Brad, congratulations. Certainly put on a great finish there for us this evening, and it’s got to feel good to get back to victory lane.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure does, Commander. I forget your name sometimes, so we’ll just go with Commander. You know, it is. It was a great night for us, obviously. Whenever you can win it’s a great night. But to win under the circumstances we did, obviously a little adversity in the middle of the race, and then a great battle with two stallions here, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth.
To put all that together at the end and come out on top is something we’re going to be proud of and cherish for a long, long time.
Q: Paul Wolfe, just talk about the win, how this has got to be a big win for the race team. You’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, obviously, but this has got to be a special win.
PAUL WOLFE: Absolutely. I think we’ve had good race cars here, especially the second half of the season, and just seems like every time we turn around, something goes wrong, some things in our control, some not. But you start to question the things that have worked for you in the past to be successful. You start to wonder if you need to do something different.
All the guys that work on these race cars and put them together back at the shop, I know everybody hasn’t done anything different than we did to win a championship. The thing was to just stay focused and continue to work hard and know that eventually our luck and some things got to start to go our way and get the results. I think we were obviously able to do that tonight. Definitely a big relief to get that first win this year.
Q: Roger Penske, congratulations on this victory here tonight at Charlotte. Just talk about maybe how this really gives the race team a good pop of momentum with five to go.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think we’ve shown speed, as Paul said, and we’ve had some issues, some our own. But at the end of the day we haven’t been to victory circle, and I think for Brad he was concerned. We all were. But at the end of the day we knew he was the guy that gave us a championship last year, and every driver in our stable now has won a race this year, AJ, Blaney, Sam, Joey and the two guys on the IndyCar side. I’d say this is a pretty good night for us, and Paul, I want to thank you for persevering in the team.
The Ford, really, the engine was running tonight. You could see it down the back straightaway. We had some speed and the car really was handling. We just had to get him up there. I thought when I saw the jack under the car, I thought here we go again, not a good night. But when it was time to go, we raced the best, and it was Brad behind the wheel. It wasn’t a fuel economy run. It was him digging deep and bringing us to victory lane, so it was a great night for us.
Q. Paul and Brad, non-Chase drivers don’t really win Chase races, but that being said, you guys are the defending champions. How did you guys set out to sort of buck that trend?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I never thought we couldn’t. I never – I don’t look at those things and say just because you haven’t done it or someone else doesn’t normally do it, it can’t be done. That’s just setting yourself up for failure.
You know, the perception is, and rightfully so, that the guys in the Chase are the cream of the crop, and that’s how obviously the would make it in the Chase, and they should win races and probably sweep the Chase. But this is a very good team. Some circumstances like Paul said were under our control, didn’t go our way, and we didn’t execute with, and not some under our control. But along the way, all season long we’ve had the speed. We’ve had what we need to be a championship team. We just haven’t put them all together. All the pieces haven’t come together on the nights that count, and they for the most part did tonight.
I feel, like Paul said, we’ve had speed in our cars. There’s been weeks where we’ve had the execution, not as many as we want, but we haven’t always had those pieces together, and then there’s been weeks where we’ve had the speed and execution, we’ve just had some rotten luck. Atlanta comes to mind, and I think the spring Loudon race, I thought we could have won that race and the yellows went against us and Daytona with the cautions and Phoenix with the cautions, it’s just been one of those years where you say, how much more can they throw at you? And I think we ran out of things for them to throw at us tonight with the jack and still find a way to win, so that was very special.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I mean, I agree, and I think the fact that we weren’t in the Chase, I don’t think had anything to do with the speed in our race cars and the capability of anybody on the team. I think we’ve shown that over the last year-and-a-half that we were capable of winning a championship and doing the things that it takes to do that. Things didn’t go our way and we didn’t make the Chase, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have the speed. To be able to win a race during the Chase I don’t think should be a big surprise.
