NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: AAA 400
September 30, 2012INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right into our post race press conference. Winning today's race was the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge driven by Brad Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe, and owner Roger Penske.
Brad Keselowski now takes over the points standings. He has a five?point lead over Jimmie Johnson. This is Brad's fifth win of the season. Ties him with Denny Hamlin for most in the series. His ninth win career. Brad has won two of the first three races here in the Chase.
Brad, I'm going to ask you a couple questions to lead off. Talk about how the race went for you from maybe the start to the finish. It certainly looks like you were able to really do a good job, your entire race team, you as a driver, of stretching things out to the max with fuel.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Happy for our day here today obviously. It's a long race. 400 miles at Dover, it's darn grueling, to be honest.
My team just kept at it all race long. We made some adjustments, made our car a little bit better here and there. I was really proud of that effort.
Certainly a lot stronger than what we've been here in years past. I thought we were really strong here past fall. I feel we were really strong here this time around. Very, very proud of our team for that.
As the race went on, he slowly eked our way up from the 10th starting position we had up to fourth. Kind of fell in there on that last run, after my pit crew got me out fourth, something like that, and that put us in position to really capitalize on good strategy and execution.
My guys did that. They did a great job, like you said, with the fuel. Together we were able to manage it very well, which is important as anything else in racing these days.
As you saw, it came together at the end for a victory.
KERRY THARP: Paul Wolfe, certainly on top of that pit box today you made a lot of strategic calls. Talk about some of those things that allowed you to get to Victory Lane.
PAUL WOLFE: Like Brad said, this hasn't been one of our best tracks, but we talked on the plane ride up here and felt that we were capable of winning here this weekend. I think that type of mentality and attitude is throughout our team.
I feel like there was a lot of hard work that went in behind the scenes preparing for this weekend. We were able to unload here and have good speed in our car. I feel much better than what we've been in the past. I think we backed that up with a solid qualifying effort yesterday afternoon. Just slowly worked on our car all day.
Took us probably two runs to get it capable of running in the top five. We were able to do that. Had a little hiccup on pit road, but everybody stayed calm and focused and recovered from that, went on to put ourselves in position.
I feel like any weekend you can run top five towards the closing laps of a race, you're putting yourselves in position to win. That's what we were able to do today. Just a great job by everybody on this team.
This was another small step to the 10 races. Just really proud to be able to come out of here with a points lead.
KERRY THARP: Roger, certainly not even a third of the way through the Chase, but this race team has won two of the three races and has laid down the gauntlet they're going to be a factor here, a championship contender. Talk about that.
ROGER PENSKE: First, I want to dedicate this win to Chris Economaki. Obviously I go back probably 45 years with him when I was a driver, used to take his photos home from the track. I remember one thing about him, he cared about the little guy running on the short tracks. I obviously can't thank him enough for what he did for us. I know he'd be proud today to know that Penske Racing team is dedicating this race to him.
Really today it was all about teamwork. As I said before, Brad has really pulled this team together. He knows what he wants. Paul has a great group of guy working around that car, not only the ones over the wall, but the ones at home, the aerodynamicists, the guys in the shop, outstanding. Fuel economy takes two people: the driver that knows how to get it and obvious the guys that know how to set that up at home.
As Paul said, coming back after a little bit after mishap in the pits, you could see how fast the car was. For me to see him be able to stay ahead of the 18, run laps like that, we understood we had the speed. You couldn't show that at the end because we wanted to make sure we didn't have to come in and pit like the other guys.
Smart racing. I think Brad's ability to get through the traffic, you watch Jimmie Johnson, Gordon, Kyle Busch and Hamlin, he's right up there with them. He didn't make any mistakes. Didn't lose any time on the track.
I just want to congratulate him, the team, and all you folks for supporting us.
KERRY THARP: We'll start with questions.
Q. Brad, before the race started you said, spoiler later, whoever wins the race today will be the new media favorite to win the championship. Are you the media favorite?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You tell me (laughter).
