NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Food City 500
Topics: Food City 500
March 18, 2012
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right now into our post race for the winning team for today's Food City 500 here at Bristol Motor Speedway. Our race winner is Brad Keselowski. He's joined by his crew chief Paul Wolfe. This is Brad's second straight win at Bristol. He won the late summer race here at Bristol. This is his fifth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Today he led a career‑best 232 laps. His previous single race high was 89 laps at Bristol last August.
Congratulations, Brad. You were in here Friday, I believe, talking about your foundation, also talking about racing here at Bristol. Certainly this has become a racetrack where you are very, very good.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, what can I say? I love Bristol and Bristol loves me.
It's a great track that really demands a hundred percent out of a driver and out of a team. Today my team certainly delivered. You could probably argue whether or not I did (smiling). But it was good.
Great pit stops. Had a little bit of damage early on in the race, got it fixed. Nobody panicked. It's tough racing that requires so much discipline mixed in with some aggression obviously.
My guys, they made it happen today. I told somebody before the race, This is the best race car I've ever had in Cup. It showed off today. Hopefully we can have more cars like this and we'll win more races and continue to move the needle forward.
I've said in pre‑season this year that the goal here at Penske Racing is to win a Sprint Cup championship. That's where we're all pushing. One win certainly doesn't achieve that, but it's a great step. I know I'm committed to it. I know this guy next to me is committed to it.
I feel very good about that. Always feels good to get them steps in. We're making some headway. So we're going to keep pushing. Really proud of this one, for sure. This is our earn‑it place. Ain't no doubt about that. Happy to earn it.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Paul Wolfe, congratulations on today's win. Talk about some of the moves you made on pit road and over the weekend that helped contribute to this race win.
PAUL WOLFE: Obviously coming into the weekend we felt like we had somewhat of a baseline with getting the win here last fall. So from a setup standpoint we were real close.
Everybody's worked hard back at the shop and we've continued to build better racecars each time we come to the racetrack. I think that was key. There was no way we could bring back the same racecar and setup we won with in the fall and expect the same result.
I'm proud of all the effort back at the shop. We continue to push to make our racecars better. Those guys have responded. I think that's obviously part of the reason we were able to come out here today and win like we did.
As far as the race, got down to the end. Probably the toughest decision of the race for me was whether or not we should pit or stay out there on that late caution, you know. I have a great race engineer Brian Wilson that definitely helps me make some of those tough decisions.
Looking at where we were at in the race, the speed we had in our car, we felt like if we stayed out, even with guys with fresh tires, it was going to be real tough to pass us.
Like I told Brad, Let's stay out and make 'em have to pass us. Really wasn't anybody on fresh tires that was able to do that.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe.
Q. Brad, how were you involved in that first wreck and what was the damage?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I believe the 78 and the 5 car got together and went up the racetrack, lost some momentum. I certainly ran into the back of the 78 car. Then as Kasey spun down the track, barely nudged him, as well.
Just a little bit of contact there, enough to certainly do some damage.
Q. Brad, seemed like you guys were really going back and forth on lane selection there before that last restart. How close did you come to picking the inside lane?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I would say very close. Obviously I did the first restart and it didn't pan out. You know, it's one of those Monday morning quarterback decisions. I almost feel like the leader has a very low percentage of being right more so than the guy who's second. You see that a lot in the Nationwide side as well, the guy who is running second has a pretty good advantage over the leader.
I was nervous about that, for sure.
So, you know, we made it through it, though. I'm going to have to review it and try to figure out how to be better. I don't think I'm as good as I need to be there for sure. But we came out up front and persevered.
Q. Brad, because you're a social media superstar, I thought I'd bring you good news and bad news about Twitter. The good news is you passed a quarter million followers after the race, the bad news is it took more than a half hour to tweet after the race. Did you have something planned for a victory, tweeting a photo?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's something I thought would be really cool to do, for sure. I know NASCAR and all of its partners are working really hard to continue to do the best they can to provide the best service possible when you have over 60,000 people in a very confined area. That can be difficult to do, especially an area that's probably not extremely populated, urban area I guess you should say.
