KERRY THARP: Our winning car owner, Roger Penske, has joined us right now. Roger, as you just mentioned to me, it’s quite a way to start out the Chase with Brad winning today’s GEICO 400. Points leader, and just talk about the significance of that win and how you thought things played out today.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I guess the first thing is that after last night at California Speedway, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came here. But Brad said he had a good car. I think we qualified better than we have over the last several weeks.
But we looked at coming into the Chase was the last 12 races and what our consistency had been, and it looked like we had done a pretty good job. We’ve got a new car for this week. He is certainly focused. He has brought a lot to the team, and I think Paul Wolfe, as everybody knows, has just been a terrific crew chief. They’re just like two brothers working together.
And then the engine shop gave us the best power we’ve had all year. It’s ironic, we win this race and we’re moving on from Dodge, but the Dodge engineering team really supported us, and it’s just a great victory.
To be able to race the 48, we’ve been wanting to race the 48 for many years as I think I’ve been in this sport, and to be able to race side by side within two or three seconds for probably almost 100 laps and come out on top is a real credit to his driving skills. That last pit stop I don’t know if anyone noticed was about 12.9 which got us out there in good shape. To me those are the things if you put them all together, we ended up with a win.
It’s a great day for us. It cools me down a little bit after being hot last night.
Q. Did you think about maybe not coming after what happened last night? Is it my imagination, or does it seem like you’re coming more often these days because of how the 2 car is running?
ROGER PENSKE: That’s one of the things I’ve got to check in with Brad. He expects me here.
No, I was planning to come, win or lose last night, and we got here this morning about 10:00. It was focus on this race. The Chase is so important, you forget the first 28 races, really, don’t you; who won them, who had the poles, who led the most laps, and it’s now down to these last 10 races.
I think we’re in good shape. He has been an amazing young guy. His support in the shop, and he’s a very constructive driver from the standpoint of our people within the company. We had a lunch this past Monday. Brad just – he revs them up, and he goes around and thanks them, and that’s important. These guys are big deals, big stars, but I think he has the roots from his family and the way he started to work with everybody from top to bottom.
Today was a byproduct of that.
Q. Has it revved you up and made this more enjoyable?
ROGER PENSKE: He won’t let me sleep, I’ll tell you that. I get Twitters – I’m a big texter now. If you want to know anything just text me based on him. He and I are talking all the time. I’ve got to get to my day job sometimes, I tell him.
Q. Could you just talk a little bit about, it kind of seemed like today was a day where Jimmie Johnson was maybe sending a message to the rest of the Chase field. In the end, I think Brad did. And also, did you get more than what you expected from Brad when you first – have you gotten more out of him by far than what you expected in terms of everything he’s given your company?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think you’ve got to go back to the year before we hired him. At one point he came by to see us, and he said that he’d like to come and race for our team. But he couldn’t do it, he had a commitment. But he said, when I do come, I want to help build a team to win the championship, and I think he’s never forgotten that. That was the year before he started with us. He’s been focused.
Do I feel we got what we expected? Obviously the quality of his driving, and he went through a lot of rigmarole, some maybe he was due, some he wasn’t, but I think he’s managed to develop a lot of rapport with the drivers. I think they trust him wheel to wheel. He’s not a reckless guy at all, and on and off the track I think he’s got high integrity, and that’s something we want, and certainly what he’s been able to do, and I think I said this to he and Paul Wolfe, I said, if you guys help us attract the best people, that’s the benefit that Hendrick has had when you look at top to bottom of his organization, it’s the quality of the people that make the difference. And I think that Keselowski, Wolfe, those are a good partnership, and they’ve helped us do more. So I would say he’s delivered everything I expected. But to win a race, the first race of the Chase and beat the 48 I guess is something that you’re pretty happy when you go home.
Q. You mentioned the 48 several times and how you’ve wanted to run with him in this kind of situation, and Brad, about the last month or so has been kind of calling out the 48 and the Hendrick teams a little bit for their rear suspensions saying we want to be able to play them even. Is it almost a challenge for you guys and Brad to – is it mind games, whatever, a challenge to be up there and be with him and prove you can be with him?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I didn’t get involved with the discussion on the suspension, but I can tell you the best scrutineers in the business are the other teams. We could see that – and I take my hat off to them, technically they’re so far ahead many times that we’re trying to not only see what they’re doing but do something better. It’s interesting, I said, when is the last time we were parked next to the 48 in the garage? And Travis said – eyes are going both directions, we’re looking at their stuff, they’re looking at ours. It’s pretty interesting.
But to me they’re the benchmark. You don’t win the championships that he has at Hendrick, I don’t know how many he has now, so that’s the gold standard that we have to try to compete against.
