BRAD KESELOWSKI (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge R/T)
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STRATEGY HERE AT MICHIGAN THIS WEEKEND? “Sure. You know, it’s been a good couple weeks for us over the last three or four races. We got a lot of good things going, obviously leading the wild card standings, but certainly don't take that for granted. That could go away if we don't keep performing. Last week was a big week for us, getting us up solidly in the top 20 and little bit of breathing room on 21st, so we can make sure and utilize the two wins. That was big for us. But we still got a lot of racing left, four races left ‘till the Chase starts. I really would just like to go out and win another race and wouldn't have to worry about it at all. I think that's where our focus is.
“This is a really cool race for me to come back home to Michigan. Would really like to win here and think that the way we've been performing as of late, we have a strong shot of doing it. I guess that's where our focus is. I'd like to say that we're spending a lot of time thinking about the Chase stuff, but to be quite honest, I'm really not. I'm thinking a lot about how we can win in Michigan. When you win, you don't have to worry about all that other stuff. It takes care of itself. That’s where our thoughts are.”
WAS THERE A POINT A MONTH OR SO AGO WHERE YOU THOUGHT WE HAVE TO GET THIS STUFF FIGURED OUT, WE’RE NOT GOING TO BE IN THE CHASE; DID THINGS JUST SNAP AND FALL IN PLACE? “I was really concerned after Loudon. We blew the tire at Loudon and had a terrible finish there. Really kind of fell back, I think to 23rd or something like that in points. It didn't look very good right there. It looked very, very bleak. I knew at any time we could get on a hot streak. We had shown some performance, just without the execution. I look at the Charlotte race weeks as a perfect example. Two races there, one with the All-Star, one with the 600, where I felt we were a top-five car at worst. At the end of the 600, we had the fuel mileage deal, had to check up, kind of got all tangled up and ended up finishing 20th with a car that ran in the top 10, top 5 all day. Things of that nature had been happening to us. I look at the last few weeks being good execution combined with the speed that we've had for probably the last two to three months.”
AS WE GET CLOSER TO THE CHASE, ARE YOU A LITTLE BIT MORE AWARE TO TRY TO MEND FENCES WITH ANYBODY YOU’VE HAD ANY KIND OF ARGUMENTS WITH SO THE PAYBACKS AREN’T DURING THE CHASE? “Well, I mean, I don't really know how to mend fences. There are some that I would like to mend. There's no real playbook on how to do that. I wish somebody could teach me. You know, I think mostly you just try to do right by yourself, by your team and what it means to be a competitor in this sport. Sometimes, that's going to anger others. But, you know, I'm sure there's a couple people that are not happy with me. “When you're making people angry, you're doing things right in this sport because you're running well and you're getting all you can get out of it. I'm sure there are a few that are not happy with me, but I don't think I have any that are super mad at me, which is kind of unusual for me at this time of the year. I feel good about it.”
PEOPLE SAY ROGER PENSKE IS A GREAT CAR OWNER, HAS A GREAT TEAM, BUT HE REPRESENTS PRETTY MUCH THE SOLE DODGE CONTINGENT; HAS THAT BEEN A PROBLEM? “You mean the question of Dodge having only two teams? When you look at that question, there are two different questions in there whether you realize it or not. The two different questions are, you know, one, how do you compete when your odds are lower as a manufacturer? Quite honestly, when you have two cars, you just have lower odds based against manufacturers that have eight or 10. Then there's a second question of, this is what I gather when I hear you say it, there's a second question of, can you have the same amount of resources dedicated to performance as a manufacturer that has the eight or 10 teams? So I guess if I break those two questions down in my head, I look at the odds question. Certainly Dodge is at a disadvantage from an odds standpoint. We have two to three cars or teams per weekend, whatever Robby is doing on a given weekend. In general, two to three. But you've got two teams that are competitive week in and week out. The odds are going to be lower when you compare that to Chevy or the Toyotas or Fords that have the eight to 10. So your odds are going to be lower in that fashion, no doubt about it.
“Is that going to be a disadvantage? Absolutely. That's odds. I don't think that's any different than playing blackjack, having one chip left. It's going to be tougher. But the second part of that question is, by having fewer teams and resources, is Dodge at a disadvantage? I think the answer is clearly no. I think they're better served having their pool of resources with two teams that are coherent and focused, as I feel like the 2 and 22 teams are right now at Penske Racing. I feel like that's where we're at. I feel like we have two teams that have it right, for the most part. Don't get it right every time, but got it right more times than not as of late. I think that Dodge is better served in that manner and in that fashion. I'm sure there are some people that would look at that question and see the first part, like you said, the pure odds: just more cars, your odds got to go up. But I'd rather have the hand of aces than have three hands of one pair or two pair or a full house.
