Pocono. The first pit stall at Pocono is like pbbbt. It’s not worth that much. So I would think it would be like a Martinsville or a Homestead.

No cheese, no meat, no milk…you could do all that?

Yeah. I try really hard not to drink milk now. I do a little bit of cheese; I try to avoid that, to be quite honest. If I eat cheese, it’s because it’s on something like pizza. But I could get around it.

It would be harder to me to give up bread, which I try do to that as well.

I don’t have a vegan diet right now, but I’m not far off it — other than I like steak, which is really far off it.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2015 Kansas spring race, also known as the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. Do you know where you finished?

’15 and ’16 run together for me. My guess is fifth.

It’s actually seventh. You started third, led 43 laps and Jimmie Johnson won. You finished behind Matt Kenseth and ahead of Kurt Busch. Does that ring a bell at all?

No. Not at all. I’ve had a lot of forgettable races at Kansas, and I forgot that one, clearly.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

That’s an oxymoron, because I don’t think rap is good. There can’t be a best rapper if I don’t think it’s good.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Man, this one could get me in a lot of trouble. Is this like a driver? Media member? Has anyone gone media with their answer?

Not yet. If there’s someone in the media you want to take a swing at…

This is a very violent question.

It is, but Dale Jr. came up with this question for his 12 Questions last year, and I thought it was too good to pass up.

Most punchable face…definitely not Mike Helton. Let’s go ahead and write that one off. And not Steve O’Donnell. I mean, they’re big guys. Not going to end well.

Man, I don’t know if I have an answer for this one. You have stumped me. I’m trying really hard not to be a punching guy, and you have me thinking in a different gear.

Oh! I actually do know what this is — those damn Toyota mascots.

The ones that walk around with the big heads?

Yes. Yeah. They’re very punchable. Big heads, soft — you wouldn’t hurt anybody.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I have to work backward from who shouldn’t do something. Taylor Swift should not be my bus driver, because that would not be good. There’d be some competition there and it’s not a good environment. That would not end well for anyone.

So that means she’d have to be spotter or crew chief, and I actually think she’d be a good crew chief. She has a very good strategy to what she does. I’ll give her credit.

I don’t think LeBron is a very good speaker, so I’m going to put him as my bus driver. Big guy, and bus drivers usually follow you around (to help with crowd control). Yeah, I like that idea.

So that leaves Tom Hanks as my spotter. And that’s perfect. Tom Hanks, we’ll go with him. He’s got one of America’s most lovable voices.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Having a motorhome. I use the motorhome before the race.

Why don’t other drivers do that? No one has answered that way this year.

I don’t know. I guess they wait until the last minute. I can’t get inside their heads.

But having a motorhome is really important for a race car driver at this level. That’s hard to explain to people, because there’s some luxurious parts to having a motorhome. But there are also some basic necessities — traffic going to and from the races, the unforgiving schedule a race car driver has. But probably the one people don’t ever bring up is pure sanitary habits.

In the early days of my Xfinity career, before I had a motorhome, I would get sick at the racetrack almost every weekend. I’m absolutely convinced it’s from shaking hands and then eating — or from the bathrooms. Because the bathrooms at racetracks, let’s face it, are not good. So I’d get sick every race weekend. Once I started having a motorhome at the racetrack, I stopped getting sick.

That’s a big deal. You don’t want to be sick in a race car or during a race weekend; it hinders your ability to perform. So I try to use my motorhome for those things.

Not that there aren’t some luxurious things, but there are some practical applications.

What’s really interesting about NASCAR for me is in a lot of ways, it caters to having money and expensive things like that and then (also has) the blue collar (experience), camping in tents — but nothing in between. When I go to a football game or hockey game or basketball game, all the accommodations are right in the middle. There’s not a lot of rich guy accommodations at a basketball game. You could get a suite, but you’ll see a (celebrity) sitting courtside, and it’s just a normal chair. It’s not like he’s got a La-Z-Boy sofa or anything like that. He’s just closer. It’s not nicer, it’s closer.

