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Interview With Brad Keselowski, Winner of The Las Vegas Cup Race

Q.  We’re going to hear from team owner Roger Penske and crew chief Paul Wolfe, a very exciting win here for the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for Penske’s Racing team, and winning that 17th-annual Kobalt 400 here today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Paul, just talk about the drama unfolding there the last 40 or 50 laps when obviously the way that the new system is in place, winning is a premium, and yet if you have a win, as Dale Jr. did, you can kind of roll the dice.  Certainly created a lot of drama and excitement down there.  What was going through your mind and where did you all stand with fuel?

PAUL WOLFE:  Well, obviously when we pitted there at the end when the 99 and 88 stayed out, we knew we were plenty to the good.  Didn’t figure there was anyway they could make it but wasn’t sure yet where they were fuel mileage wise.  As the race started rolling on there that last run, we started calculating the numbers and trying to understand where they were at.  We kind of knew where the 99 was.  Obviously with Roush Yates engines we all know we’re pretty close there, so we had an idea he couldn’t make it, but the 88, we weren’t sure.  That was why, at one point there, once I knew the 88 was a little short, I told Brad he needed to do what he could to get around the 99 to start putting pressure on the 88 because if we didn’t, he only needed a half a lap.  That’s about what he ran out.  Being able to get around the 99, put pressure on the 88 to run wide open was I think a key, and I think Brad’s determination you saw, it wasn’t a lap or two and he was able to get around that 99 and start putting the pressure on.  I think that was very important overall.

Very pleased, it was a great effort today.  We were on a little different strategy from time to time with everybody, but the things that have made the 2 team successful over the last few years is being aggressive, and we’re going to be aggressive this year, and that’s what we did today, and it paid off for a big win for us.  Just got to continue to work hard.  This new rules package, there’s been a lot of work done over the off-season.  There’s been plenty of days when Brad has come into my office and bugged me if we were working hard enough or if we needed to be testing or what, and I just told him just hang in there, we’re working hard, and obviously we’ve shown everyone at Team Penske has done a great job so far, but the key is continue to build on that and find ways to be better because it’ll only be time and everyone will figure out this new rules package and will be a lot stronger.

Q :  Roger, it’s been a heck of a week for you, Brad sweeps the weekend here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Somebody told us that you had a hole-in-one and then you win this race here today at Las Vegas and get that No. 2 car in prime position to get in the Chase this year.  Just talk about the significance of everything that’s gone on the last few days and then getting this win today, what that means to Team Penske.

ROGER PENSKE:  Well, first, obviously the call that Paul made, as he said, we’re going to take a few chances.  We knew we had a fast car, you could see in clear air how good the car was.  At the end, the call with Junior, obviously he had a great car.  I’ve never seen him drive better, and it was going to be a real gun fight if we had to run with him the last part of the last lap.  Paul said, he’s probably a lap short, let’s push him.  He got by the 99 as he said earlier, and it made a difference.

To me the team has just done a great job.  Off-season, the commitment, the Ford motors obviously are strong. We’ve seen the reliability so far this season.  You saw it in Nationwide yesterday.

The poles the first two weekends really have made a huge difference.  Joey has stepped up now, and we really have two great drivers not only for today but long-term when you look at our team and the average age.  To me it was a rewarding weekend, realizing that the way the rules are, to have a driver that has won a race, that really almost qualifies him, I think, for the Chase, especially after the tough year he had last year.  People might have counted him out, but again, I think he’s focused.  You can see his driving, and to me we’ve got two great drivers.

As far as the hole-in-one, I never knew I’d get so much publicity on a hole-in-one and the next minute they’re asking me where.  Just to tell her, it was at Augusta, so I was very fortunate to be a member there, and we know we lost William Clay Ford today, a patriarch of the Ford family, someone who obviously that’s meant so much to Detroit, the automobile business on a worldwide basis and certainly to the big three, and I take my hat off and my thoughts and prayers to his family.  It’s ironic, he and I joined Augusta the same time back many years ago and to think today we won this race.  So I’m going to give this race to William Clay Ford.

Q :  What hole was that over there at Augusta?

ROGER PENSKE:  It was on the par 3, 154-yard No. 4.

 

Q.  For the both of you, Brad missing the Chase last year, what kind of a learning experience was that for him?  Would you consider it a wake-up call or just a combination of the two?

ROGER PENSKE:  I think that obviously there were a lot of things that changed last year:  New manufacturer, new motors, new reliability.  We had to get our cars right.  We had some reliability problems from a heating situation which I’d have to say was ours.  But it was tough, and we got wrecked a couple times that didn’t help us.