I know I've been to Michigan football games where they have 100,000 people in the middle of Ann Arbor, which is kind of a tech hub, so to speak, and there's no service there.
It's an ongoing battle and challenge that I know NASCAR is working very hard with their partners to work on. It's something that I've been in conversation with them about. Certainly in our generation, timeliness is of extreme importance. I'd like to see that process obviously get a little bit faster, and the right people are working on it to make it happen.
When it does happen, it will be less than a half hour. How about that?
Q. You said after the race, Brad, you wanted to prove to people that wasn't a fluke. What is it about you? You really love a challenge. And, Paul, have you made any changes to the team since last year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I do enjoy the challenge, for sure. That's what I like about racing in general. I tell this all the time. Racing's the one thing ‑ Paul could probably get a pretty good laugh out of this ‑ is the one thing that makes me get up in the morning. That's how I know it's special. Maybe not on his timeline, but I still get up earlier than noon. I may get up at 9 a.m. That's because it's special. I love the challenge, I love the fight that you have to put up, the man versus machine or man with machine, against other machines and men. It's cool as hell to me.
When somebody challenges me, whether it's fans, media, other drivers, I think that I have the desire beforehand, but it helps me focus in for sure. Of course, it means nothing if you don't have a great team that you're surrounded by. I feel very fortunate to have that as well.
Q. Brad, this is a track where a win sort of cements a driver's status as one of the top drivers in the sport. It's also a track where guys over the years have sort of gone on streaks and rolls where they win several races in a row here. Do you feel like this is sort of a signature win for you and do you also feel like you can win here anytime now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I have noticed this is a streaky track. There's no doubt about that. But I think I said it last year, that this is a track where champions win at. Whether you look at Dale, Darrell, Cale, Alan Kulwicki, you're looking at champion drivers. Tony has won here, Jeff Gordon has won a lot here. The best drivers here go on and win championships. I know Kyle has won here, certainly hasn't won a Cup championship, but won a Nationwide.
I think it speaks volumes for this track and what it means to your career. There's other places that perhaps have a little more prestige, and I said that last year as well, but this place defines a race team. It asks so much of you, whether it's just in practice, being lined up on pit road, dealing with the noise, the havoc that practice can be, or the hot day of getting through tech, making those last adjustments, or as a driver 500 laps in a bowl trying to keep your composure. This racetrack can really test a team.
I think the teams that come out on top, whether it's driver or whatever, I think they show that they've got what it takes to overcome adversity. To win championships, you have to be able to overcome adversity. I think it's very much a defining racetrack in that sense.
Q. Brad, early in the race you were right there when the big wreck happened.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes.
Q. It looked like everybody slowed down. Maybe the reason you got through it was because of the fact you were so close to it that you got through before the pile‑up happened. Is there anything you did or was it a lucky break?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: A little bit of both. You know, last spring I think we had a car that was really, really competitive, and we qualified not so well. There was a wreck very similar to this early in the race. We got in it. Ruined our day. We lost three laps. Ended up getting 'em all back. That shows you how fast our car was. It was just too little, too late.
But what I'm trying to say is it's happened to us before. I certainly share the frustrations of those involved. We were very fortunate to get through it.
There's something about this spring race where it's early in the year, a lot of guys got something to prove, maybe take more chances early in the race. I think that's kind of how I felt about it.
But we were very fortunate to get through. I know we dodged a bullet there. My team helped me dodge a bullet.
Q. It seems like sometimes when drivers start out winning, they maybe win on one type of track first. Somebody might win on a few mile‑and‑a‑half's, then expand their repertoire. You've won at Pocono, mile‑and‑a‑half, restrictor plate track, short track. How do you explain your ability to win on all these different types of tracks so early in your career?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I'm trying to figure out how to answer this that makes sense to you.
