NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference Kansas Speedway
An Interview With Brad Keselowski, Roger Penske And Paul Wolfe
THE MODERATOR: We have the race winning team for the inaugural STP 400 at Kansas Speedway; Brad Keselowski drives the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing; Crew Chief Paul Wolfe. With this win, I want you to know you've now qualified for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I didn't think of that one. That's four years in a row. We'll take that.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, talk about this win. You were getting high marks from Dale Jr and Hamlin. Not only your ability to conserve gas but your ability to take it down to the wire there.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, well, you know, it was a team victory today. We had Kurt Busch, my teammate, who led the majority of the race from what I could see, and had good speed and the 2 car had great speed as well. We just kind of caught a bad break on qualifying when we went out.
But it's a team effort. Kurt had him covered on speed. We had him covered on strategy. And together one of us two was going to win. And I'm proud in general that it was a Penske car that won. So hot day today.
Long, tiring, and it feels good to soak in a victory and a beer and some water afterwards. And be sitting here in front of you with a trophy and some great guys in victory lane.
THE MODERATOR: Roger, congratulations on this win today. Talk about how it all played out for you.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, it's great to see Dodge back in the winner circle, and certainly you know with Brad came on point with us last year, and we put Paul Wolfe as a combination crew chief and driver, and 13 races now they've got a victory.
Exactly to me it's what we worked on. We didn't get the finishes we want. We could always say we had bad luck last week. We were in third place getting ready to go on that restart and Kasey Kahne ran out of gas, when we got in that wreck. But I think it's a credit to Paul Wolfe and Brad.
They're talking all the time. There's working, there's nobody more committed. The good news is to hear Kurt say even though he really wanted this win to say it was great for the team and that we finally think we have a combination that we can run on the mile and a halfs, because we struggle on the mile and a halfs.
THE MODERATOR: Also with this win today, Brad moves up to 21st in place in points, one out of 20th, and that's certainly key in this wildcard berth situation. So Paul Wolfe, crew chief, this is your first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Let's talk about how it happened.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, obviously being my first win, really excited about all the effort that's been put in so far. And to be able to get the Miller Lite Dodge to victory lane was pretty special today.
Brad and I talked I think this week or the week before that, man, if we just keep putting ourselves in the top 10, it's not always the fastest car that seems to be winning these races. So we've kept working on our program since the beginning of the year.
It was kind of embarrassing of how we ran at California and Vegas earlier in the year. So to see the progress that we've made and put ourselves in position to win these races now just says a lot about all the hard work and everything that's going on at Penske Racing. One point in the race, I don't know, we were still running 15th and Kurt was out there leading the race, and it was pretty cool, because we knew what the leader had in his car, we knew what he had.
It's just been a good team effort here of late, just really trying to understand how to get these cars better and running similar geometries and front ends has definitely helped I think both of us to get our cars better.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Brad, in the media center somebody said nobody's going to call Brad Keselowski's name until he's winning the race. Sounds like you felt a little stunned yourself to find yourself in that position at the end.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I don't know. I didn't see the coverage. But I know that -- I didn't know I was leading until two laps to go. Kind of stretched my neck out, barely caught the scoring pile to see I was leading, I was instantly mad at my guys for not telling me, but you get over that pretty quick when you cross the start/finish line first.
We'd been doing everything we could to save gas. It didn't really affect me whether I knew I was leading or not. It was probably really smart of them not to tell me that because I probably would have drove it really, really hard.
It all worked out at the end, and they talk about you when you're in victory lane, that's all that matters.
Q. Earlier you said it's easier for guys to run in the middle to conserve fuel you're not up there pushing for the lead. Is that kind of how things played out for you today?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes and no. I was pushing really hard the run before and drove up to seventh or eighth place I think it was. And we were a legitimate probably top 5 car. We needed to get the clean air to be a car to win the race. I quite honestly felt like Kurt and I were pretty equal. It was just a matter of being up front and having the right track position.
So I got used to that pretty quickly ...
But you know we didn't qualify as well as we'd like to. So we never really found that. So like I said, Kurt had him covered on speed. We had him covered on strategy. And at the end a Penske car was going to win and that's just what happened.
Q. Either Paul or Brad, at what point in the race did you guys consciously make the decision that you were going to try to stretch the fuel mileage and go for it, and once you made that, how concerned were you that a caution would come out and all that would be thrown out the window?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Hell, I wasn't sure. I didn't know what was going on. I'd like to know.
PAUL WOLFE: Around lap 2, we knew we could make it to two 10 from there we were close to being able to make it the rest of the way.
As guys started pitting, we kind of -- I kind of looked at where our lap times were, and it seemed like we started picking up a bunch of speed there. I don't know if we got some clean air or what.
But it was almost a no-brainer for me because we were only losing three to four tenths to the guys on new tires where normally when guys start short pitting seems like you're losing over a second a lap and you just lose so much track position.