I think Brad matured.  I think you’ve seen his MO this year.  He’s certainly focused.  You have to have a little bit of adversity before you get better, and I think that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski.

 

Q.  Dale Jr. was saying that Brad has a tendency to overthink things, and some of his ideas work, some of them don’t.  How much more did he start overthinking or bugging you with some of the stuff that he was coming into your office for after missing the Chase than before?

PAUL WOLFE:  I mean, that’s just Brad’s style.  That’s why we love him.  I mean, he’s dedicated.  He wants to be the best out there, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do that.  Sometimes it can wear you down, there’s no doubt about that, and like I said, he was on me hard over the offseason.  But I know that he’s just passionate about the sport and being the best.

You think about the times when you do get frustrated, I think this is probably a better situation than a guy that doesn’t show up at the shop and doesn’t understand what’s going on, so I’m willing to deal with that sometimes.  You know, as a group I think over the off-season, all the guys on the team, we’ve sat down as a group, individually, tried to understand where everyone was at, what we felt like we needed to do to be better, and I felt like the group is working really well now.  We’ve shown that the first three weeks, and obviously this win here helps give everybody a little bit of confidence to know that we can get back on top where we want to be and where we were in 2012.

A lot of hard work ahead of us, but a huge win today.

 

Q.  For both of you gentlemen, is it any more difficult to field two teams that can contend each week than it is one?  And also, how closely do the two teams work together?  Roger, you’ve had a number of different drivers in the seats; do these guys work closer than anybody you’ve had?

ROGER PENSKE:  Well, I’d say, I’d go back to probably Rusty where we really had some continuity with Ryan where we were really running well.  But I think today, the combination of Joey and Brad is super.  When you look at their age, they’re talking every day.  Last night they were going over the changes on their cars.  But even more important, I think Todd Gordon and Paul have really bonded together.  In fact, really what pulled us together might have been our issue at Texas last year when we all had to pull together and say we’re going to move forward out of this.  To me that really set the stage.  But Travis Geisler and when you look at Mike Nelson, we’re one group.  The cars are the same, you can see how well they run, they’re qualifying very close together, and I think it’s an open book, and to me that makes the difference.  So I’m thrilled with where we are, and I think we’ve got a great runway for us long-term.

PAUL WOLFE:  Yeah, I don’t disagree.  I don’t know for sure what goes on on other teams, but from the guys I talk to and know, I feel like probably the 2 and 22 probably work more closely than anyone in the garage, and I think, like the boss said, that’s why you see the cars qualifying on the front row together, why we run well when one runs well, and that’s key.  With only having two cars, we need to work closely together.  When one runs good, the other runs good, and vice versa.  That’s important to be able to move forward, as tough as this sport is, to be able to have someone to lean on if you’re having a bad day or you’re off a little bit.

When these cars are built back at the shop, they’re all built the same.  You can take a 22 or a 2 and just change the paint scheme on it and bring it to the racetrack.  I don’t think there’s many teams that can say that.  I think that’s a big reason for a lot of the success we’ve had, and we’ll continue to work that way moving forward and hopefully continue the success.

 

Q.  Paul, as an outsider, it appears to me back in 2012 you were able to take some pretty big swings, risks.  How did the new rules – do you feel kind of freedom this year now to take those same kind of risks?

PAUL WOLFE:  Well, I think there’s opportunity there.  I’ve said this before, with all the new rules packages and changes, there’s opportunity.  We like opportunities, and you’ve got to work hard and make the most of them, and just proud so far we’ve been able to do that.

It’ll take a lot of work to stay where we’re at, but I think everyone on this team is committed to do that.  We’ll just keep going.

Q :  Let’s hear from our race winner, Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for Team Penske.  Brad, congratulations on a great weekend and certainly the win here today.  It gets you in position now to get in the Chase, and that’s got to feel good.  Just talk about the significance of that and just how this team is really, really coming together right now.

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, thank you, Kerry.  It’s great to be here.  I’ve seen a few of you before, some a little too soon ago, but I’m glad to see you again and glad to be back here in victory lane.  It’s very special to get a win early in the year when it’s just such a reliever for everyone on the team and myself included to get that win in early and be able to enjoy the races and opportunities that we have instead of being stressed out about them.

You know, I think if anything it actually lends itself to better racing.  That chance that Dale and Stevie took with the 88 car was way out there, and it was a good, risky move on their part because they had nothing to lose because of this format.