The things that the media and some of the fans rip you apart on is what has defined and built my career. And for me, I was very fortunate, and I know I was very fortunate, when I got the ride to drive for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the Nationwide Series. I spent two seasons in that series as a partial Cup competitor and full‑time Nationwide competitor.
During that time span, I was very fortunate to race with some of the best. I don't think we've seen a system that's existed like that in decades past. We saw Mark Martin obviously in the '90s. But I go back to my first Nationwide start for Dale. It was in Chicago, I believe. To this day I think that race still has the record for the most amount of Cup drivers, 25 or 26, I can't remember what it was. But that's what I had to do to build my career. I mean, I had to go against the Cup drivers when I was still trying to figure out how to run Nationwide.
I guess what I'm trying to say, it obviously frustrates me a little bit when I take some heat, any Cup driver takes some heat from the press, media, fans, whatever, about running the Nationwide Series, because it's really a character builder. If you can run well over there, you can come here and get the job done.
That series helped me build a lot of character. It helped me learn in a smaller spotlight. I feel like when I got over here that the learning process was a lot quicker. It just came down to getting with the right team that I gelled with and that believed in me. That took a little bit of time, for sure.
But I think now that we have it, I have the experience base to run competitively on almost every style of racetrack. I was able to learn that ‑ I don't want to say in obscurity ‑ but in a time and place where it was acceptable to make mistakes, which is what the Nationwide side was for me.
That was maybe a little bit longer answer than what you were looking for. What I'm trying to say is that the training and the lower level series of NASCAR, the way they're structured right now, certainly helped me when I got to this level to be perhaps more prepared than many drivers in the past.
Q. Brad, flipside of that. You're obviously good here. You have several short track wins in the Nationwide Series. Can you speak to your general comfort level on short tracks? Were you one of those guys in the upper Midwest that ran short tracks? Where did it come from?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, I never considered myself a great short track driver. The tracks that I ran, this was really important to me, to my dad, he taught me this very early on, was it was important not to be a 'One‑Track Jack'. Growing up, I got my ass kicked in late models. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I got it kicked pretty hard.
To kind of further that point, my dad made me travel around a lot and not stay at the one place, become that 'One‑Track Jack'. When you go to all these places, my dad used to say that you could take Jeff Gordon to some local racetrack and he'd probably get beat by the local guy because he knows the place so well, and I think he's right.
It also helped me build up a little bit of that base like was asked about earlier to where when I got to a touring series like NASCAR I was more prepared.
But specifically Bristol, there's this track I raced growing up in Ohio, Toledo, medium bank, not quite as high as Bristol, but a fast late model division. We ran around that place in 15 seconds.
To me, the first lap on this racetrack I ever took felt just like I was in that late model car in Toledo, Ohio. That made me really, really comfortable here from day one.
So whether it was my first Truck race or first Nationwide race or Cup race here, I've always felt very comfortable here, picked up a feel for it very quickly that I think has enabled Paul or given Paul the direction that he needs to make the right adjustments so we're both good here. The car, team, driver, everything does exceedingly well. I think that's part of our success.
Q. What track was that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Just called Toledo.
Q. Brad, when the last caution came out, right before then you had been working extremely hard to stay in front of Matt. You were questioning what would be the right call under the caution. After all that you elected to stay out, but then took off on the last restart, put a good deal of space between you and Matt. Were you surprised by that part, that last run?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, not at all. Matt Kenseth is the best long‑run racer in Cup. I'll go ahead and say that. There's not a question in my mind. I've had a year or two now in Cup to kind of evaluate some of the drivers.
I was not very comfortable that we were going to be able to win. I didn't feel bad about it, but I was 50/50 that I was going to be able to pull off a win with him behind me with a very, very long run to finish the race.