Motorsports is set up so much differently. It’s either really blue collar or really nice and nothing in between. It’s so strange to me.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Eh, I don’t think I’d take any money to do it. It’s not me. It’s not who I am, so I wouldn’t do it.

What if they offered you $5 billion?

Nah, it’s not me. It’s just money, Jeff.

I guess. But you could be the next Elon Musk.

Yeah, but I’d have to take it from someone else who would have the same ability. It’s not like they’d just be generating money, printing it. It’d have to come from someone else. So essentially, I’d be stealing from someone else.

OK. I guess I wouldn’t mind that, but…

I mean, what would keep the person who had that money they were going to give me from doing great things?

The fact they’re dumb enough to give you the money.

That’s free will. Who am I to interfere with that?

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Jimmie Johnson, and he wanted to know: Do you wear underwear beneath the fire-retardant gear worn under a firesuit?

No, because it’s not flame-resistant.

But wouldn’t that block the —

No. No, that’s not how it works. Flame retardant underwear, which I’m wearing, is meant to do a number of specific things — from wicking away sweat to being flame retardant to creating an air barrier to your skin. The whole concept is to create an air barrier. So with respect to that, if you put something in between it, in theory, you’re creating another pocket — but that pocket isn’t flame resistant, and it could light up.

I see. The more you know.

Like you should never wear a cotton T-shirt under a firesuit. And you should definitely, never ever — if you’re a racer out there reading this — wear like an Under Armour shirt.


Yes. They’re extremely flammable. If you wear one of those (workout-type) shirts underneath the race suit and it gets even a little hot, it will melt to your skin and fuse with it. So in a fire, you take what might have been first-degree burns and up them by wearing that. The worst possible situation, if you’re anywhere near fire, is to wear an Under Armour type shirt.

The next interview is Matt DiBenedetto. Do you have a question I can ask him?

Matt! You know what I was always curious about with Matt is how did he become so Reddit-popular. I’ve never understood that. Was it like a person he met that runs the page? Like how did that happen? I feel there’s a backstory there. I’m really curious about that, because every time something comes up on Reddit, it’s DiBenedetto.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Brad Keselowski:

May 19, 2010

June 29, 2011

July 11, 2012

Oct. 2, 2013

Aug. 7, 2014

June 10, 2015

Sept. 29, 2016


12 Questions with Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud stands on pit road prior to qualifying for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series. These interviews are recorded as a podcast, but also transcribed for those who prefer to read instead of listen.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I just had one last night, actually. We’re doing some experiments and I dreamt that I was driving it. When I was a kid, I used to dream of driving a lot — almost every night. I used to put myself into the thinking mode as well, hoping I was gonna dream about it.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

For me, personally, I don’t talk with the others. I know we’re all different. I feel like if I did something wrong and I know it’s completely wrong and it was my fault, I always apologize. Because I want to others to know that when I’m going for it and I’m in my right, I’m in my right.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

For me, the biggest would be the dedication. When someone tells me that they’re impressed how dedicated and professional I am, that’s the biggest compliment I could take.

4. IndyCar comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

There’s a lot that I’d like to host. I think one I really would like to meet and have come to the race is Jimmy Fallon, actually. I really enjoy his show and his personality seems like we could get along pretty well, so I’d love to have him here.

Have you ever gotten to go on any late night talk shows like that?

No, I haven’t. I haven’t had that opportunity, unfortunately. I hope I will someday.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, IndyCar offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

I mean, anything for a little advantage. But it would be very hard for me because I do love my chicken, my meat. It’d be a tough month. But I’d probably do it, yes.

Is the No. 1 pit stall a big advantage in IndyCar?

It is an advantage because you get a straight out. You can go straight out, you don’t need to swing around somebody. So there’s a bit of an advantage to that, yes.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished.

That might not be easy for me. (Laughs)

This is the 2014 Long Beach Grand Prix, since we’re here at Long Beach.