I think Brad’s comments, a lot of them were kidding, but it creates a little bit of noise. You guys like a little noise, so we’re going to make a little noise today.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: This group likes noise? Are you sure?
ROGER PENSKE: No, very happy.
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear from our winning driver now, Brad Keselowski piloted the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge here to victory today in the first race of the Chase, and it’s your eighth career win, Brad, your first win here at Chicagoland. It’s also the first time in your Sprint Cup career you’ve led the points. Congratulations on all fronts, and just talk about how important it is to win this first race of the Chase.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, there’s no better place to start than in the lead, right? It was certainly a great race. My opinion is obviously a little skewed on that. A good race, how about that? With the 48 car, and really everybody, the 5 car was strong, and a couple others were really strong, the Gibbs cars were very strong, and our team just did a phenomenal job of executing, made some key adjustments during the race that got my car running really, really strong. Certainly there was a lot of other really good cars in the field, as well.
But just proud of the effort and proud of what we were able to do for those that were listening before, and forgive me for being redundant, but it feels like Round 1 of a heavyweight title bout, just it’s a 10-round bout. Week 1 is done and we won the round but we didn’t by any means knock them out, we’ve got a lot of racing left to go. We’re feeling good about today but know that we have a lot of work to do.
Q. Roger, you mentioned that you’re trying to race against a gold standard and you’re doing that with a manufacturer that’s sort of backing out of the garage. Are you confident you’re okay over the last nine races with the Dodge situation and all that implies?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, there’s no question that Dodge has been a great asset to us. I mean, they made the decision to support us. Senior management obviously decided that they were going to focus maybe on something other than motorsports, at least the Cup side, and we made that decision with them almost a year ago and we decided to move on to Ford. I think the one thing we both have done, we’ve clasped our hands and said we’re going to go for it and do our very best, because they’ve been a great partner and I think the cooperation technically that they’ve had with our chassis guys, our engine people and aerodynamic people has been terrific.
We might be backing out of the garage, but I certainly want to leave them with the best results we can.
Q. Brad, Roger kind of mentioned a little bit about that you’re really hands on with what goes on at the shop and getting this team ready. Why do you want to be a part of that and why are you so hands on with that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, I feel like it’s my goal to be a Sprint Cup champion, to be a winner. Racing is one of the few things I’ve ever done in my life that has been able to take me to another level mentally and physically, and it demands that out of you to be successful. And there’s no guarantee of success in this sport, as there’s no guarantee of success in any sport. But this one in particular. And the way I approach the work ethic of it, whether it was from my dad or whatnot, whoever I got it from, that could be argued for some time, but I approached it as though I were a baseball player at the mound or I should say at the plate, and you know there’s a 100 mile-an-hour fast balls coming at you all the time, there’s always somebody trying to beat you, but if I go down, I’m going to go down swinging the bat as hard as I can each and every time. I’m not going to stare at the ball every time it goes by and be struck out.
If that means I’ve got to work harder to go down in that manner, then that’s what it’s going to be, but it also means I’ve got a great shot at hitting that ball, and right now that’s where our team is at.
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear from our winning crew chief Paul Wolfe. Congratulations on this win today. Talk about certainly the job on pit road that had a lot to do with this win.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I think it was key to the results of the race. I feel like as the closing laps came down there, the second part of the race, it looked like it was going to be between us and the 48. Obviously clean air is so important, and to be able to come down pit road and have a great stop like we did and be able to just clear and get back on the racetrack, I felt like that was the key.
I felt like they mounted a little more of a challenge there, but we were able to pull away. I was a little surprised by that. I’m not sure what was going on with their car, but I would say the best car won today for sure.
Q. Roger, when you brought Brad over, and you talked a little bit about this earlier, but obviously a championship is the goal. Are you surprised by how soon this team has come together and Brad has molded into a legitimate championship contender, and then I would sort of ask Brad to answer the same question.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think I mentioned earlier that Brad came and we talked early on, and he said, look, I want to help you build a championship team. I think we struggled the first year in Cup, but we were able to put Paul together – we talked about people earlier, and with Paul and Brad really getting together on the Nationwide side and getting success, we attracted some other good people.
To me we saw the success racing the best guys in the Nationwide side, and last year when Brad had his accident, I think that showed me what kind of person he was. He wasn’t walking around here running for sure — he was hurting every day — but was able to put out and win the races he did.
I’m thrilled at the level we are. I think that he’s a young man in his career. I think our ability to attract someone like Logano to come and be his teammate next year, another young gun, will only make us better.
And I think when you look at the teams that have been successful, as I said earlier, it’s about the people, and I think Brad is a leader, and Paul is a leader, and I think the people we have, Travis Geisler and Sir Mike Nelson and obviously Tim Cindric, we’re working as one team. We win as a team, we lose as a team, and that’s what Brad has told me when we got together. He said, I want to help you win a championship. Obviously if he’s going to help me do it, he’s going to be the champion.