Q. In regards to the two-tire, four-tire decision, just a little bit of history, 1994 it came to a two-tire, four-tire. Rusty was driving the 2 car then, the crew chief went with four tires, they went with four, Jeff Gordon went with two, won his first race. This time you went with four and Kasey went with two. Please address the thought process there, track position versus going with the four tires.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I wanted four, and I wasn’t leaving until he put lefts on it. If he wouldn’t have put four on I was going to yell and scream like a little kid.
PAUL WOLFE: I think going into the race in our pre-race talk we kind of have a plan and know what we feel like we want to do in different situations, especially down at the end there. You know the guys that already have the track position, they’re not going to want to give it up, so you know they’re going to most likely do the two-tire, so for us to beat them or to have a better shot at beating them, you need to do something a little different, and with not many cars on the lead lap, for me it was – I thought it was a pretty easy call to take four tires at that point.
I knew our car had speed in it. We showed that. It took us a while to get there. We had the issues on pit road that set us back, but we slowly worked our way towards the front. Kind of having that last caution there at the end kind of reset it for us and gave us the opportunity to get in victory lane.
Q. Last year in your championship run you talked a little about how the history of the sport means a lot to you. What does it mean to win at Charlotte?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, winning in Charlotte is important for a lot of reasons, but the most important one is you look at your team and the people that travel on the road. This is a bit of a traveling circus 38 weeks a year, and there’s a lot of sacrifices that are made for those people to travel so much. That’s not even counting the testing and other demands that there might be.
So those guys spend a lot of time away from their friends and family and make sacrifices to essentially make me a hero, and that’s not something that’s lost on me. So when they have the opportunity to come to Charlotte and bring their family and friends and kind of showcase what they do and then you combine that with success, I think it really validates to them some of those sacrifices they made, whether it’s missing their kid’s soccer game or whatnot, and it’s something very special for them.
You know, to me when I’m going to look back at tonight I’m going to look back at the victory lane photos that have your shop guys or your road guys and they’re there with their mom, dad, son or daughter, wife, whatever it might be, and know that those moments mean a lot to them.
That’s the most significant thing to me about winning in Charlotte and why it’s always very, very special, because it’s more about giving back to them in a way, and hopefully my guys really enjoyed it.
Q. Paul and Brad, you guys talking about what’s different this year from last year, it seemed like last year the key to the championship was just you guys executed. You guys always were on it and didn’t make mistakes versus this year. If you guys would have executed better this year do you think you would be in the Chase right now contending for the championship, and when you talked, Paul, about what you could do differently, is it mainly just focusing like you did last year a little bit more and just avoiding stuff like the jack tonight?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, when I look at execution, that’s more than just a pit crew. That’s me, too, and I can always be better, as well. I’m very careful how we word that and say that, and I think I could do a better job. I look back at a couple races, the Daytonas and Talladegas and I don’t think I executed like I need to, and it’s been all around different issues. It’s hard to pick just one, and I know that’s difficult because everyone wants to always find one thing. A lot of people came up to me and asked me about fuel mileage, you seemed to have better fuel mileage last year; do you think that was the difference? Not really. I think we’ve got great fuel mileage this year, as well. The races are playing out different and the strategies for the Generation-6 car is different. It’s not fair to really pick one area, but obviously if we would have executed better, I do feel like we’d be in the Chase. But we can’t look back, we’ve got to look forward. We won here today and I want to win every other race left in this season and I want to win next year. So spending a lot of time complaining about missing out on opportunities early in the season isn’t going to do us any good. We’ve got to look forward and we’ve got to find ways to win as the sport continues to evolve.
PAUL WOLFE: Brad pretty much said it, but I don’t think it’s really doing anything different than what we’ve done. There’s times when you second-guess what worked for you in the past, does it still work, but I think the biggest thing like Brad said is some of the strategy stuff has changed with this car. We’ve seen different racing this year. We’ve seen a little bad luck. We’ve made mistakes as a team. There’s not one thing that stands out.
But absolutely from a raw speed standpoint, yes, I think we’re definitely capable of making the Chase. All it would have taken is two or three of the things that happened to us, whether it was a mistake on our part or a caution falling the wrong way, yeah, maybe we’d be in the Chase. But we’re not, and right now our focus is to continue to try to win races and be better as a race team so we can come out stronger next year.