I was with Schmidt. I’ll try to remember the color of the car, that helps me. ’14 —was that the Lucas Oil? No, it was the Charter car, I think. Yeah, it was the Charter car. I think that’s the race I got into it with Will (Power), so I finished fifth.

Yes, you did finish fifth.

(Laughs) Which was a really good recovery.

You started sixth. You finished fifth. Mike Conway won and Juan Pablo Montoya finished just ahead of you.

Yes, we got together with Will at that race. If it wasn’t for that, I think I could have won the race. That’s why I was pretty upset. (Laughs)

Sorry to bring up a bad memory.

It’s OK. Part of it.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Eminem. No question, in my mind.

8. Who has the most punchable face in IndyCar?

Punchable? Woah! Punchable…who would I punch for pleasure? Let me think…(Alexander) Rossi. (Laughs) He’s gonna hear that and be like, “Oh yeah?” (Imitates monotone voice)

9. IndyCar enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your head mechanic, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’d put Tay-Tay as my head mechanic so she can send me on track. She can do that really well, I’m sure. LeBron James, I’d put him as my bus driver because then we could have a little chat afterwards.

And some motivation?

Yeah. He would be really good motivation before the race, too. He could massage me, too. My bus driver actually massages me. He’s a chiropractor.

LeBron knows about sports science.

I’m sure LeBron could do that. It’d be good preparation.

And then yeah, so strategist would be Tom Hanks. I think he’s a really smart guy, so terrific.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

I always make sure I know where it is. It’s funny; I don’t even think about it, but I always check where is it depending on my grid place. It’s second nature. But there’s also another thing — when you step off the truck after the parade lap, just follow another driver.

Just draft off them.

Yeah, exactly. We’re usually all going to the same place.

11. As you know, Carl Edwards used to do backflips in NASCAR.

Is he still doing it, do you think?

I don’t know.

Maybe in his backyard.

On the farm? Yeah. So IndyCar wants their own backflipper.

By the way, my mother-in-law was really upset he retired.

She’s a fan?

Oh yeah. She was really upset.

Who did she move on to?

She moved on with me. That’s it. Nobody else. (Laughs)

So IndyCar decides it wants its own backflipper after a race. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Pay me? Several hundred million. Because I could really hurt myself and I’d probably land badly, so yeah. So several hundred million would be a good payday. I’d take that. (Laughs)

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Ty Dillon. His question was: “Why does it seem that NASCAR drivers can come to IndyCar and run well, but when IndyCar drivers come to NASCAR, the learning curve seems a lot steeper?”

That’s a shitty question. (Laughs)

He said he might be the most punchable face after asking that.

Yeah, he’s become the most punchable face. Exactly. Let me punch him the next time I see him.

I actually would agree with him. I think because we have so much grip on IndyCars that finding that limit is a little easier than NASCAR — where the limit is so early on for them, they always have to always drive under. And it’s very hard for a driver to drive under the limit, because we always want more. I do think it’s easier when you have wings to find that grip level and extract the best out of it. When you have very little grip, you’re always on the edge. So I think that’s the reason.

Also, their cars are heavier, so it’s harder to manipulate, and they have very strong competition — which we do, too. But that would be the reason I think: the grip levels of the cars, the tires are skinnier on a NASCAR, heavier car. It’s a bigger machine to move around.

My next interview is with Jimmie Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson! Do you know he’s one of my favorites?

I did not know that.

Wow, that’s cool! And his brother is one of my best friends. But I do not know Jimmie.

You don’t know Jimmie personally?

No, I don’t. Yeah, I do hang out where he grew up actually because Hailey (McDermott), my fiancee, she’s from El Cajon. They all know each other there, and Jimmie used to live in El Cajon when he grew up.

Do you have a question I can ask Jimmie?

So Jimmie’s got eight championships, right?


Seven? I thought he had eight.

He’s going for eight.

Foreshadowing! So, “For your eighth championship, Jimmie, what are you gonna do different when you celebrate, and what was the most epic moment during your celebration of your first seven?” I’d like to know that.

