Keselowski, Dodge Charlotte 300 race report

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SRT Motorsports

Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger) Race Winner HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO STRETCH THE FUEL? “Well, I can’t tell you that (smiles). There’s a strategy and you know, Penske Racing engines, they do a great job with fuel mileage on the Dodges and they deserve a lot of credit for it. There’s only so much you can do as a driver and a lot of it comes down to the car and what it needs. Denny (Hamlin) didn’t let me save any. I can tell ya at the end he was running pretty hard and I knew he was going to be tough, both him and Kyle (Busch). They all did a great job and I had a lot of fun racing ‘em but thankfully we were able to save enough fuel. And I get what I think is one of the biggest wins of my career, to win on Memorial Day weekend and what it means to me and this country. It feels great.”

YOU SAID BEFORE THE RACE THAT YOUR CAR WAS JUST A LITTLE BIT OFF. “You’ve got to be optimistic and you’ve got to believe in your people. We’re doing all we can with this Nationwide program to bring in the most talented people we can and continue to give ‘em promotions to Cup and so forth. You know, this program is our depth at Penske Racing and it’s great to see it for these guys. They deserve to get some results and the future that it beholds for them. I’m proud to be a part of that in some way.”

THIS IS THE FIRST NATIONWIDE WIN FOR YOUR CREW CHIEF, JEREMY BULLINS. “Jeremy came to us from Richard Childress Racing and we gave him the opportunity to move up from an engineer to a crew chief and I’m happy for him, I really am. He is a hard worker and a smart guy and he deserves results like today. I’m glad to be a part of that and really everyone on this team with the Discount Tire Dodge, to work with them and to help them make their mark on their career and get future opportunities, it means a lot to me.”

YOU KIND OF TALKED HIM INTO STAYING OUT DURING THAT SECOND TO LAST CAUTION WHEN EVERYONE ELSE CAME IN. WAS TRACK POSITION THE KEY? “Well, we had a lot of wrecks. I knew we probably weren’t done wrecking and so we got a few more wrecks that helped us get into the fuel window. We were leading before that. We had a good car, probably not as good as the 18 (Hamlin) but we had a really good car and I’m glad it still worked out.”

YOU HAVE TWO WINS NOW AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY. “Good. I really wish I’d have got that Truck win in last weekend, I really do. Tomorrow would be really big, too.”

Jeremy Bullins (Crew Chief, No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger) Finished 1st WHAT WAS THAT LAST LAP LIKE FOR YOU? “Well, the last 73 were the longest 73 laps of my racing career but just so happy for this group. We’ve been close all year. We’ve been bringing good cars to the racetrack and had little thing after little thing go wrong and just so happy to put this group where it belongs in victory lane.”

Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge Challenger) Finished Ninth “We had an OK car. We lost the track-position game early. We were a good enough car and more consistent than a lot of people but we were a tenth off at the beginning and a tenth off among the best cars at the end. We might be able to gain a couple of positions on a start but then lose the positions. We need to get better track positions and give ourselves a better opportunity to race in clean air.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT PITTING WITH MOST OF THE FIELD LATE IN THE RACE? “We had to at that point. Previous to that, we had made an adjustment to make sure we weren’t on the splitter. We weren’t on the splitter but the car was super tight because of the adjustments we had taken out of the car to try and free it up and keep it off the splitter. We need to be smarter about what our car is doing before the race starts so that we don’t make so many changes throughout the race and give ourselves the opportunity to have better track position and slug it out there at the end.”

MEDIA CENTER INTERVIEWS

Keselowski: “Our car started off pretty decent. We were able to gain some positions and get up into the top five relatively early. I can’t remember exactly what lap it was and kind of leveled off there in maybe fourth or fifth, I don’t know exactly where it was before the green-flag cycle came. We pitted, put on our tires and did all that stuff when the yellow came out right at the end of the first green-flag cycle. From there, we were able to drive up and run pretty competitively behind I think it was (Kevin) Harvick with (Joey) Logano. They were both really fast and we were just kind of holding our on right there, got a long run and pitted for tires there under green. Then a yellow came out maybe 15 laps later. We made some good adjustments on the car, I feel like, and made it a little bit faster and then then kind of worked the traffic to get up to the lead with 65 (actually 67) to go. Then it was just a question of who was going to pit and give themselves that extra little bit of fuel to make sure they’re good (to the finish) and who is going to gamble. We gambled and I think it was a smart gamble. Obviously, it was a smart gamble because it paid off. From there it was just trying to hold off Kyle who was really fast and then I think it was Denny Hamlin who was coming very, very quickly. He has a little bit fresher tires from what I could tell but he was still probably the car to beat at the end. I think if it had been a few laps longer, he’d have been really tough to hold off. I’m thankful that we’re able to do it today and get the first win of the season for the Discount Tire team. It’s been since Homestead of last year, so it feels good to finally get that monkey off our back. I feel like we’ve had a couple races this year where we were close, maybe deserving, but the racing gods said no. So it’s good that they smiled on us today and we were able to execute. Everybody did their job and everything went together well.”