Q. Paul, when you came back into the pits after – to obviously take the jack off from underneath the car, did you have to fix the post a little bit or something so that you could jack the car the next time around?
PAUL WOLFE: The post was okay. It was just the side skirt that comes down off of the body there was folded under from the jack, so we basically just wanted to get that out so it didn’t drag the track.
Q. Brad, when you look at the trophy of this race a year from now or two years from now, are you going to look at it and think, heck yeah, we won Charlotte, or are you going to think about, yeah, we won Charlotte, that was the year we didn’t make the Chase?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I’m going to think, without that yellow we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win the race. But last year without the yellow that came out, we probably would have won the race. It’s funny how that works. I was thinking about that as I was pulling into victory lane how we had a dominant car here last fall of 2012, and the yellows just played against us and we didn’t get an opportunity to really capitalize on it. This year we had an excellent car, as well, and we caught a little bit of a break with the yellow. It’s funny how those things come around sometimes, and either way we got a win, and that’s what I’m going to think about.
Q. Brad, you obviously have a talent for riling people up at times with your words, and you had plenty of opportunity to do that both after you won the championship and even earlier this year, and when you didn’t make the Chase and kind of through some of the frustration you’ve had this year, it seemed some people took pleasure in that. I think about Gil Martin’s tweet after Richmond. How have you dealt with that this year? Has it humbled you, fired you up more to see people taking pleasure in you not doing as well this year, and how have you handled the frustration?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, in a competitive environment like racing is, there’s always going to be people that root against you, no matter what you’re doing. It’s actually a little bit of a thrill in a way when you can step back and really appreciate it. In the moment it kind of sucks when your sister goes on stage and introduces you and there’s always that one loud annoying guy that boos you and three or four people that cheer. In the moment that’s not always that much fun, but when you get back home and think about it and think about it in a grander scheme, big picture, you realize what that means. You realize that there’s the one guy that is a great fan of somebody else and he knows you’re a threat, and he’s going to take pleasure in you not succeeding because he knows it’s just a better opportunity for his guy to succeed.
So I think you have to see those things in the big picture and it’s hard to do in the moment. As I look back at it, certainly I want to be cheered and I want people to be excited when I win, but I also know that the reality is you’re never going to have everybody that likes you, and I think that when you try so hard to make everyone like you and to be everything to everyone, you end up being no one to anyone. So it’s just something that’s not possible, and you have to move on and accept it.
Yes, there’s going to be people that take pleasure in our failures, but there’s also a lot of people that take pleasure in our successes, and I’m not going to reward those that take the pleasure in our failures. I’m going to enjoy the success with those that enjoy it like I do.
Q. I was interested to know through all this missing the Chase, what’s kept Brad going? What’s been your motivation, because it can be not only a humbling experience but something that can just run you into the ground, but yet you’ve continued to be positive and now you’re back winning again. What’s kept you going through all this adversity, especially this year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, that’s actually a really great question. I think that when I look at Roger and putting together the 22 Nationwide team, the success we’ve had over there, that re-instills confidence in myself. I think I look at some other things that have happened, the truck team runs really well. That makes me feel good. And I know, too, in the back of my mind that we’ve had strong runs with this car, with this team, and we just haven’t finished it off.
When you look back on the weekend and I get all these fancy graphs and everything and you see them and read them and see we were the fastest car at this point in the race and we were really strong in this category or that category and you see those categories are different week to week and you see that you’re really good in one, each category, but on different weeks and never all together. You know it’s there, you’ve just got to put it all together. It’s like this great jigsaw puzzle and you start to make progress on it. Yeah, am I frustrated it didn’t come all together? Absolutely. But you start to see hope, and I’ve seen hope the whole year.
But I think the relationships that we have together with all three of us here, Roger, myself and Paul, is really important to me, and it’s helped a lot, as well.
Q. Have you gotten the tank yet?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, but I might have a little more funding to go get one now, so I guess that’s good, right? I’ve got to win a couple more this year.