The Top Five: Breaking down the 2018 Clash at Daytona

Five thoughts after Sunday’s season-opening exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Calm Clash

Well, that was weird. An exhibition race with no points on the line, and most of the field ran single-file as Brad Keselowski led the last half of the race. OK then.

“Who would have thought they’d just run single-file for 30 laps?” said Kevin Harvick, who lost the draft while trying to make a move. “It didn’t all make sense to me.”

As the laps wound down, a few cars tried to take shots at building a low lane to challenge the frontrunners, but it was mostly a failure. They’d just drop to the back if anyone tried anything.

So what happened? According to several drivers, the cars weren’t handling well with the new restrictor-plate rules package, which made it difficult to run side-by-side or three-wide. They actually had to drive the cars — at least more than usual at Daytona — instead of running wide open while playing the typical chess game.

“I know it looks like we were just riding around the top, but we were actually lifting and trying not to run over each other when you get those big runs,” Austin Dillon said.

The new package helped cars suck up much quicker, but they’d hit the invisible air bubble just as hard. Meanwhile, the stability offered by the previous rules package — which made for lap after lap of pack racing as drivers tried to side draft and pick off positions — became a thing of the past.

“They were too much of a handful to race side-by-side and three-wide,” Erik Jones said. “Earlier in the race when we were doing that, I was out of control and just uncomfortable. I had to back out and give everybody some space.”

When a driver would pull out of line, he not only dropped to the back — but actually risked losing the draft altogether. Harvick said he was trying to slow the car in front of him in order to get a run, but he slowed both down that the draft just left them behind.

If a car stays in line, it never loses its momentum. Plus, the cars are running significantly faster than before — Keselowski said he ran a 199 mph lap while leading (not with a run), which was eye-opening.

“I was trying to make moves, but you just have to accept the pack being single-file or you’re going to be at the back of it,” Harvick said.

So that’s it. The drivers wanted to go and were eager to make something happen, but there was no overcoming the momentum deficit with so few cars and a single-file lane up top.

2. Now what?

The big question now is whether the Duels and the Daytona 500 itself will be less than exciting (or whatever term you want to use), as was the case with the Clash.

As Jones noted, the Duels on Thursday night will probably look similar to what fans saw Sunday because it’s an impound race and teams already have their race setups installed — which are close to the setups in their Clash cars.

And the 500? It’s obviously a concern, but Harvick said not to worry yet.

“I’ve seen this a little bit before (in the small field of the Clash),” he said. “It’s just different when you get all the cars out there.”

As for the contenders for the remainder of Speedweeks? Well, it would be a surprise if anyone but a Ford won the 500.

Fords have looked so strong on plate races over the last couple years (they’ve won seven straight plate races!), and they finished 1-2-3-4 in the Clash. What was especially striking was Harvick said his car was comfortable and stable despite losing the draft — which was the opposite of what other drivers were saying about handling.

Logano, too, said his car didn’t feel much of a change from last year after the team made a few adjustments.

“Not as much (change) as I thought it was going to be when I went to sleep last night,” he said.

If that’s the case, the Fords will return to the track Thursday night with a significant edge on the rest of the field.

3. Team orders?

As the Team Penske cars ran 1-2-3 in a line with the laps winding down, you may have wondered to yourself if Ryan Blaney and Logano would just be content to push Keselowski to the win.

No way.

“I don’t know about you guys, but for the last 20 laps, I was in there going crazy waiting for someone to make a move,” Logano said. “I was ready to go.”

Of course Logano and Blaney wanted to win for themselves. It’s just they were in a similar situation as everyone else, realizing they needed help to make something happen.

Blaney eventually tried it and made a move coming to the white flag — but all it did was drop him through the field. That move wasn’t the original plan, but it was perhaps his best option in the moment.

“I feel like I was in a good spot because Joey was behind me, and he would have gone with me for the win no matter where I went,” Blaney said. “I was going to kind of hang out until the lane started to form and then I’d jump out. It just never did.”