There are seven races to go. It feels great to win. I'm so proud of my team. But I can't state loudly enough how much longer this battle is. It's very tempting, whether it's the media or the teams themselves, to get in a comfort zone of saying, Such and such has control of this Chase. But there's a reason why it's 10 rounds. We're not even halfway. We're three rounds in.
By no means do I feel like we're the favorite. Certainly we're not the underdog probably at this point. But I think there's so much racing to go, so many opportunities for things to go wrong ? or right ? for anyone out there, that it's way too early to point those fingers and say those things.
My perspective is we got a lot more racing to go. Let's just let the racing play out and go from there.
Q. You think you're underrated? You think you don't get enough respect for what you and Paul have accomplished?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, I don't honestly care. I'm happy to be here today and I'm going to live in this moment. When it's over, I'm going to focus on Talladega, which is only seven days away.
ROGER PENSKE: I know he's probably shy. Let me answer for him.
He is a champion in Nationwide. What he said to me quietly, Let's just put the numbers on the board. I think they show what a team we had. As he said earlier, we have seven more rounds here. Right now I think he's doing a terrific job. I love the position we're in.
Q. Brad, do you feel like to win the Chase you need to win or run well in a race like this where maybe it's as much strategy as it is car?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, I think Tony won Loudon last year. Tony set a heck of a template last year of how to win the championship, winning five of the races. By no means do I want to infer that's the way it's going to be this year, but he sent a heck of a message through the garage last year.
You look at his win at Loudon, similar thing, good car, good strategy. They're clutch moments where the team has to come together ? not a driver, a crew chief ? a team, everybody has to be on their game. That's why it's a championship team, not just a championship driver or championship car. It's all of us together.
Q. Brad, you said over the radio right after the race, No weaknesses. Can you talk about what you mean by that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, everybody said coming to Dover this was going to be our weakness. I didn't believe it. Like Paul said, I didn't believe it. We felt like we could come here to win.
I didn't say in my prerace meeting that I felt we were going to win the race. We certainly felt we had a great shot at it, weren't worried about our stats, weren't listening to anybody that said this track was going to be our weakness.
Q. Paul, this might be a ridiculous assertion, but I know that crew chiefs study often past races and trends coming into a weekend. When you see what's happened in the past here, would you ever be apt to tune horsepower out of an engine in the effort to ensure that you could pull off what you did on a day like this?
PAUL WOLFE: No. I think the one thing that the Penske engine shop has done a great job of is giving us the power and mileage. They haven't really given me the option to sacrifice one or the other. They've worked hard to try to get both.
I don't think there's been a race yet this year where we've given up power for mileage. So that definitely wasn't our approach coming into the weekend.
But as I monitored the race as it was playing out, understanding where some of the other cars were mileage?wise, I felt like we were as good or better than the guys running in front of us. That obviously put us in the position to run the way we did and put the pressure on the 48.
Q. Roger, are you starting to get the feeling this might be your year for the first Cup championship? I think it's surprising to a lot of people this is the only Dodge team in the Chase.
ROGER PENSKE: I think we've been representing Dodge now for 10 years. Obviously this is our last year. We want to go out on a high note. The performance to date through the Chase and all the first 28 races has been really powerful from the standpoint of the team.
You know, obviously I look up to folks like Hendrick and Joe Gibbs and Childress and Roush, the other teams that have been so good here. We've never had a chance to get to the top. We were close a couple times with Rusty.
This competition is just very, very tough. A lot of smart people. A lot of experience. I think you got to build it. I see how these other guys have done it. They haven't done it overnight. When you look at Brad, he and Paul have been able to attract the people that are giving us the performance on and off the track. Certainly Mike Nelson, Tim Cindric, the guys back at the shop, Travis, there are so many people pulling on this. They're maybe people no one knew about three or four years ago, but we sure know about them in our shop. To me that made the difference. We have to put our arms around those folks and say, Let's keep going.
Paul is a great leader. The guy that's pushing us every day is Brad. That's what we like.
Q. You talk about how this was a weak track for you. I know you ran well here in Nationwide. How much of that could you carry over here in terms of confidence, feeling you weren't as weak as people thought you were?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, Paul and I talked about it for a little while. He ran really well before I started driving for him here in the Nationwide Series. I ran really well. Together we came here and didn't run well together at all. I don't know why that was.