I think that shows some of the opportunities that come up and how they can be stress-free days, and I’m looking forward to being able to take those same opportunities, because believe me, I’m not scared to take them, and I know Paul’s not, so look out.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.

 

Q.  You guys got on a different pit schedule mid-portion of this race.  You were running on some old tires compared to the leaders who were running on new rubber and you didn’t lose track position.  How much of a surprise was that to you and how much of a key was it at the back end of the race?

PAUL WOLFE:  Well, it wasn’t really a big surprise.  We kind of knew where the tires were at and how they hold up.  That’s part of the strategy.  By no means would we have stayed out if we didn’t feel like our car was good or that the tires would hold on.  The biggest gamble there was just the fuel window.  Like I said before, the things that have made us successful is being aggressive, and we’re back and we’re going to be aggressive.

 

Q.  Brad, a question about driving the car in traffic.  Dale said that when he was back there it was tough, but once he got into clean air it was like driving a Cadillac.  Joey talked about how loose he was in traffic, so I wanted to ask about your experience with that.  Do you think the new rules package played into any of that, and then Paul, you missed last weekend and you’re in victory lane this weekend, so any temptation to skip another race?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, Paul, what are you thinking?  I’d like to hear the answer to that one, too.  Why don’t you go first.

PAUL WOLFE:  Yeah, I don’t know about skipping any races.  It was a big week for me last week and something very special that you can’t compare to a race win.  It’s a total different feeling, and I’m fortunate to have a great family that supports me, and I’m fortunate to have a great company like Team Penske behind me to know that I could leave the racetrack for such a special day for me and we could still go out there and run like we did, and that’s just a testament to everyone on this team and all the hard work we’ve put in.  Not planning on taking any more days off, though.  It was tough to watch that one on TV for sure.

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, I mean, it’s just a common theme throughout American motorsports.  The cars continue to get harder and harder to drive in traffic as they make more downforce and as the engineers and all those guys continue to really hone in on these cars and find ways to make them create more downforce, and that’s just – it’s something that’s happening through all of motorsports, not just NASCAR.  You’re seeing the same thing in F1 and beyond.

It’s making it very difficult to drive the cars in traffic, and it makes the cars very easy to drive by themselves.  It’s just part of the evolution of racing, and maybe not necessarily what we want to see happening from a fan perspective, but it’s just where the competitors are taking the racing.

We’ll see where that goes from here.

 

Q.  Paul said that when you realized what Dale’s gas situation was like, you really needed to get past the 99.  Did you feel like once you did that, especially if you drove Dale hard, it was just a matter of time before he ran out?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, passing the 99 was a huge moment for us.  That gave us an opportunity to really put pressure on Dale.  I felt like we could run him down.  I could tell he was saving a little bit based on the lines he was running compared to where I had seen him earlier in the day.  He was able to save a little bit, but once I ran up on him, with him not running his fastest line, he was running his fuel conserve line, and once I saw that, we ran him down, I think 10, 15 laps, whatever that was, and forced him to kind of get up into his speed line, and that was just taking fuel from his car.  Once that happened, I knew we were in really good shape.  It was going to play out one of two ways:  He was going to have to get in fuel conservation mode and I think I could have passed him and drove away or he was going to have to burn fuel to keep me behind him.  At that point it was just a matter of whether a yellow came out or not because it was just a ticking time bomb, and it worked in our favor today.

 

Q.  Brad, yesterday you were describing the Chase with chasing down Kyle and holding off Kyle rather and making sure that – you compared it to a game of Tetris.  With the roles reversed today, how was it different?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  You know, yesterday was more about lap traffic and dealing through that.  Today lap traffic played a little bit of a role but not a significant role.  You know, that one lap I was able to get underneath Dale, 1 and 2 here, I can’t remember what lap that was, I had gotten a little bit of help in traffic, which was huge for us to be able to put pressure on him and certainly not good for Dale.  Those things considered, it was definitely different being the hunter instead of the hunted.  I had fun with it both days, though.

 

Q.  Brad, Dale was in here earlier saying when you drove for him you had so many questions, comments and suggestions, some of them good, Pops Eury, he kicked you out of the shop.  Could you tell us an incident and –

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I don’t remember back that far, but I knew Paul has kicked me out a few times, and I know Roger has given me a couple of sideways looks, but that’s part of it.  You know, you find one that sticks every once in a while, and that’s part of the fun of the sport.  I love doing things that no one has done before, and that’s a lot of fun for me, whether it’s sending out a tweet during the middle of the Daytona 500 or trying to move on the racetrack to win a race.  Those moments to me are a lot of fun and probably the funnest moments in racing when you’ve done something no one else has done because they’re a significant accomplishment that no one else can really own.