Bullins: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO HAVE YOUR FIRST CAREER VICTORY TODAY HERE AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY? “I guess some kids grow up and they want to play baseball or play football or whatever they want to do. My Dad started dragging me to the racetrack when I was five years old and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – sit right here and have this conversation. Pretty proud that all the years of coming to the racetrack and all the work, you know, it feels like it pays off. I’m just really thankful to have the opportunity to be part of this team. It’s a great race team and a great organization. They give us all the tools to do our jobs and today we did it.”

Keselowski: OVER THOSE LAST 30 OR SO LAPS, IF YOUR LEAD HAD BEEN HALF OF A SECOND INSTEAD OF ONE AND A HALF, WOULD YOU HAVE DRIVEN THE CAR DIFFERENTLY? “Maybe (smiles). You don’t know until you’re in that spot. I would assume so but Denny was coming pretty hard. He was going to be tough to beat if the race was just three or four laps longer. So I’m thankful that we were able to hold him off. That’s why we race ‘em; that’s the only way to find out. There wasn’t three to five laps more, so it was good.”

IS THE TIMING OF THIS WIN SPECIAL BECAUSE OF THE MEMORIAL DAY HOLIDAY? “Absolutley. You know, you’ve got three shots at winning races this weekend for Roger and Penske Racing. We’re one for one, so that’s good (smiles). I think tomorrow, my Cup car is excellent. It’s going to be tough to run with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and those guys. It always is. Anything can always go against you in a 600-mile race but all you can hope for is to have speed and for things to go your way. You can control some of the latter and all of the first. So we’ve got what I feel like is a great shot at tomorrow to get two out of three and hopefully, over in Indy, they’ll be able to pull it off. I’m happy for him, I really am. One way or another, the checkered flag at Penske Racing is going to fly this week and that’s great for the guys. Good start but a lot more work to be done. I’m happy for him and obviously Memorial Day weekend, with what it means to our country and so forth. The causes that I support does make it a little more special but I’d like to add tomorrow to it as well. I’m not satisfied and I think, like I said, we’ve got a great shot at it.”

Bullins: AFTER YOU DECIDED NOT TO PIT WITH THAT FAKE MOVE, DID THAT MAKE UP YOUR BED FOR THE REST OF THE DAY? WERE YOU NOT GOING TO RECONSIDER AFTER THAT? “Well, I think it made our bed if the race stayed green; we had no choice at that point but to gamble. I felt like at that point in the race, if we got a caution (in) another 20-30 laps the whole field would have come and got their last set of tires. We got tires one time, some guys didn’t and some guys got two tires. We were able to make our way back to the front. We felt like track position was key. We felt like if the race went green, we were close enough that it was worth the gamble and if a caution came out, we were going pit anyway so it didn’t really matter at that point.”

Keselowski: DURING THE FINAL LAPS DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING TO RUN OUT OF GAS? “No. Jeremy says we’re going to make it and if Jeremy says we’re going to make it, I believe it. That’s my job ‘til he proves me wrong (smiles).”

YOU SIGNED YOUR CREW CHIEF’S PLACARD. “You only get one first win. It’s like something else, there’s only one first time (smiles), so enjoy it.”

YOU SOUND EXTREMEMLY CONFIDENT ABOUT THE CUP CAR. ARE YOU GOING INTO TOMORROW THINKING YOU’RE THE FAVORITE? “I never go into a weekend thinking I’m the favorite because one thing this sport teaches you over and over again is when you get over-confident, it kicks you right between the legs. It’s pretty consistent about doing that. I make it a point to not think that way but I do go off of how I feel about my car versus the field and where we’ve been in the past and past experience. I think this is the most competitive car that I’ve had at this track since I’ve been in Cup. That’s something that I’m very proud of, in race trim. Obviously we were on the pole here last spring a year ago I should say and this car in race trim is much more competitive. I don’t want to use the word confident but I’m happy than I was last year, how about that, by a long ways.”