Q. For Paul, you mentioned on the radio that you felt or you at least hoped that you had turned the corner. Is part of your trying to get back on track, was it that much of a challenge to make the transition from Dodge to Ford this season? Did that have anything to do with it? Or is there anything specifically that you can point to that has been more challenging?
PAUL WOLFE: No, I don’t look at the transition from Dodge to Ford, like I think that’s gone really smooth. Those guys have supported us real well. I think just changing to the Gen-6 car was more of a challenge than switching manufacturers in my eyes. You know, like I said, we’ve had speed. We’ve had great cars to start the season off. We were in position to win a bunch of races there the first handful of races and thought things were going well, and then we just lost some momentum. Like Brad said, a lot of the strategy and the way these races play out definitely changed a little bit from what it was with the old car, and then it seems like we definitely didn’t have the speed in our cars maybe through the middle part of the season, but I feel like here the last part of the season we’ve been kind of back to having the good speed, we just haven’t been able to execute.
Obviously tonight wasn’t an easy night for us, but with a fast race car and Brad doing a great job and staying focused all night, we were able to overcome the issues on pit road and get that first win.
Q. Brad, after the race in victory lane, you said there are a handful of guys you can’t race hard with in this deal because they freak out. I’m not asking you to name names unless you care to, but I was just curious why you think that is.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I just think it’s a compliment to Kasey and to Matt. Kasey and Matt race the way I think this sport should be done, and I think we put on a show today. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I obviously enjoyed it winning, but when I look back at this race, part of what I’m going to remember is obviously the side-by-side battle for the win and the closing laps. That’s so important to this sport. That’s our overtime finish. That’s our marquee moments. That’s our fourth-quarter, final-drive touchdown for a win. It’s being able to make a pass for the lead in the closing laps, and to do that it takes a level of respect between drivers, and that particular group, Matt and Kasey, they have that, and I have that with them. That’s why it’s so rewarding to race with them and to win a race like this.
Q. Could that be the answer to your 100 percent? If we really get down to the essence of that and put all the other BS aside, could that be what we’re truly looking for? Is that what might lead to these what I call Game 6, not Game 7, but Game 6 kind of moments in racing and not just a bunch of people bitching and riding around?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you know, I think it’s really healthy for the sport in my opinion to have last-lap, last-segment, whatever you want to call it, I know it wasn’t the last lap but it was the last half dozen or so, battles for the win. I think that’s the kind of drama that our sport needs. That something that I’m proud to be a part of. The rest of it I don’t think is productive, but that was to me what I look back on and think of as great races, whether I’m a part of it or not.
So it’s something I’m just proud of because it kind of fits my code of racing. Hard racing, fair racing for a lead, for the win, when it counts, at the end.
Q. Roger, you’re a veteran in racing that understands the ebbs and flows of your entire operation. What have you done over the course of the last 30 races to let your driver and your crew chief know that confidence you had in them to get to where they finally got to tonight?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think it starts at the beginning of the year when we set the team up. I had the confidence because coming off the championship last year obviously we had a professional organization, a group that pulled together.
When I look at the season, and I’m communicating with Paul and certainly Brad and the team on a daily basis, we talked about little things that maybe we hadn’t done so well. But I think reliability, if you look at the fuel system and things like that that we had to deal with this year, and certainly the new car. I’d say reliability.
And my concern was we needed to get on top of those things, and there was no excuses from the crew. Obviously when I saw some of the pit work we’ve had over the last several weeks, we sat down as a group here about a week ago after New Hampshire and took our top 10 people and we set a pretty strong agenda for where we’re going, and I think a byproduct of some of that we saw tonight.
We knew we had good cars and we’ve got the best drivers; it was a matter of executing. I never lost confidence, and I’m a guy, glass half full, not half empty. I wanted to see Brad get a win. He didn’t want to go through this season after being a champion, you saw when Tony Stewart got his win here before he had his accident what it meant to him, and I think I’ve seen that in the past.