We’ve done a few of them there, and I know we’ve got a few more to come, but they come from all those crazy ideas.  Every once in a while there’s a good one.

 

Q.  Brad, certainly people that make it to an optimum level professionally have to have people help them along the way.  The guy sitting to your left is certainly one of those for you, but the guy you beat today, another one.  I wonder if when you’re trying to mow him down if any of those thoughts enter your head, like I am going to get to race for a win with this guy, you’ve said before, that garage door almost closed on you and he gave you a chance.  Do any of those thoughts enter your mind?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Oh, yeah, absolutely.  Today when I was thinking about it, my thought was, well, he’s already won a race so he’s got nothing to worry about.  That was kind of what I was thinking.  I’d have damn near wrecked him if I had to with that in mind.  It’s part of the deal, and I’ve had a lot of fun racing with Dale over the years. This is the first time that I can recall really racing that close for the win at the end.  Daytona this year we restarted side by side on the green-white-checkered, but I wasn’t really there.  I wasn’t there when it counted, and here we were there when it counted, right, and racing like that is just – that’s what you live for as a driver, at least I do, those moments where you’re side by side and you lay it all out on the racetrack and bring back the car with the tires smoking, engine smoking, and you’re worn out inside because you gave it all you had.  It was one of those races there at the end.

For it to be one of those races against someone who’s provided me such a tremendous opportunity those years back, it definitely is something that I cherish even more.

 

Q.  During the media tour in the off-season you were very high on NASCAR, the changes to the Chase format and the knock-out qualifying.  Aside from the fact that your teams have been very successful so far through the first three weeks, do you see them benefiting – do you see some benefits, some changes that have been good for the sport?

ROGER PENSKE:  Well, there’s no question that the qualifying sessions, we had three here this weekend, lots of strategy, it’s right down to the one last lap in that third session has made a huge difference than just sitting watching one car go by for an hour and a half while they’re qualifying.  So I think point number one, they’ve got a check in the box.  It’s all about winning now, and I think the wins are so important, and once you get in that position that you’ve won a race and it gives you a real good chance to be in this Chase, it allows you to make your car better, as Brad said, maybe take some chances or might not do things we’d do otherwise to get us better for that last run.

To me it’s interesting, we talk about teams in the NFL who might have had an 8-8 record but end up in the Super Bowl and win.  I’ve heard a lot of talk about what can happen.  I think it’s interest to the fans, and from my understanding there’s been a lot of positives about the change.  I’m certainly 100 percent for, 150 percent maybe, today 200 because we’re in the show, and the poles certainly haven’t hurt us.  I can tell you this:  That our sponsors – we have some of the best in the business, are very pro what they see here, not only for our team but for the sport.

 

Q.  Mr. Penske, I was curious, now that you’ve got the one victory in Sprint Cup, how are things coming in the open wheel program with Juan Pablo Montoya?

ROGER PENSKE:  Well, listen, we’re excited.  Juan has lost about 25 pounds so he looks like a track star now.  The one thing we know about Juan, he tells it like it is.  He’s done a great job.  We had a real great test at Sebring.  Probably his best run was this past week.  To me he’s made great progress.  Obviously when we line up we’ll find out.  He’s a racer.  We’ve had a lot of interest in the team.  Sponsors have come to us now, and I’d say good move for him, and we think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the sport as we go forward.  It’s been an excellent move for us.

 

Q.  Roger, now that you essentially have a car in the Chase, does that at all change your perspective or your approach with the other team as far as getting the 22 in, any resource changes or whatever?

ROGER PENSKE:  Well, you know, we’re not allowed to help each other, we learned that, didn’t we, at Richmond.  So we’re going to exchange all the information we can between the two teams as Paul talked about earlier, and we said we were really operating as one organization.  In fact, when the cars come out of the paint shop, you really don’t know which car they’re going to be until we put the decals on.  To me we’re going to stay consistent.  Joey and Brad have built a great relationship, and believe me, the way he ran today and came from the back there was strong right at the end, and I think we’re going to see him in victory lane, too, so that’s our goal now is whatever it takes, get him a victory.