You ascertain your confidence to me based on your success over the last few weeks. That's really a good showing of the strength of your cars and your team. Like I said, the last 12 weeks, I think it's been 13 weeks, our cars have been really, really strong and getting stronger. It's that perspective that I carry into the race weekend and nothing else 'cause I know that's really what matters.
I could be going to my best racetrack and know that we haven't ran well over the last few weeks. That's not likely to change just because it's your best racetrack. So it's how you perform together as a team.
I can't emphasize the word 'team' strongly enough because that's what this sport is. It's easy to get caught up looking in stat books and look at drivers and forget about teams. That's what this was today, a team effort.
Q. Paul and Brad, the first caution of the race, which happened in the middle of green flag pit stops, left about six, seven, eight cars on the lead lap. As the race went on for a variety of reasons, that number never really grew that much. Were you surprised to see that, for an incident that took place, considering it happened so early in the race? Number two, how did that affect your approach to the race the rest of the day?
PAUL WOLFE: I was definitely surprised, especially with the wave?around rules, that it never cycled back around. I thought once some cautions fell in the right time, guys would wave around and get more cars back on the lead lap. It was definitely a different race than we've seen in a while.
We look at the whole race and how it's playing out of decisions we make, when we're going to pit, when we're not. Definitely with only having seven cars on the lead lap at one point, six cars at one point, definitely changes our strategy, when we're going to pit, when we're not, what risks we're willing to take.
You got to monitor the race really hard. That's part of having a good strategy. That's one thing all the guys on this team continue to do, feed me with good information so we can continue to make good decisions.
Like I said, it's not always the fastest car that wins. At this point in the season, it doesn't really matter how you get to Victory Lane, it's just getting there. That's why I'm proud of the effort today.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, it's weird how that works sometimes. I think different tracks lend themselves to it. I don't know if we got lucky. I don't know how that all worked. But it certainly changed the dynamics of the race. Some guys ended up on the bad side, some guys ended up on the good side. We were fortunate enough to end up on the good side. That's good by me.
Q. Brad, you ran the final 89 laps on one tank of fuel and were able to stretch it out but not lose speed, while the 48 went about 80% over the last 40 laps. After the race Jimmie Johnson admitted saving fuel is like his biggest weakness. How would you characterize your ability to save fuel? How much did you back off? Would you say that might be an edge you have right now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm not going to get caught too much in it. I like the strategy we have, how we do it. Certainly we're executing it very well.
But, yeah, I mean, a lot of it's on the team. It sounds great to give the credit to the driver. But the engine and the strategy makes it all work, as well.
I think you have to keep it in the context of team. This is the 20th time I've said that word, but it's for a good reason. It's how you come together as a team. Everybody can contribute this much, and when everybody contributes this much, you stack some pennies, before you know it you got a dollar, before you know it you've got 10s and 100s.
That's what it takes right now, everybody contributing at a very high level to make the effort better. I think everybody is on the same page as far as the two teams are concerned.
Q. Roger, as you noted, you've been a partner with Dodge a long time. Is it an awkward situation for you being in the lame duck situation, on an island? I'm curious what kind of support you're getting. Brad, could you follow up on what it's like to be driving specifically for Dodge this year, being in the position you're in.
ROGER PENSKE: Number one, we're certainly not on an island. Dodge has really performed with us from an engineering standpoint. They committed to us three or four years ago as we became the only team. From my perspective, we made this decision together. They didn't want to commit long?term to have drivers and people. That was one of the things we had to do in order to go forward and build this team.
I think one of the great things is that we're friends. We're a Dodge dealer. We represent a number of the brands. I think this is a partnership which sometimes they end, but I would say there has been a lot of support, both on the Nationwide side, on the Truck, also on the Cup side from them. We made the decision early on.
There's no disincentive for me, Brad or Paul or anybody on the team not to perform at the highest level. We want to be sure the people understand we got a great race team. No matter what the mark is, we want to represent them in a first?class way.