Roger Penske and Keselowski agreed if that scenario happened again in the Daytona 500, it would be an every-man-for-himself situation in the final laps (like it was with the Toyotas a few years ago). So there’s little chance all the drivers would have just stayed in line while Keselowski just cruised to a win.

4. Rules are rules

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed below the double yellow line, which is a penalty. You can’t do that.

NASCAR’s rule is it will overlook such a pass if the driver was forced below the line by another driver — but Stenhouse wasn’t.

Stenhouse, his team and a whole mess of people on Twitter argued otherwise, but NASCAR’s call was extremely consistent and fair compared to how officials have called it before.

The 2008 Regan Smith/Tony Stewart incident is the defining moment for this rule. If that wasn’t forcing someone below the yellow line, it clearly must be very obvious for NASCAR to call it.

So you might not like it, but NASCAR made a fair call in this case — which is all anyone should hope for.

Stenhouse had a run coming, but it looked like Busch’s car had already started to move down (Busch said his car got sucked down there and he wasn’t trying to go that low). Could Stenhouse have forced the issue with a wreck? Sure, but what’s the point?

It’s not unlike a driver getting a huge run on the outside and the leader moving up to block. What happens then? If the oncoming driver presses the issue, they’re both in the wall. So most of the time, they back out of it.

Stenhouse tweeted next time he could just turn Busch and wreck the whole field, but he either A) Could have backed out of it or B) If he felt that was impossible given his momentum, he could have given the position back and there would have been no penalty. So it’s not like that was the only option.

5. The new pit stop ballet

NASCAR took away a pit crew member from each team in the offseason, which forced crews to rearrange their choreography. Plus, tire changers now have to all use the same pit gun. There was much talk about how it would look and impact the races — and rightfully so.

But although the stops were significantly slower (FOX said more than four seconds!), it was hardly noticeable.

We probably won’t see the true impact until there’s a “race off pit road” situation at 1.5-mile tracks — where track position really matters. Daytona doesn’t make that big of a difference (although Keselowski did use a two-tire strategy to take the lead).

Overall, though, it just didn’t seem like a big thing. A month from now, we probably won’t even give it a second thought.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Chicago and Sonoma races

Five thoughts after NASCAR’s playoff opener at Chicago and the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma…

1. U-S-A, U-S-A!

In 2012, when Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American to win an IndyCar title in six years, there was hope his victory would help lead to a revitalization of open-wheel racing in the United States.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps that was in part because IndyCar doesn’t make enough ripples in the national sports scene to have an impact, but it also may have been because Hunter-Reay wasn’t able to finish in the top five in points since.

So it’s with a note of caution here when we say Josef Newgarden really could be the next great hope for helping to rejuvenate American open-wheel racing — but only if everything falls into place over the next several years.

Even before he signed with Team Penske this season, Newgarden was a tremendously marketable young driver. He’s a 26-year-old from suburban Nashville with tons of charisma, talent and the face of a movie star. Now he’s a champion — thanks to a near-flawless weekend at Sonoma — with plenty of years ahead of him.

It might be a fallacy that a big-time American star would really boost IndyCar to the next level, but that’s often been a debate that doesn’t get a chance to get settled because there hasn’t really been one. This generation of IndyCar has been dominated by South Americans and Europeans, and the top American open-wheel talents have largely ended up getting funneled into the NASCAR pipeline (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, etc.).

Look, Newgarden is going to have to win a lot. He’s going to have to win more titles and an Indy 500 or two. But should Newgarden continue to shine, there’s a chance his visibility could rise on a national scale at the same time IndyCar does. And as the series champion, he’ll have more of a platform now to make an impact with sports fans.

“We don’t want a championship filled with just American drivers, but it’s important to have the best of America in it,” said Newgarden, who celebrated with an American flag draped around his shoulders. “We have to have the best from Europe and from anywhere overseas, because if it’s just Americans running, it wouldn’t mean anything. But certainly, having successful Americans is a big deal, too.”