 

Q.  Brad, I know you never lack for motivation when it comes to competition, but what happened last year winning the championship and then missing the Chase and then having some people kind of openly seem to enjoy your momentary downfall, I guess, that had to leave somewhat of a chip on your shoulder or piss you off.  How much did what happened last year bother you as far as the perception?  Did that add more fuel to your fire than before?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Well, I mean, it’s not fun, that’s for sure.  For me, I wouldn’t say I let the negative comments motivate me too much.  I was motivated the whole time.  I didn’t really need any extra motivation.  But I found, I guess, my happy place looking at a guy like Tony Stewart, who I still consider to be one of the best race car drivers out there and probably one of the best of all time, and you look at him, and he won his first championship I think it was 2002 and his next in ’05 or ’06, I can’t remember, and then another one in 2011.  If you look at that there’s three, five, six years or whatever in between those.  And when you look at those championships, and I think he showcases how sometimes things work in cycles, the sports world works in cycles, and we didn’t have the year we wanted to have last year.  I’m not afraid to admit that and I’m definitely not going to hide from it.  But we also have to be realists and know that a lot of things have to come together to win.  The team has to be perfect, I have to be perfect, and a little bit of racing luck has to go your way.  I don’t think we hit either one of those three last year, but we weren’t far off on any one of those three.

With that in mind, you’ve got to just move on and realize that that’s part of the cycles, fix what you can fix, and we certainly have done a lot to address issues when we’re not the best we can be, and I have personally, the team has, and obviously a little bit of racing luck today went our way.

Somebody asked me here before the race, last year we started off with, I can’t remember if it was a third, a third or a fourth and a third and a second or something like that, but we didn’t get a win.  Any one of those races we could have won, but we just didn’t get any racing luck.  And then in the middle of the year we had every bad racing break.  Today we caught a little bit of racing luck and we were in position to make the most of it.  You can catch racing luck and be running 10th and it doesn’t really mean anything, but when you’re running in the top two or three like we have the last couple weeks, you catch a little small break and you’re there to exploit it and get a win.

Sometimes you catch breaks, sometimes you make them happen.  But today we were in a spot either way to capitalize on it.  Like I said, kind of viewing that, that holistic approach that all those things in mind, I think I was able to move on and am still able to move on, and a win today just kind of solidifies our position moving forward.

 

Q.  For Brad, now that you’ve won a race and have virtually locked yourself into the Chase, what are some other short-term goals before you reach the Playoffs in September for your race team?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I want to win Indy.  That would be big, with The Captain here.  That would be a really big win.  Michigan would be a really big win.  I’d take Bristol and California while I’m at it.  But there’s a lot of important – we just want to get some more wins, and then obviously you’ve got to get on steady footing once you reach the back half of the year with your cars and team to where you’re just consistent front runners so you can really get into those last 10 races and make some noise.

That’s important to us, as well.

 

Q.  Roger, what’s your understanding on the reason that NASCAR took the right-rear shock from the 22 yesterday?

ROGER PENSKE:  The information I have is they checked the pressure, and they said after the race it was – they checked it this morning, it was seven or eight pounds more pressure in it, so they’re looking at it.  We showed our gauge, which was probably 10 pounds less than when they did it yesterday.  That’s the information I have today, but obviously it’s a minor issue.

 

Q.  This is Vegas; the probability experts at NFLESP.com said the odds of you winning today Brad was 7-1, the odds of any driver winning double-header at 50-1 and the odds of you winning a double-header at 500-1.  Coming into the weekend –

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Did you put any money on it?

 

Q.  I wouldn’t be sitting here.  What did you think your chances were numerically and thought wise coming into this weekend?

BRAD KESELOWSKI:  At Team Penske we know we’re going to have great cars and we know we’re going to have great effort winning on almost any weekend.  It’s hard to pick one particular weekend and feel better or worse than others, but then you look at some of our track history here at Las Vegas and it hasn’t been all that great.  I can remember running a couple races here, I was thinking back to my first start here in 2009 before I was driving for Roger when I was driving for Rick, and I think it was my third race ever in the Cup Series, and I remember Rick Hendrick walking up to me, and he said, just run a whole race and don’t wreck, and you’ll have a good day.  I made it all the way to Turn 3 and 4 on the first lap and wrecked.  You know, I had made the choice that day or that weekend to stay after it with Dale Jr. after we spent the week here in Vegas afterwards.  He never invited me to do that again because I was sore and mad and didn’t have any fun and didn’t party and hang out at all, I was so bitter about that weekend.

You look at it from that perspective and say, I don’t have a great track record here at Las Vegas, but we sure did make it look a lot better today, and I’m sure there’s other tracks that we can hopefully do the same this year.

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Posted by on March 10, 2014. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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