NASCAR Media Conference
November 15, 2012
KRISTA VODA: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion comes down to just two men, one trying to win the title for the sixth time, the other for the very first time.
RUSTY WALLACE: I'll tell you, both these contenders have drove their cars to the limits. They have drove harder than I've ever seen anybody drive in a long time. And in the process it seems like they've created a rivalry and formed an already compelling season together. So this is going to be something I can't wait to watch. I really don't know if these guys get along at all, do they? We'll have to see.
KRISTA VODA: Our Sprint Cup season started back in February under the lights in Florida on a Monday night, and will end in November under the lights once again in Florida.
RUSTY WALLACE: The ninth Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season highlighted a former champion and a potential future champion, and now in week 36 of the season, something has got to give, and in my opinion, it will.
KRISTA VODA: Welcome, please, our second place driver coming into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400, the five‑time champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie Johnson.
RUSTY WALLACE: And here's our championship points leader in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Brad Keselowski, driver of the No.2 Miller Lite car.
KRISTA VODA: Jimmie, a somewhat strange position for you this weekend because in four out of five years you've won the championship you've come into Homestead leading the points. Now similar to 2010, you come in as the chaser. I know the answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway: Can you pull off another late‑race comeback?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I definitely think it's possible. You look at our bad luck last weekend, there's still a race here, and there's still tires on these race cars, and something can happen there. There's still a lot of very tough competition on the track. This just isn't any other race; this is the championship race, and there's a lot that comes with that.
I'm very optimistic. I think that we'll have a very fast race car, and we'll go out onto the racetrack and do all that we can each and every lap of every practice session qualifying and race, and see how things play out.
I find another point of motivation and optimism, we look at the IndyCar championship and how it unfolded at Fontana. It seemed like it was a lay‑up race, and things can happen. This is racing. I think either way we'll be in good shape. We'll have a fast race car and go out and race hard, and then if some luck comes our way, we'll hopefully be ready to capitalize on that, as well.
RUSTY WALLACE: Brad, I'm trying to stay neutral here, there's no doubt about that, but you know I've got a special affinity for that No.2 car. That's also been a very special car for me. And I think about Roger Penske a lot, never winning a NASCAR Cup title, coming close many times, though. What would it mean for you to be the first guy to bring home that title for Penske and that entire group?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, to win a championship for Roger would certainly be a huge accomplishment considering everything he's been through in American motorsports and beyond. You look at his legacy in the sport and you can't help but feel that he's been a little bit slighted on the NASCAR side. We'd like to get that job done, and I think we have the opportunity to do it. I think we have the team and car, and it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together.
And so far that's happened this year. There's no guarantee that will continue to happen, but I think you look at trends and you try to label how things can happen, and there's a very strong possibility.
For us it's about focusing on getting the job done and trying not to think about all those other things, whether it's what it means or what obstacles lie ahead. It's about just focusing on what we need to do, and the history books and the life lessons and so forth, those things will work their way out in the end if you just get the job done, and I think that's where our focus is.
RUSTY WALLACE: We're going to bring back up Kerry Tharp.
KERRY THARP: For our final segment here today at the championship contenders' press conference, we've got questions for Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.
Q. Jimmie, given the deficit, do you feel like you have to root for something bad to happen to Brad, or would you consider roughing him up in order to put him back somewhere in the back of the field?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think that to think that a top‑15 finish is a lay‑up is tough. This garage area is tough, the weight of this race, I don't care who you are, it'll show up at some point in time and thoughts will run through your head, and with all that being said, a 15th place finish is not a lay‑up for these guys. So I have a little bit of stock in that, and we'll see how they respond. Their trends this year have been strong, but this is a different race.
Then as far as the luck category, we were unlucky as anybody can be. There's that element that exists out there, and we'll just see where it all unfolds. There's a line of racing hard, to answer your final part of your question, and we both have proven we're willing to race hard, and I certainly am willing to race hard down here. It's not my style to go drive through somebody and create the opportunity; that's not me. So I'm going to race as hard as I possibly can and see where things fall.
Q. This question is for Brad: At the beginning of the season you did something spectacular with social media. You had your phone in your car and during the red flag at Daytona you were able to tweet and it was on Twitter, it was going crazy, people were following you like crazy and it was trending nationwide and it made a big impact on the sport. Coming into last weekend, you got fined for having your phone in your car, so my question is will you still bring it into your car for this race, or what do you think that means for the future of being able to tweet or be a part of Twitter and the social media world during a red flag at the race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think your first part was would I put it in my car this weekend? Was that your first question? You've got two questions. He earned two questions. I don't know, you haven't got two questions. You've got to pick one. Which one do you want?