So that being said, I knew that when the caution came out, as long as I could beat him on the first lap, that I had a good enough car, and I felt like I was a good enough driver to drive away.
Q. Brad, when you first saw Bristol, what did you think of this place? When did things finally click for you here?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I thought, Man, that's a lot of people, that's a really big hill. I was really young. I climbed up the grandstands, snuck in and watched a race. I hope the track got back the ticket fee I cut them out on.
It was good. I don't think that fence is around anymore that I snuck in, just in case somebody gets ideas.
Q. When was that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That was '95. I remember there used to be, was it the press box in turn one? I remember that. That was really cool.
As far as the first time I got comfortable here, first race. I don't know, something about this place I really liked.
Q. You were talking about the way your dad prepared you not being a 'One‑Track Jack'. A lot of times teenagers don't think their parents know it all.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: My uncle was involved, too. I'll go ahead and put that out there. I'm sure mom was involved and a couple sisters.
Q. At an early age trophies are really rewarding. How hard was it to look at the big picture? How did you get through that stage of saying, My family knows best?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, they didn't give me a lot of choices (laughter). If you met my dad and uncle, you'd understand that.
But, you know, it can be frustrating. When I was running late models, I would not call myself a dominant driver by any means. I didn't get to run with the frequency that I would have liked to have. But I was learning more on the car side and approach than anything else, spending the time with my dad, who to me is one of the smartest racers that ever was. So I learned a lot from him, more so on the approach side than maybe the driving side, if that makes any sense. Approach as far as what your car needs to be better and how to learn from it, more so than, Hey, you need to be in this gear, drive this line, because I wasn't very good at listening to him about that kind of stuff.
I don't know, just a really good teacher. I felt very lucky to have both him and my uncle along the way. I still do.
Q. This is Penske Racing's 10th win here at Bristol. It started with Rusty. What do you think is at Penske Racing that makes it such a successful factor here at this track?
PAUL WOLFE: It's kind of weird how that is. From what I know in the past, I feel like it's more just coincidence more than anything. The Blue Deuce has always been successful here. From a team side of it, I don't know if there's anything you can point out that says that's why Penske has always been good at Bristol. Just had good drivers and good teams. With that we get the results.
For myself, I don't know if there's one thing that stands out.
You can answer if you know of anything.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't know. I think Rusty and Kurt were really good here. That's about all I got. It's really hard to define success. It's important to if you're going to repeat it. Hell, I don't know. I don't think Roger puts any more emphasis on it. I'm pretty sure he'd like to win everywhere. Me, too.
I don't know. It's great how the Miller Lite community or Miller Lite brand really embraces this track as well. We were talking the other day, the best track for it. That's really cool. Just sometimes things work out like that and it doesn't make any sense.
Q. There's a lot of talk about this reconfigured track. What would the racing have been like with Kenseth before?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: He didn't get by me this time either. Would have had to bump me. I think if he would have bumped me on the old track, he would have bumped me on this track. I don't see a difference, to be honest.
I don't see all the hate for new Bristol versus old Bristol. To me I'm biased, I know, but to me this was one of the best Bristol races I've ever seen. We ran side‑by‑side for the lead for 20 laps. There was some good beating and banging, some wrecking, a lot of side‑by‑side action, two‑ and three‑wides. I don't know what's better than that. Short of a 30‑car wreck every damn week, I don't know what to ask for.
I think this place got a bad label for some reason that it really didn't deserve 'cause what I've seen over the last year or two it's been great racing. Again, I think it's better than it's ever been. The heart grows fonder with time. I think we'll look back 10 years from now and say, We miss the old Bristol from 2012. That was great. Why did they ruin that? I think that's how we'll look at it.
It's interesting because I would have liked to have been around this media center in the mid to late '90s to see what that atmosphere was like. They never should have made this concrete, it should have been asphalt, because it was great. I suspect that was probably said.