But it was like as everybody started peeling off and pitting we just kept getting faster and faster, and we were still running mid I guess 33s or whatever it was, and guys were running low 33s.
And it was like, well, we're not losing much, so it got us in a position where there were so many cars a lap down, even if the caution came out, we were still sitting okay. It was almost a no-brainer for me once I saw how much speed we had in the clean air.
Q. Brad, a lot of guys were talking about what they did to deal with the heat, whether it was a bag of ice, a cold rag, a bunch of bottled waters. Number one, how bad was the heat for you? What did you do to deal with it? And number two, what did the heat do for you on the track? Carl loved it and Dale Junior hated it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Nobody loves it. Some people tell you they love it just so they can look tough. (Laughter). But I don't know anybody that really loves it. But there's a part of that certainly plays in. You know, obviously how you condition yourself and so forth. And I don't really want to go into any details on that.
But I've been coming to Kansas for a long time. Used to be I ran the truck race here every June and July. So I got used to that pretty quickly, back five, 10 years ago, it wasn't that long ago I was working with my mom and dad and coming to these racetracks, and outside all day and the air conditioner never worked so I guess I built a little toughness to the hot Kansas weather and certainly being from the Midwest, you get toughened up by some people that don't own air conditioning.
But it all worked out. And it's not easy. I can tell you that. You lose weight. And when you lose weight you get drained down physically. And it seems like that pulls you down mentally. When you get tired physically, you make mental mistakes. When you get tired mentally you make physical mistakes.
And they all play into each other, but that's why we're all driving these cars, because it's not easy. And we're working hard to do the best we can at it. And that's what it takes to find yourself in victory lane at the end of the day, and to get in victory lane you have to run a no-mistake race. And that's what we did today.
Q. Does this feel like you're starting over from scratch? Paul how much do you share with the 22 car?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, as far as starting over from scratch, I sat down the other day and was thinking about it, I guess it was at the start of the year, and I think I've been in Cup for two and a half years. I'm almost to seven crew chiefs, from doing the partial deal with Hendrick. Partial deal with Phoenix Racing, and I'm sure there was one or two others in there I can't remember.
And it's been a lot of people. And we're finally hitting on a good combination here with Paul and I. And we're on the same wavelength, and that's really what matters the most.
PAUL WOLFE: As far as the information sharing between the teams, it's definitely obvious that we do share all the information. I think you can see that in how well both cars ran today. And it seems like here of late like I said we've found -- we've made some gains, and I think it showed up in both cars.
And we'll continue to work together to make each of us better, and that's kind of how it's supposed to work. And I feel like the relationship between Steve and I and our communication's real well. And between the drivers, I think this says a lot for Brad and the respect that he deserves, and I'm sure Kurt gives him now, he's proven that he's as good as anybody out there.
Q. Obviously a big win because it put you in the wildcard for the Chase. But this win moves you to 25th, 21st to points you need one more spot. What's the outlook for getting (indiscernible)?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I have the boss telling me seven points. It's certainly doable. It makes you certainly look back at races like Daytona and Talladega here earlier in the year where we wrecked out and those are wildcard races. We've hit the bad side of the wildcard. Just one or two of those races back and we're easily in the top 20. But that's not the way it is.
So we've caught some bad breaks over the last few weeks that have kept us out of it. And certainly we caught a good one today. So at the end it will all average out. If we deserve to be in it we'll get in it. If we don't, we won't. But right now we're on a good path to deserve to be in it. That's really what matters the most to me.
I'm a big fan for the rule NASCAR implemented putting winners in the last two spots. I think that serves the sport very well. And hopefully we'll be able to capitalize on it. But there's no guarantees of that. I feel pretty confident that it's going to take really two wins to guarantee your way into it.
So obviously we've got to do this again, and that ain't easy. So I like the system. And I feel good about our chances. We just gotta keep moving forward and that's what it's all about.
Q. On that last run, how much fuel did you actually save? What was your normal expectation for a fuel run and how much did you have to save to get six or seven laps out of that last --
PAUL WOLFE: We were only about three-quarters of a lap short. So we didn't need to save much. But the way it played out, there was nobody really pressuring us. So we went into really conservative mode. And I can't really answer how much Brad thinks he saved. Only he knows that.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I didn't save any.
PAUL WOLFE: We knew it wasn't -- it really wasn't close. I didn't feel it was a very big gamble. We had ourselves in a pretty good position.
Q. Paul, earlier you said that you noticed lately that the fastest car has not always been winning lately. Do you see that? Is that just a coincidence, or do you see more of that taking place as perhaps more teams are taking gambles in order to do what you guys are trying to do, which is get in the Chase, not necessarily through the top 10 in points?