Q. What does it mean for the future of‑‑
BRAD KESELOWSKI: What does it mean for the future? I'll answer that one. That's a good one. I think it means that you can still be involved in social media, but I think NASCAR has certainly said that they want to draw a line as to what you can do specifically in the car, and I think that's what it means for the future.
Q. Both of you know what the scenarios are. Will you have your teams let you know how you stand, or is that too much to think about during the race? Do you want to know where the other guy is, how many positions you've got to get, or do you kind of wait until you get down to the last 50 laps to start thinking about stuff like that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, I don't really know how to answer it. I guess you could look at it that way, but you know if you go out there and run well, at least from my position, that it all takes care of itself. With maybe the exception of the last lap or two, I've got a pretty good idea of where I'm at on the racetrack, or I should, and that stuff works its way out if we're in a good position.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just to add to that, if we get to the end of the race and they're not having the day that they would hope to have, that information could‑‑ it's really probably not going to change anything that I do. I still need every spot I can get on the track. But I'm sure information will come in, and even if it isn't specific, I can tell‑‑ I will be able to tell by the tone in Chad's voice if we're in the good or the bad. (Laughter.)
Q. As the psych major or the pretend psych major of the group, Jimmie, I can't help but notice you brought up the IndyCar championship and what happened there. You said a top 15 finish is no lay‑up. It seems you're kind of tweaking it a little bit, maybe intentional, maybe not, and we know from the past, I guess, two championships you guys messed with Denny a little bit up there, Carl got a little rattled from Tony. Maybe you're doing it on purpose, maybe you're not. Is that the intent, to put the weight on Brad? And Brad, you seem to just be sitting there square‑jawed looking straight ahead. Are you too dumb to know any better?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Wow, I thought Jimmie was going to be tough. Dang. Jimmie, you've got a lot of work to do to catch up with her.
Q. And I mean that, with all due respect. (Laughter.)
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think you've watched "Talladega Nights" too much.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, of course I'm going to find points that give myself motivation and my team, and if there's anything I can do, and Brad, if you'd like me to call later and remind you of any other examples, I certainly can, of guys that didn't pull off the season finale as they would hope.
But one thing I've learned is that regardless of how experienced anyone is in this championship battle, at some point the magnitude of it hits you. At some point, he may be very comfortable and calm now, it may not happen until he's in the car, but at some point that magnitude hits, and I've lived through it five times. That's a turning moment, and we'll see how he responds. It also carries over to guys changing tires. There's some point where every member on that race team goes, this is it, this is what I've worked so hard far. I'll be glad to point out those moments as needed.
KERRY THARP: Brad, do you have any rebuttal there?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think my question is how dumb am I.
Q. Roger has seen Will Power fall victim to it four times, so what are you doing to not let this rattle you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: This, as in the opportunity to win a championship? Well, I think that it's not something that you can really answer in a sense that's easy for this group to understand. I mean, sorry, maybe that was a jab back. I've been listening to too much Tony Stewart.
But I think it comes from the people that you're surrounded by and how comfortable they are, and that comes into your own world, and I can tell you that the group that I have and that I'm surrounded by, whether it's in my personal life or professional life, they're not known for being very rattled in these opportunities, in these positions, and I think that's probably the biggest thing that you can do is be surrounded by people that share that same passion that you have but also put out a level of calmness that is somewhat addictive.
I feel like if you look at Paul, Paul is pretty stone‑faced, and that's his style. He's not a real emotional guy, and certainly you cue off of that, just like Jimmie was saying he does with Chad, and there's other guys. You look at Roger, Roger is the same way. You're not going to see Roger showing a bunch of emotion even if we do win it. He's going to be very stoic, as he always is, which is great.
And my family life, personal life is the same way, whether it's my dad or mom, when they have their successes, they're certainly very passionate and happy for them, but they're also very quiet and very capable of moving forward and looking forward to not get too caught up in the moment.
For me I guess the best way to answer is I'm relying on the people I'm surrounded by.
Q. The points, and as Jimmie stated, 15th place finish is not a lay‑up. When you start crunching numbers, if you will, approaching the race, how much of that do you do in terms of affecting your mindset, in terms of affecting your approach to the race? I assume it doesn't change, but I also think that it's human nature not to think about, hey, I've got a pretty good shot here.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I haven't crunched a lot of numbers to be honest, not those types. I can tell you what kind of fuel mileage we're going to get, but I've got no idea about the trends and patterns of the average finish and so forth, but I know if we go out there and just do our job, everything will take care of itself. To put your focus on those other things is just another distraction that doesn't serve the goal that we have. So I haven't done it.