2. Missed opportunity

This might anger all my new friends in IndyCar (seriously, everyone is so nice here!), but the Sonoma race didn’t do the series any favors in terms of winning over some NASCAR fans.

With the Chicagoland race serving as a lead-in on NBCSN, IndyCar had a golden opportunity to show stock car fans how compelling its brand of racing can be. Instead, Sonoma was a caution-free race with little drama — at least not the kind NASCAR fans are used to.

IndyCar fans probably love that, because they are fiercely proud of their purer brand of racing — no stages, no playoffs, no questionable cautions (even though they do have double points races and push to pass).

But here’s the thing: IndyCar needs to dip into the pool of NASCAR fans — present and former — to provide its best opportunity for growth. A mainstream sports fan is going to be harder for open-wheel racing to hook than a fan who is already predisposed to liking race cars.

I hope IndyCar continues to take steps toward being more and more relevant again in the sports world — and at the same time is able to coexist with NASCAR to have two very healthy forms of motorsport. Though their fans may argue (RIP my mentions this weekend), everyone still shares the common bond of being a race fan — which is becoming a rare breed these days.

3. Truex, again

Even when Martin Truex Jr. and his team screw up, like they did on Sunday, he still finds a way to win by more than seven seconds in a playoff race.

That’s a sobering fact for the competition, which looked like it might have a chance to beat Truex after he sped on pit road and later had to make an extra pit stop for missing lug nuts, which left him in 17th place.

The No. 78 car is so fast that it can overcome seemingly anything, though — at least if it happens early enough in the race — and Truex was back to the lead in plenty of time.

Truex now has 58 playoff points for Rounds 2 and 3, and the only realistic chance of beating him will come when the four contenders battle straight-up for the championship at Homestead.

In the meantime, expect a lot more races like Chicagoland in the coming weeks.

“We really don’t have any tracks I feel like we’re not good at,” Truex said. “It’s just being confident each and every week no matter where we’re going is the difference. We don’t have any big question marks on the schedule anymore.”

4. Keselowski’s great tweet

Brad Keselowski pissed off the Toyota NASCAR contingent this weekend with his tweet, but personally, I loved it.

People have been complaining lately that too many NASCAR storylines revolve around off-track issues. Well, guess what? This drama was about on-track stuff. It was about performance and rules and had everything to do with the playoffs.

That’s great! I mean, it resulted in Kyle Busch tweeting “STFU” with a crying emoji to another driver. Wild! NASCAR needs rivalries like this to add spice to the races.

Honestly, it’s great to see Busch and Keselowski not even pretending to be civil. All the drivers these days seem like they are way too tight, with the group text and drivers council and bike rides and wives/kids hanging out. It’s nice for them to get along, but it’s refreshing for everyone else when there’s some real sourness between two of the top competitors. It makes it more fun to watch.

And by the way, there was nothing wrong with what Keselowski tweeted. Politicking for manufacturer advantages has been a part of NASCAR for a long time, and that’s what he was obviously doing.

5. Burnout talk

OK, let’s have a chat about burnouts for a second. It seems like NASCAR race winners routinely destroy their cars on purpose these days — and not just in the name of celebration.

Today’s burnouts are intentionally designed to cause tire blowouts, which mess up the back of the car and make it harder for NASCAR to run the cars through post-race tech inspection.

A decade ago, drivers did kickass, smoky burnouts without blowing off the rear quarterpanels. But that’s not the case now. It seems like every winner does it, and some drivers (coughDennyHamlincough) have even tapped the wall in the process.

We know this makes a difference because cars can be illegal if they’re off a thousandth of an inch, and destroying part of the car removes that area from scrutiny. Fair or not, the appearance is not good.

NASCAR has indicated it does not want to step in and outlaw burnouts or institute a rule that limits them. After all, fans might complain that NASCAR officials are the fun police and they’re taking yet another enjoyable part away from the sport.