Everybody just fights the same thing.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I mean, it might be a little of both, guys taking gambles or whatnot. But like Brad said, everything has to be perfect to win one of these races.
So when I say the fastest car doesn't always win, I mean you can have the fastest car but if you don't have good pit strategy or you don't keep yourself out of trouble or put yourself in situations, it really doesn't matter.
So what I've seen is if you can put yourself in the top 10, you give yourself a chance, at least. And we feel like that's what we did today. And I think our car is maybe a little better than what it showed.
We did put ourselves in the top 10, but I think if we could have been up, you know, the farther we got up the faster we got. It's just so hard with these cars, you know, when you're back there in traffic, to see what speed they really have. Everybody just fights the same thing.
Q. We had about well over a thousand ethanol producers and corn growers here and American Ethanol was in the spotlight. And I wanted to get the perspective from each of you about using 15 percent ethanol blend. In terms of strategy, in terms of fuel efficiency, and in terms of using a domestically-produced fuel in such an American event like NASCAR.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think you have to applaud NASCAR and the efforts they have on the Green initiative. I know there's some fancy word for it. The NASCAR Green initiative, isn't it called something?
THE MODERATOR: The Green initiative.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, that program. But I thought it had some really cool name. You guys need to work on a really cool slogan. But I think you've got to applaud them for pulling that rope and working really hard on that.
And it's just an added benefit that it's something that comes from America. I guess I didn't even know that. I guess I should have known that. But that's really cool.
PAUL WOLFE: It really hasn't changed as far as the performance side hasn't changed a whole lot. The fuel mileage has changed a little bit. But it's the same for everybody.
So it seemed to work out, be pretty good fuel for us today. So we're just excited that we can be part of it.
ROGER PENSKE: I think if we look at oil and availability of fuels as we go forward, the opportunity to combine petroleum products with this product, ethanol, I think is going in the right direction.
And NASCAR has been committed many years ago to look at these opportunities. And we spent a lot of time on our dynamometers getting the engine back to power. But at this point the reliability is there, the fuel mileage is there, and you can see the performance. So I think it's a win-win for everyone.
Q. Brad and Roger, can you quantify the improvement in this team from 2010 to 2011? And then for all three, from February to now, and how much better can you get?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, you know, it's interesting. You grade your team probably every week. And I think that you've got to be committed to stay on track. And I think one of the things that we've done with Brad and Paul, and obviously with Kurt and Steve, we said, look, we're going to stay on track here.
... overall it's just a lot of hard work.
It's so easy to get going in a different direction. You see something that another team is doing and you go back and forth. And I think we've pretty much stayed together. I think the integrity and the transparency that Paul talked about, you know, with the 22 car has really paid off.
And the cars are better. The drivers, obviously the more that Brad runs in this series, he's going to get better. You can see it. His restarts, the way he's coming in the pits here. I watched it today.
The pit crews, this pit crew today, when you look at it, we started 25th. Just every stop we moved up. So I heard him say on the radio one time it's a lot easier to pass in the pits than it is on the racetrack and you could see that.
So I think it's working in a number of areas. The engines -- we've had good power. We need more. And we need better handling. But these guys are testing every single week. That's one of the things that I am always concerned about with NASCAR is that we can't test at the tracks that we race on so we spend all this money to go to other tracks, and we would have a much better chance, better show, if we could test at the track. So that's one of the things, if you're a team trying to get to the front, it's so difficult, you gotta use simulation, and that doesn't really give you all the factors that you have on a day where the temperature's going up, you've got clouds coming over, correct, and overall it's just a lot of hard work.
We've got 350 people that are committed to these two guys and these two teams, and Paul has brought a commitment to probably that we've never had in detail. And he just won't let us up. And he got a payoff today for doing that.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I forgot what the question was. I was listening to him speak. I was motivated.
Q. The improvement from 2010 to 2011 and the improvement from February to now.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That was a good speech, by the way. It was really good. Yeah, we're getting somewhere. It's going to take time. I think the biggest thing that everybody seems to overlook in this deal is you look at the average driver age, and some of you guys have heard me speak about this, some of you haven't. And we saw about five to 10 years ago a complete reset in the driver pool.
I think you should really look at that. I think you turn on a race from 10 years ago, and look at who was on the track, who was driving. And you're only going to find less than 15 of those drivers on there.
And those are drivers that were young at that time. They were the Jeff Gordons, whoever you called young at that time.
And so I think what we're seeing is you're seeing a very loaded field of youth, talent, experience. And to come in as a driver, like I have myself over the last year or two, is an uphill climb. It's a real uphill climb.
With the new car coming in, the lack of testing, the fact that there's so many good drivers out there right now. So it's a huge uphill climb to catch them. And then let alone beat them.
So for any driver to -- the measuring stick -- what I'm trying to say is the measuring stick of success for a new driver like myself or a Joey Logano or Trevor Bayne is different than what it's ever been.