We did get Joey in the Chase. That was a big hard run, and if Brad would have had the reliability here at the end, he’d have been in, too. To me, Kyle Busch didn’t get in last year, I think Gordon didn’t get in one year, too. You’ve got some great drivers sometimes that don’t make it. That doesn’t mean they’ve lost anything, it’s just the way it works out. This is a very competitive sport, every aspect of it is, and at the end of the day you have some winners and losers. Tonight we were a winner.
Q. You’ve talked about what kept you going throughout this season, but what about from a mental aspect? The deeper you go into the year, missing the Chase, everything that could go wrong seemingly has gone wrong. From a mental aspect some drivers talk about losing confidence. Was there anything for you during the year that you thought about, or where was your mind at? And then what’s the relief now that you won’t go winless coming off of the championship?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, first off, I’ve read your articles before and I never knew who you were, so now I know who Kelly Crandall is. Nice to meet you.
Obviously it’s a relief, because you’re right, going into the off-season and having to answer those questions, not just from the media but those questions come up from yourself, they’re not fun. They’re not fun at all. Now we obviously don’t have to do that. When the moment came where it was obvious we did not make the Chase, which by the way was about 50 to go at Richmond, from that moment on I looked forward, I didn’t look back, and I don’t look back unless someone asks me to look back. Like I said, it’s not productive. But obviously you still need to have success and carry some momentum into the next season, and I think that’s what we did today, and that’s, like I said, the monkey we got off our back, so to speak.
But I do think this is a really key moment for us. This is not as big a clutch win as it would be if we would have won Richmond, but still a clutch moment in a very important scenario, in front of the hometown guys. We had a lot of sponsors, a lot of team guys here tonight with their families like I said earlier, and to be able to win in front of them, and the boss is here, too, I forgot about that part, I got a win in front of him. But that’s important, and we showcased that we’re capable of getting that done if we all just put it together when it counts.
Q. You mentioned that the hardest part of this year has been the adaptation to the Gen-6 car and obviously tonight speaks to the fact that you’re finally getting on top of it, but there’s discussion, there’s a test tomorrow, there’s some other things that NASCAR is talking about possibly changing the car. They said they were going to leave it alone but next year they’re probably going to make some tweaks. When you are obviously behind some of the other organizations as far as getting a handle on this car, how frustrating is it to you to know that they’re probably going to be changing this car and you haven’t totally figured it out at this point?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I wouldn’t say we’re much farther behind than some other teams. We haven’t executed but as far as figuring out the speed in the cars, I don’t think we’re very far off on that. It was a challenge for us, but I feel like as a company we’ve done a good job at adapting to the new car and having speed. I mean, obviously with the 22 group making the Chase and getting a win, they’ve shown great speed, and we have, as well.
I feel good about that. You’ve just got to continue to work hard. We’re going to do this test on Monday and be ready for whatever they throw at us and be able to adapt. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, and the sport changes so fast and you have to have great people in place that can continue to move forward and find ways with new rules to get a jump on the competition.
Q. Roger, earlier this month you were able to lock up Brad through 2017. But Miller has cut back to 24 races. What does this win and securing a win in a season where you don’t make the Chase, what does this win do to help secure and fill those final 12 races?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think it’s obvious. The relationship we’ve generated with Miller for many, many years, with Rusty and Danny Sullivan going all the way back, and they committed to us even when we didn’t have the best season because it’s not about one season or one driver; it’s about a relationship. And certainly as I went to them and said could we look at a little different format going forward, it was a business discussion between the two organizations. I think we have been able to put together a sponsorship when you think about our team going forward with sponsorship with Shell-Pennzoil through ’17 and then also with Miller, and then we have the great associates there with us, we’re in great shape right now, with two good drivers, great drivers, and I think with Paul and Todd and the rest of the team, certainly that’s important to us.
But the relationship with Miller is outstanding, and I think that Brad has been a great leader with them. They like him. They like what he does out in the public, a lot of the things they have him do around their customers is important, and I think that’s one of the reasons they signed up with us.