BOTH PRACTICES WERE IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY. HOW DO YOU REMAIN CONFIDENT ABOUT YOUR CAR WHEN MUCH OF THE RACE WON’T TAKE PLACE UNDER THOSE CONDITIONS? “The morning practice starts off and I think the track temp was 110 degrees and like you said, that makes it difficult. The track temp at the start of the race last year was 110 degrees. By the end of final practice, I think we were up to 140 which, like you said, is not relevant at all and does make it a challenge. You have to go off of the fact that you have a whole week here to get your cars right and to get an idea of what the track is going to do, with the All-Star race, for some the Sprint Showdown, and obviously the All-Star practice sessions. You have to kind of combine your experience of years past and the week past and that makes the All-Star race a very important weekend for being able to decipher your car for the end of the 600. There are a lot of things that can kind of help you get your way through that and navigate through that sea of hot temperatures and car variance.”

YOU NEVER LED UNTIL THE FINAL 67 LAPS. IS THAT A CONSEQUENCE OF YOUR CAR IMPROVING OR IS IT A CONSEQUENCE OF GETTING OUT FRONT? “Well, I think it’s respectfully both. Our last pit stop, we made some kind of change and it was good. Then, once you get to clean air, those two compound and gave us a little bit of an advantage that I was able to capitalize off of. That’s what this sport is all about. It’s about taking your weak moments, your weak spots, your vulnerabilities and fighting through them and minimizing the damage they cause. And it’s about taking your strengths, your advantages and maximizing them and beating everybody with an iron fist every time you get one. And we had a small advantage, obviously, like you said, with the clean air and the great fuel mileage, as well as the adjustment. We just took those three advantages and give ‘em the hammer fist and it worked out.”

KYLE BUSCH SAID THAT IT WOULD HAVE NOT BEEN POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO GET 73 LAPS OUT OF HIS LAST TANK OF GAS. HOW DID YOU DO IT? HOW DID YOU SAVE THAT MUCH GAS AND STILL HAVE ENOUGH TO DO A BURNOUT AT THE END? “Well, I’m not going to give you the how part on my end, but you look at each company and they have their strengths and weaknesses from the engine-side, whether it’s Penske engines, Hendrick engines, TRD, Gibbs, ECR and Roush Yates. And each one of them, if you kind of gridded it out, their strengths and weaknesses, they’re all different. The Dodge camp has been known for having a bit of a fuel mileage advantage over the last season and a half. I think there are other areas where we’re slightly behind, being quite honest, and so when you have the opportunity to maximize your advantage, that’s what you’ve got to do. That’s what I was talking about earlier. I think the Dodge has a slight fuel mileage advantage. Some say that’s good, some say that’s bad. I would point out that the Chevy has advantages in other areas that we don’t and so does the Ford in other areas and so does the Toyota in other areas. And they’re all close but just a little bit different and like I said, when you get those small advantages and you’re in a position to utilize ‘em you’ve got to do that. And we did that today.”

YOU’VE GOT 600 MILES TOMORROW NIGHT AFTER SCORING AN EMOTIONAL WIN TODAY. IS IT HARD TO WIND DOWN FROM THE EXCITEMENT AND EMOTION OF WINNING? “Sure. I mean, yeah, it is difficult. I’m going to go to Concord (Motorsports Park) and watch. I’ve got a couple of late models running up there so I think they’re racing tonight. I’ve got a designated driver so I’m going to have some fun with that (laughs) and hopefully one of ‘em will win.”

Bullins: BRAD PUT FAITH IN JEREMY FOR HIS CALL AND YOU GUYS TALKED IT OUT. HOW MUCH FAITH DID YOU HAVE IN THAT DECISION AT THAT TIME? “At that point, I knew two things: I knew from the earlier green flag stop scanning other teams that we had a few lap advantage of when we could go and when they were going to come. So we felt like we were getting, as Brad said earlier, respectable fuel mileage compared to the field. And the other part of it is just confidence in him, that I asked him to save some fuel that he can do that and having raced against him in the past, I’ve seen him do it. There was no doubt in my mind that if I said I need this much he was going to do everything he could to get it and it all worked out. It was just one of those things where we needed a certain number of laps of caution and we got one more than we needed.”

THE TIRES DIDN’T LOOK LIKE THEY WERE WEARING THAT BADLY. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A GREAT DEGRADATION IN THE RUNS THAN WE CURRENTLY HAVE? “We got a little bit of wear on the rights, really not a lot of wear on the left. There was some fall-off over the run and lap time but I don’t know that I would blame it on degradation of the tire. And the second part of your question, I think that can go a couple of ways. Goodyear does a good job of giving us tires that we can race on and not having to worry about wearing them out to the point of failure, so I think there’s a fine line there. Some of the best races we have are racetracks where the tires fall off. Atlanta is one of my favorite places to go all year and everybody is slipping and sliding around because the tires do wear out. You walk a fine line there.”

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Series NASCAR-NS
Tags dodge, hornish, keselowski, penske, srt