And it's going to take -- I told someone the other day that the true determining factor of our success from a timeline perspective, for me at Penske Racing, really isn't, in my eyes, even this year.
I'm sure the sponsors want it to be right now. But the measuring stick for success for drivers before was one to two years. The measuring of success for new drivers now, I think it's more like three to five years because of that. It's going to take you longer to figure out these racetracks, to figure out these cars.
I'm proud of where we're at ...
So I'm excited to see where we're going to be over the next year or two. I've seen a lot of progress in our team. And I'm really, really encouraged.
But we have more room to continue to progress. I have a lot of room to continue to progress. And I think that we can continue to do that.
And you know even on an added note of that, I think people are going to look 10, 15, 20 years from now look at Jimmie Johnson and Chad and say they were maybe the best team ever and it took them five years to win their first championship.
So I think you gotta put all those things in perspective and realize how far we've come just in two years here at Penske Racing. Paul and I, how far we still have to go, but we've come a long ways, we have a ways to go. I'm proud of where we're at and we're going to keep working and moving forward.
Q. Maybe all three of you can answer this for me. I don't have it in front of me but I believe the farthest back anybody's ever come to win a race here at Kansas speed was 21st. And today three of the top 4 were I think, Jeff Gordon was 22nd and he finished fourth. Now is that because of the race is in June, is it the weather, coincidence? What do you think the reason is?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The qualifying platform for this weekend really put a jumble in everything with we saw the morning was the quicker place to go out. And the faster cars didn't run slow enough to get a morning qualifying time. And then we got a lot of sun in the middle of qualifying, which was where we qualified, and I think Dale Junior and those guys qualified as well.
And it played against us pretty good. And we were lucky to overcome that. And then cloud cover came over at the end of qualifying and guys started to take back off again. So I think it's more a reflection of what we saw on Friday, which is why Fridays are so important or Saturday, I should say. That's why qualifying and all that is so important.
And just qualifying and the way it was set up this week was certainly a large part of that.
Q. Question for Paul and Roger. Paul, as you teeter on this top 20 with the one win, trying to get up higher in points, how might that influence future decisions the rest of the summer, whether to gamble or not in the sense of getting points or going for the win? And Roger, I know you talked about the improvements that your organization has made, the continual efforts, but certainly I think a lot of people would look at, would wonder if there's been more of a jump since Kurt's comments after Richmond, has there been enough time to have some of those changes be seen and make an impact at this point? Are we still seeing the changes or things that you guys were doing months ago?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I don't think that anyone making comments publicly or internally are going to turn the team around in two or three weeks.
I think Paul would probably be the best to answer that. I mean, he's seen the meetings. He's listened to what we're trying to do. He's been a great contributor to the things that we're trying to make better.
Remember, when you've got two drivers and probably 30 cars that you can't just do things overnight, because we don't run the same car like we do on the IndyCar side. And I think it's progress.
I think we're starting to see it now ...
It's the crew chief and the driver working together. I think it's the transparency between the two teams. We've added more engineering capability this year. I think we're starting to see it now that we didn't have last year.
But this is 13 races. Remember, we've got another, what, 13 to go before we get into the Chase. So if we're sitting six or seven points out and we're starting to see some momentum here, I think that he's got a great chance to get in. And Kurt's sitting obviously in sixth position now or seventh, I think.
PAUL WOLFE: And, honestly, I don't feel like staying out today was a huge gamble. But I think at this point we just want to continue to put fast race cars out there. And I think you put yourself in victory lane, that will take care of the points, and it kind of -- one works with the other as far as like Brad said it's probably going to take another win to get that spot.
So I think we just keep approaching it like we have and that's trying to make our race cars faster and when you do that the results come.
Q. Roger, despite everything that's been said during the course of the season, Kurt remains the only driver, I believe, that has been in the top 10 in points every week. Considering all that, what does that speak for -- and the problems and the progress that you guys made, what does that speak for what he's been able to accomplish?
ROGER PENSKE: I think when you look at the performance of the 22 team, you look at the big tracks, we were strong. We got in accidents there. The consistency, I think, of -- the reliability. And Kurt's a fantastic driver. I don't think that people realize how good he really is and sometimes it's going to be the best horse. And sometimes sitting here sometimes he doesn't realize the horse he's on he's got to tame it to get it to go where he needs it to go.
It's like today at the beginning of the race, he was concerned about his car and I think the splitter was hitting the ground really, and all of a sudden the tire pressure has come up and he took off like a shot past the leaders and went on and led most of the lap. I think it's a learning curve. And I think his confidence now with Brad being able to show the speed and Paul working with Steve has made a huge difference. And it's chemistry and every team. And it's just one driver, one crew chief who can make the difference in a big team. I think it's working together.
You've seen it at Roush and Hendricks and Gibbs.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.