“Basically, would you rather sit down at the blackjack table with three hands at 17 or with one hand at 20? I think Dodge has the one hand at 20.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE MARTINSVILLE TIRE TEST; (DALE EARNHARDT) JR. SEEMS TO LIKE THE WATKINS GLEN TIRE, BUT OTHERS LIKE A DIFFERENT LEFT SIDE? “Well, you know, quite honestly I didn't get to run as much as I'd like to run. We kind of paced ourselves quite a bit, more of a control car. Dale and those guys probably have a better feel for that. I respect their opinions, I guess, would be the best way to put it. I'll race whatever tire they bring there. I didn't see anything that was good or bad.
“I've said this to Goodyear over the last few months. We've seen major, major progress in the tires they've brought to the track compared to the couple years that I have of competition in the Nationwide and Cup Series. For that, I'm really proud of them. They've really hit some strides lately. I think that's going to serve the sport well over the next few years. I'm really interested to see what doors that opens up for the sport because, you know, you look at Watkins Glen, and the average lap time during the race was something like half a second to a second faster throughout the whole race. It's fairly obvious we've made our cars better, no doubt about it. You don't just find a second in these cars. A lot of that work comes from the actual tire that we're using. Goodyear has made huge gains. There's no doubt about that. I'm looking at that. I guess all the competitors, whether they would say it or not, are looking to NASCAR, as Carl (Edwards) did last time he sat in this chair last June, looking to NASCAR to circle back and take some of the aero grip away with the added mechanical grip to allow us to put on a better show, race side-by-side, not let the front car get the clean air and dominate.
“Goodyear has done some good work, put some time in, paid some dues, put some homework together that have made the compounds better, and I'm proud of them for that really. I'd be the first one to tell you when they're doing a bad job. I'm excited about that and where the sport is going to go accordingly if the doors that have opened up are used.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR ANKLE. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU WERE WALKING GINGERLY. DESCRIBE THE LAST FEW WEEKS? “Well, I certainly would have chose to do it without an injury, would have been a lot more fun. Probably gets a little more press than it should have. I guess I look at it and say it hurts, but things have been going well. I don't think it's because of or in spite of. I just have been kind of dealing with it, making things happen best I know how. Things have been kind of clicking.
“As a team, that feels good. It's been great to see the camaraderie that has come out of my team through the adversity, so to speak. That's been a lot of fun to see. Maybe that has been the spark we needed, maybe not. Looks good from the outside, that's for sure. I guess looking from here, my ankle's gotten a lot better. I was actually at Michigan football practice yesterday. One of the trainers had seen one of the pictures on SportsCenter and asked to take a look at it. That was pretty cool.”
WHAT DID THE TRAINER SAY? “He said it looks damn good for how it looked a week ago. It does, but it still hurts like hell. Kind of interested to see where it's going to go from there. Doesn’t feel any better, but it looks a lot better. I'm happy to be back at Michigan where it's not going to get a huge workout. Excited to say I'm going to run the race without a brace this weekend and see if I can make it through that and feel like that's going to help our performance even more.”
DID YOU GET TO MAKE IT OUT TO THE DREAM CRUISE AT ALL? “I’d love to say I made it out to the dream cruise. I was going to, but the truck race got in the way in the schedule tomorrow. I'm not going to make it. I know my crew guys are going to get together, take a van up there, raise some hell, hopefully, not get in trouble. Hopefully, consume Miller Lites responsibly. It should be good. It's something that is really a staple of the community, something they should be proud of.
“As far as Paul is concerned, I’m really happy with how that relationship has grown. I still remember two years ago when I told him, I met him here two years ago for the first time. I told him, ‘hey, look, I made this decision’ and I did, I made the decision that day that I was going to come to Penske and race. I told him, ‘hey, man, I want you to come over and crew chief my Nationwide car’. I just met him, never met him before. I walked in and talked to him, came over to my bus. Just came back from Michigan football practice. I texted him, come over and talk to us. He sat there, like he does. He's a real quiet guy. Sure some of you have picked up on that. He walked into my bus. I sat there and I told him, I'm going to move on, do this deal with Penske, there's this Nationwide program, I'm excited about it. I like what I see out of you watching you from a distance. I think you should interview for the job and I think you'd be the leading candidate. You would enjoy it and things would go really well.
“Paul, real quiet, sat and listened to me the whole time. When we were done, he looked at me straight in the face and said, ‘No, I don't think so’ and walked out. I thought, damn, this is not how this was supposed to go. He explained it to me later on. About two months later, his team went under, things weren't looking so good. He eventually took the job. I asked him, why would you say no? You didn't even really listen to me. He told me he was very loyal to the team he had, wasn't just going to jump ship if he felt like the other team could make it. I think that loyalty factor and some of the personality traits that he has we share. Some traits we don't share. There are a lot of those, as well. We have a lot of respect for each other. I enjoy working with him. He builds fast race cars which makes it a lot easier to get along with your crew chief, quite honestly. But he's a great guy. I really enjoy working with him.”