But drivers are smart enough to know how to do a burnout without shredding their tires. So perhaps in the interest of maintaining a level playing field for the playoffs, NASCAR should decide burnouts themselves are OK — but tire blowouts are not.

A NASCAR fan guide to the IndyCar championship race

Guess what race is on Sunday right after the Chicagoland race on the same channel (NBCSN)?

Yep, it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale — a race which will decide the championship from among six eligible drivers.

I’m here at Sonoma and am going to be blowing your timelines up about the race, so you might as well watch with me. If you haven’t followed IndyCar much this year or are just a casual fan, here’s a quick guide to the race to get you caught up:

What’s at stake?

Sonoma Raceway is the 17th and final race of the IndyCar season, and six drivers can still win the title. They are the four Team Penske drivers — rising star Josef Newgarden, defending series champ Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves — plus four-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Who has the advantage?

Before answering that, let’s take a look at the current driver point standings.

  1. Josef Newgarden  –Leader–
  2. Scott Dixon -4
  3. Helio Castroneves -23
  4. Simon Pagenaud -35
  5. Will Power -69
  6. Alexander Rossi -85

Those have been updated after Saturday’s qualifying session, because IndyCar awards one bonus point to the pole winner — and Newgarden put down a monster, track-record lap to start from P1.

Still, it’s tough to say who has the edge right now. In Friday’s two practice sessions, Newgarden had the quickest overall time. But in Saturday’s practice, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power all went even faster.

Plus, top five drivers in the point standings were also the top five drivers in final practice (just in a different order). Since they were only separated by 0.44 second, it really could be anyone’s race among the contenders.

So how does the championship race work?

Sonoma is a double points event — one of only two on the schedule, along with the Indy 500. That twist could play a massive role in the outcome of the championship, because the points are soooo close.

At a typical IndyCar race, first place is worth 50 points and second place gets 40. But at Sonoma, it’s 100 for first place and only 80 for second — a 20-point gap between first and second!

That means Newgarden, Dixon and likely Castroneves (depending on bonus points) are all in situations where a Sonoma victory will mean the championship (which has happened the last two years).

And really, Pagenaud isn’t in a bad spot, either (though he could use some help from his competition finishing off the podium). Power and Rossi are much bigger longshots at this point, even if they win.

How did they get to this point?

Newgarden has a series-leading four wins and eight podium finishes this season, but his lead is only four points thanks to a gaffe in the most recent race at Watkins Glen.

After entering the Glen with a 31-point lead over Dixon — thanks to winning three of four races — Newgarden locked up his tires in the pits while avoiding teammate Will Power and slid into the guardrail. That cost him 28 points of his lead, which was whittled to just four.

Dixon has just one win but has made finished on the podium seven times — second in the series. And he’s going up against the entire Penske team, which has been the most consistent this season.

What are they saying?

— Newgarden, who was totally fired up after his track-record lap to get the pole — his first since 2015 — is going into the race with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“If I drop the ball and totally ball it up this weekend, I’m still going to be pretty happy with this year,” the 26-year-old American said. “That’s not to say I’m going to settle for that or that I’m looking to settle for something like that.

“But the only way I think you can approach this and get the most out of it and try and treat it like any other weekend. The moment you think, ‘Hey, this is championship week — you mess it up, you’re not the champion,’ then I think that can put you in a wrong place mentally.”

— Power, who qualified second, has a fast car but needs some help to pull off his second championship.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said. “I mean, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

— Pagenaud, who won this race en route to the championship last season, is feeling confident after qualifying third.

“Quite satisfied,” he said after his lap. “Overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing.”

— Speculation about Castrovenes’ future has been swirling lately, but it would certainly be nice for him to pull off an improbable title at age 42. He’s in a virtual win-and-clinch situation since there it’s a double points race.

“We wanted this championship as bad as anybody,” he said after qualifying fourth. “We do have a chance. We’re going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.”

— Dixon, the best driver of his generation, knows he has his work cut out for him. But it’s not like anyone can dismiss his chances.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he said. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”