In Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski were at it again.
After an on-track bumping incident that ended with Hamlin spinning out of control, the drivers exchanged pithy comments while Carl Edwards celebrated in victory lane. The contact between the cars was another episode in a running battle between Hamlin and Keselowski that dates to May 2008 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
With Hamlin all but promising to retaliate at Homestead in next Saturday's season finale, NASCAR felt compelled to step in, calling Keselowski to a meeting Sunday morning in the sanctioning body's transporter.
Keselowski met with NASCAR officials — including chairman and CEO Brian France — in the hauler's inner sanctum, while his PR representative waited outside the door. The meeting clearly made an impression on Keselowski, 25, who will drive the #12 Penske racing Dodge full time in the Sprint Cup Series next season.
“Oh, man. We just had a ham sandwich — a good time,” Keselowski said facetiously before turning serious. “It went real well. I think that's probably the most impressed I've been with NASCAR. I honestly will say that. And I'm not brainwashed in saying that, either. I really respected the fact that Brian France walked in there. That meant a lot to me. That's really the first time I've ever had a conversation with him. I think that's a good sign for the sport, that he was involved in that conversation.”
Keselowski declined to recount the conversation, but the clear implication was that NASCAR advised him to pick his battles more carefully.
“Without just talking about things that were talked about privately, I think the biggest message — because I don't want you guys to speculate (on it) — was just trying to pick and choose who you want to be your friends and enemies in the sport and making sure that I understood that process and what it takes to make it at this level, and how you're going to need friends down the line, and make sure you don't alienate everybody, but at the same time to not give up on being a hard charger.
“I think that was the basic tone of the conversation. I'm just trying to figure out what it takes to be successful at this level, and I certainly don't feel like I have all the answers, but I'm doing the best I can and welcome any advice I can get.”
Asked whether he felt compelled to change his driving style, Keselowski gave a measured response.
“You're always changing your style,” he said. “You're always progressing as a driver. Do I need to do things better? Oh, yeah. All the time. Is that specific to being aggressive? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Being aggressive is what's gotten me here. Nobody's handed me anything in my career—ever, ever. I've dug and clawed for everything I've gotten, and the only way to do that is by being aggressive.
“So that's not to say that I need to be aggressive every race. No, there's races where you need to play it cool and be smart. So it's just trying to learn that timing and learning who you need to be your friends and who you can accept as being your enemies, no matter what you do.”
Nor was Keselowski specific about future interaction with Hamlin.
“I don't really want to engage that,” he said. “I'm quite satisfied with my own role in the sport as it is with the other drivers. So I don't feel a need to engage that particular situation.”
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News