The greatest thing we could do would be to bring a championship to Dodge this year. But I'm sorry to see them get out of the Cup side. Hopefully they might do something in Nationwide. At the moment, we represent them. They're partners. We're going to do our best.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's a unique situation for sure, but one I know we're committed to making the most out of. Being in Victory Lane, one we have a shot at winning the championship with. Certainly it would be very special to do that considering the circumstances.
I can't say strongly enough how committed we are to finding a way to be successful. I like how Roger has great class and control of the situation to where everybody within Penske Racing knows that message that we're going to do the best we can for them as the year runs out.
Q. Paul, did you consider staying out and saving fuel as a safe choice or do you think you took a big risk today? Next year, will you have even less input as far as fuel mileage versus horsepower because you obviously won't have your own engine shop?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I think there's always some risk in calls like that. But we know where we stand. We know what we need to do. We understand the guys are racing right now for the championship.
I felt like we were as good as anybody on mileage. I felt like the guys we were racing, we would push them as hard as we could. At the end of the day, we don't want to make any bad decisions, but we still came here to win a race.
There's a part of me that at the end of that race I wasn't really thinking the championship as much as I was getting to Victory Lane, doing the things we've done all year to get us here. That's win races, not be scared to make some decisions that maybe some other teams wouldn't.
I'm trying not to change the thought process, the things we done to get here, as we go into this championship, try to continue to do the things and make decisions like we would leading up to these last 10 races.
That's what we did today.
About next year, it's still early on. I don't expect things to be a whole lot different next year. Right now we're staying focused on this championship, working with the engine shop, with Dodge. There's guys, like the boss said, that work hard back at the shop that are dealing with some of those things, getting us prepared for next year. Right now I'm just staying focused on trying to win this championship, and we'll worry about next year's fuel mileage next year.
Q. Brad, on a pit stop there was an apparent jack problem. You came out of the pits in front of the leaders almost a lap down, but then extended your distance from the leaders. Talk about your team's never?say?die attitude.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's really special. That's not something you see every day, I can tell you that. Like I said, that's a mentality. A lot of people can play that out as luck. In a lot of ways, you make your own luck.
That run to me was one of the most important runs of the day with the exception of obviously the last one because it showed we had a strong car, that in equal footing, equal track position, we could run just as fast if not faster than the lead group.
I was kind of hoping, to be quite honest, for more long runs to prove that out, but didn't really get it. But that was certainly a big run, like you said. It showcased the spirit that this 2 team has.
Q. About 20 laps to go, were you confident that you had the game plan? You knew the Gibbs cars would have to pit. When did you feel confident that you knew what was going on in the race, barring a yellow at the end?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I never did. I'm listening to Paul's voice. I felt confident when I crossed the checkered flag.
Why don't you answer that one, Paul.
PAUL WOLFE: We heard I don't know what lap it was that the 11 and 18 were going to go ahead and pit. The 48, we knew they were close. But understanding what their pit sequence was throughout the race, we kind of started to understand where they were at mileage?wise. We felt like if we rode right with them, once we got past the 48, we felt like then we could go into full save and monitor.
I think the 24 had pitted earlier, so he didn't have to check up.
I knew we were close, but I'm also confident in Brad's ability to save. I know he was working on that some when he was behind the 48. We knew what number lap we had to go to full save to be able to make it.
As it might look a little risky, there's definitely some thought and a process behind it of what we did. Definitely I was nervous. I don't know who wouldn't be. It's a big race, a big win. We saw the opportunity to go for it. Like I said before, I don't want to change the way we approach our racing, try to stay focused on trying to win races, and that's what we did today.
Q. Along those lines, in your mind how many miles did you have left? How close were you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't know. Probably another hundred (smiling).
Q. Without giving up any secrets, how close were you?
PAUL WOLFE: We were within a lap or two. That's kind of where everybody was at. It's hard to say exactly. We had enough to do some burnouts and whatnot. I'd say he did a great job saving, for sure.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations to Brad Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe, and team owner Roger Penske on this win here today. It's going to be seven more great race weekends. We look forward to seeing you all at Talladega.