It's just one of those things that people look back with nostalgia for things that were. I think those that don't like the new Bristol are missing out on something great. We'll figure that out.
Q. I'm not sure if you could really get a chance to get a good view of this actually being on the restart, but there was some discussion as to whether Matt beat you to the line, two restarts from the end. Were you at all aware of that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, I knew it was close. Like I said, I don't know if I said that in this session, there's been a couple of media sessions already, but the guy restarting second has a pretty substantial advantage if he wants to. It's such a ball strike call, I don't know. I hate to be on NASCAR's side that he beat you to the start/finish line.
I can tell you there's two yellow lines on the wall. Visually you can't tell if somebody goes 50 foot before 'em or right at 'em. It's damn near impossible to visually tell that. Even if you had telemetry, it's hard to tell it.
It's very subjective. I think when things are as subjective as that is, a 'no' call is a right call.
Q. Are you talking about the view inside the racecar?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Inside the racecar and (indiscernible). I know I've seen moves on restarts, without picking any one particular guy, where guys have jumped it by a mile, I mean a hundred some foot. You watch it on TV. I know what I saw in the car. I go back and watch it on TV and it doesn't look it.
I can't imagine that the perspective of an official up in the pit box or press box, wherever they're at, or even TV, from what I can tell, can pick that stuff out. I think there has to be some leniency. If a guy beats you by a full car length to the start/finish line, something is going on. I don't think we're seeing that. I think if you're close, NASCAR has been cool enough about it to let it go, and I respect that.
Q. What you were talking about the love/hate on Bristol, talking about when you first snuck in here, you were overwhelmed with the number of people. You mentioned 60,000 people today. That day there might have been a lot more. What would you do to convince people to make this the toughest ticket in NASCAR again?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's tough because I don't necessarily agree. Everybody wants to label it as a problem. I think you look at the TV package, and I think just the attitudes and trends of the fan base has changed. There's so much access provided through social media, through the TV networks, through you guys yourselves, that I think the best racing action in the world might not matter.
Don't get me wrong, I think this is great racing. There's probably some ways to make it better, there always is. At some point you have to accept the fact that the world has changed a lot over the last five to ten years. Live spectator events, it's tough to sell tickets to. We're looking at great ratings in my mind. You can compare to whatever year you want and say they're down 2%, 5%, then the next race they're up 5%, down 10%. It's always a seesaw battle there.
If you look at the amount of NASCAR that's consumed per week, it's still pretty damn high. It's just consumed in different ways than ever. I know I read all the stuff about NASCAR.com, how its numbers are way up. I think that's a case in point. I think you're just seeing a shift. It's harder to sell tickets, but there's still a lot of interest in the sport. You have to be very careful how you read into that 'cause each person is obviously different. I still think the sport is very strong and very healthy.
It's tough because everybody looks up at the grandstands and people say, I remember five years ago... Well, I remember when gas prices were different five years ago, too.
Q. You essentially called your shot last night when you tweeted that your Cup car for tomorrow is the best car you ever had in Cup. How does it feel when you get to be Babe Ruth like that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm always mindful of jinxing it. I feel it was the best car we ever had. I just say what I think is real. If I think it's the best car I ever had, I'll tell them. If I think I have a shit box, I'll tell Paul, You got to fix this. Some people appreciate that and respect it. Other people make a big deal and say, You're being negative, you're being cocky. How about just being truthful?
I don't understand why when you tell people it's good or bad, you're either being cocky or negative. How about you're just saying what you really think? Whatever happened to that being cool?
So I said last night that I thought I had the best Cup car I ever had. I'm thankful we were able to back it up as a team. Having the best car doesn't guarantee you a win. Everybody on this team had to execute, and they did. It's not always the guy with the fastest car that wins. Sometimes it's the guy and the team that refuses to lose. The Miller Lite team got it done today, they refused to lose.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, Brad and Paul. Terrific show here today at Bristol. We appreciate it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you, guys.
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