Q. Brad, did you think it would come down to this?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I didn’t know what to think. It’s certainly a long road and a tough road to get to where we’re at. I’m proud of every step that we’ve taken along the way. I think that we can still be better. I think that these are really good times, and I think we’re just getting into them, and the best is still yet to come here at Penske Racing. I really believe in the process that we have going forward, and bringing on Joey is certainly one piece of that. Certainly the added continuity that Paul and I have with this being our third season together is phenomenal, and everyone on the team that’s followed up through the Nationwide side and beyond.
I like the structure that we have with the Nationwide car and how we continue to bring in people. I like the future we have with guys like Ryan Blaney who won last night, just every step of the way, I feel like Penske Racing is putting itself in a position to be a team that can win multiple titles over the next few years and to be the elite team, elite company it’s capable of being across the field in NASCAR.
So I’m very proud of these efforts, and I’m proud to be associated with it. I’ve made it a point to not try to overstate my role in that because it is the team that does it. It’s Roger, it’s Walt, it’s Bud, it’s Paul, it’s Travis Geisler, it’s Michael Nelson, it’s Tim Cindric. You name it. It’s all of us. We all have that responsibility to make it happen. Certainly I might be one of the loudest in the group, but it takes all of us to make it happen, and I like where we’re going.
Q. Roger said earlier that he’s been trying to – wanting to race the 48 since about as long as he’s been in this sport –
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Me, too.
Q. In victory lane you talked about this being a heavyweight title fight but only Round 1. Was it more because of who you were racing at the end of the race today?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, that’s part of it, for sure. It’s all encompassing, but that was certainly part of it, and we all know how good his team is. We all know how good he is. And look at the résumé over the last six years. Hey, look at the résumé over the last 10 years. It’s impeccable.
To be racing him, whether it was for the lead or for 10th is an accomplishment.
Q. Jimmie said that on your last pit stop that you kind of came up on the track a little bit early and you may have impeded him a little bit but he also said it probably didn’t affect the outcome of the race because you were so good on that last run. I’m curious if you were aware – when you come off of pit road how difficult is it here because the whole back stretch is turned and you’re not on – and the apron is very flat before you come up, and then also was the car on that last run the best and did you do anything to it to make it the best at the end?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think I understand your second question but I’m not sure what your first question is.
Q. First question is is it tough to figure out where to blend in here because of the nature of the track?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think you look at it, there is no enforced line like you see in other sports, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s just one more thing to monitor during the race. But it’s certainly a – I don’t want to say a gentlemen’s agreement. It’s a policy of merging down the back stretch, off of turn two I think it said specifically in the driver’s meeting, and I feel like that’s what we did.
You can make rules that count it down to the inches and just make it a pain in the ass for everybody that participates in the sport, or you can just have a rule like we do, and I felt like I was inside those guidelines. I think NASCAR agreed, as well, based on their no call. But certainly that’s something that we’ll continue to get better clarification as we race and as we understand. That’s how I understand it.
The other question was about if we had –
Q. Did you make any adjustments to make it the best car at the end?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, that’s a great question for Paul, I’m not sure, because the last run the car was really good. I was very happy.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, Brad kind of asked me the same question there in victory lane. We made some small changes throughout the day, but going back and forth from two tires to four tires sometimes you’ve got to be careful on how you adjust on the race car. For us the last stop was just four tires and the fuel we needed to get to the end.
But obviously I don’t know if the 48 just lost handle or what, but we were definitely our best on the run that counted, so I guess that’s the important part.
Q. We talked to you this morning about what you felt when you woke up, and obviously you were just probably a few minutes from getting out of bed, right?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I was up early. I was excited about this race.
Q. What does it mean to you at this point after everything that you’ve fought through to be leading the points? You’ve led the points in Nationwide, but this is Sprint Cup. What does that mean to you after everything that you’ve been through?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t know yet, I really don’t. I haven’t allowed it to sink in, and my thought process has been in what do I need to do to be the best driver over the next nine. I’m not going to let it sink in. I’m going to focus on the next nine, and I know everybody on my team is going to do that. It’s great to get to the points lead, but we’ve got so much racing left and it would be a disservice to today’s accomplishments to allow our focus to get off of tomorrow’s workload.
Q. You were already saying it was Miller time.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I was wishing it was Miller time (laughing). Races get really long when you’re leading, especially at the end. I’m sure that’s how Jimmie felt, too, when he was leading. But just a long race but a good race for our team.