Q. Brad, no pressure on you, but you'd be the first Michigan‑born driver if you win on Sunday to claim the Sprint Cup title. How does it make you feel, obviously pretty proud I'd guess, Detroit needs a boost, the Tigers lost the World Series. How does that all play in?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, I'd be glad to help out. How about that? You know, obviously I'm very proud of the roots that I have back in Michigan and specifically in the metro Detroit area, and have strong roots still to the area with my family living there and car owner, who's based out of the Detroit area. I think it would be a very powerful moment for sure, at least for me and hopefully for the area and the community.
So anything that we can do to serve that just plays into some of the heritage of our team and makes us stronger.
Q. When you think back to Rochester Hills and that little white cinder block shop that your dad raced out of and your grandfather raced out of in Michigan, when you think back to all of that and how far you've come, and it could have gone the other way, you could be where Brian is right now, what does that mean to you? What will that mean to the Keselowski family who's really scraped to get where you are today?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it's hard to speak for everyone in my family, and I don't want to pretend to do that. But I also know that I have somewhat of a read on them, and it's kind of funny when you brought that up, my brother, I was thinking about the parallels between Jimmie and I and our brothers and where we're at in sports, and we both want to see them be successful, and obviously that hasn't worked out for them as far as being a race car driver at this level.
Both of us probably want to see that happen. But it's not easy. It's a difficult balance. I know my brother is planning on coming down here for the weekend on Sunday, or I should say for the day on Sunday, and that's going to be great. Glad to have him here, or any family for that matter. And I think if you know the personal relationship that my brother and I have, you would understand why that's such an accomplishment for him to be here Sunday.
So I think that probably speaks more volumes than anything else as to how my family is feeling that, those moments. You know, my dad is the type of guy that would probably never tell you good job to your face, but if he spoke to you or did an interview with you, he'd say, wow, man, you've got to see what Brad has done, it's great and I feel awesome about it. I have to rely on those outside things, those nuances, so to speak, so it's good to see him, as well, at the racetrack this weekend and my brother and my mom and so forth, sister is coming out. So that makes me feel like it really means a lot to them.
Q. Jimmie, you said that at some point the magnitude hits you for everybody, and it affects the contenders in some way. A few weeks ago Dale Earnhardt Jr. said about Brad Keselowski that he's so mentally tough he didn't think he was going to crack. Is there something you see from Brad that makes you think otherwise, and what happens in that moment when the magnitude does hit you? How do you respond to it? What makes that championship mettle that you need to win a championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, me trying to explain what it's like and how I've handled it would probably be kind of stupid of me right now, so I'm going to not answer the second part of your question.
The first part is the magnitude sets in at some point. I mean, he just answered a question about family, and I've been there, and I've been the guy leading the points, and people are so curious to know all these what‑ifs, what if it happens, and you're forced to answer questions that you're not used to answering, that you don't want to answer, and it builds through the course of the week.
Again, it hits everybody differently, and there's no guarantees how it'll hit him. But I know from my own experience that there have been those moments. Fortunately I responded well to them. We'll see how the weekend goes.
Q. Brad, this question is for you: You've said all along you're going to come here, you're going to win it, you really only have to finish 15th. How do you change your mindset from being the go‑all‑out kind of driver you are to maybe kind of being conservative and playing it safe?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You don't. One of my favorite movies in the whole wide world is this documentary on Ayrton Senna, and there's this really powerful scene in that movie that sticks with me when I think about this weekend. I think about this scene in the movie when they talked about him at Monaco, which was his ‑‑ just his phenomenal track that he was so strong at and how he had this huge lead over his teammate at the time, obviously had an identical car, which showcased what kind of talent Ayrton had, and they were coming down to the closing laps of the race, and they told him to slow down, you have a huge lead, don't worry, just slow down, just‑‑ and he wrecked.
And I think of that as I approach this weekend. I'm going to go out there and play my game, race my way. That's got us to this point, and if we do that, we'll be fine, and I think that's our approach.
Q. Jimmie has played little head games on you here, and you said you're relying on people and you're going to race your race this weekend, but what I want to know, this is the championship you're going after, the best of the best in racing. How does this weekend feel different, and if it doesn't, why?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I've been going for the championship all my life, and specifically this particular one for the last nine races. So Homestead pays the same amount of points as Chicago did and the same amount of points that Martinsville did when Jimmie won. It's the same, and there's no reason to change that approach, and that's why I feel that way.
KERRY THARP: This concludes our formal part of the Q&A with Jimmie and Brad.
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