Q. I know you’re going to go back and watch this race on DVR and you’re going to find that Jimmie took umbrage at the way you blended back on there. I know after Michigan you guys kind of had the 48 a little bit spun out there, too. Are you still relishing that? Do you think there’s a mental edge you and Paul are trying to play against Jimmie and Chad?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It’s not for me to speak about a mental edge. That’s for you guys to speculate. If you want to ask him about that, that’s fine, but it’s not for me to speculate.
But when you’re winning races and running up front like we did today, it means a lot to everybody. It means a lot for your own team, and it means a lot to others sometimes. I know that watching the 48 win quite often, that has – that does have an effect over time, a psychological advantage. But it’s not for me to speak.
Q. Did you get a chance to watch any of the IndyCar race yesterday, and Will came up short second year in a row? Do you kind of feel like now it’s your chance to, or do you feel like you need to now bring in the championship for Penske Racing as a whole company, IndyCar, NASCAR and company wide?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it was somewhat unfortunate to see Will have his problem there yesterday, but I felt that way whether or not he won or lost. Our goal was still to win The Captain here a Sprint Cup championship. I certainly wasn’t going to make an excuse if Will won that, we didn’t have to. We’re going to try and win no matter what the circumstances are. I think that’s why RP keeps us employed over here.
Q. Just discounting Talladega, which has been good for you but is obviously a perilous spot. As you look ahead to the rest of the Chase, is there any place you look where you have something to prove, if we come out of there with a points lead we’re rolling?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Homestead (laughing). Just call me captain obvious. No, I’m not going to feel good until it’s over. I’m really not. There’s not going to be a weekend where you go, all right, it should be easy for me. That’s just not the way this sport works, and we see that time after time after time.
Q. But is there anything that you see as your weakness that’s a particular challenge?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think if you look at our track record over the last three years, every track could have an argument made for being our weakness, every one of them. Martinsville we’ve run well at and certainly have had some things happen to us here and there that have kept us from having a great finish. Homestead we ran pretty well there last fall and didn’t work out. Phoenix we ran pretty well there, and you go back in history and our average finish isn’t great. I think you could make a case for and against the 2 team at every track remaining in the Chase.
It’s our goal or our job to focus on this year and these races and to not allow the history to affect us for good or bad.
Q. Let me ask a question for clarification: Is what the 48 has done or what the 48 can do that is concerning you guys in your head, and can you concentrate so much on the 48 that there’s another driver out there that can put you out of the game?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, let me say this: It’s obvious, as I said earlier, that it’s not just the 48, it’s the whole Hendrick organization. I said it was the gold standard, and I think that they’ve won championships – obviously you’ve seen what he’s been able to accomplish this year. And starting on the pole here, leading the laps he had, obviously he was the one that we had to beat.
But I don’t think that it’s putting us in a deficit position. I think what’s really happening is we’re seeing where we need to be, and we need to be a little bit better. We’ve got the Gibbs team, the Roush team, so it just isn’t the 48. But I guess we see so much of the 48, and Jimmie has been such a great champion. Look at Gordon and the rest of them and how Earnhardt has run this year. When you have four cars in this Chase, we have a tough time running two competitively, and they have four. So I think anyone that’s in the sport would have to say – like the Yankees maybe or someone in football. But to me they’re the gold standard, and we want to beat them. We want to beat them fair and square, and I think quite honestly I’d have to thank Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. when they said I could hire Brad to run both in the Cup and the Nationwide because he got his roots, early roots there.
To me there’s always someone you’re trying to equal or better, and I think what Paul has been able to do – I heard people say, hey, there’s some great crew chiefs up and down that pit lane, but Paul Wolfe is one of them. And to me he’s not that old enough, because he talks too much for sure. To me he puts the numbers on the board, and that’s what we need to do for the next nine races is focus on our own stuff, always have someone out there that we’re trying to beat, and I think that’s where we are as a team.
Q. I think at Michigan when you were calling out the 48 car about the rear end suspension you said the 48 has the most speed, the best history as far as the Chase is concerned but it’s my job to not roll over and give it to them. Was mission accomplished today at all?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it was through the Chase, not at Chicago, and there’s still nine weeks left. Any time you win, it’s a bit of a mission accomplished for that particular weekend, but the Chase isn’t about one particular weekend, it’s about 10, and there’s a long road to hoe.
Q. Brad or Paul, you guys came in for the last stop, I think you were about a second and change behind, came in and took the lead. Where did you pick up that second and change, on the track that extra lap or coming in or in the pits?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m guessing it was the pit crew. I don’t know. Paul?
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, until we go back and review it, I’m not really sure. I was a little surprised myself. I thought with the lead they had they would at least be able to keep that. But like I say, the pit crew did a great job. It’s important they stepped out when it counted, and Brad has been one of the best guys on and off pit road here through the summer months. We see that week in and week out with the post-race dart fish stuff, and that’s important. It’s every little part. Like I said, there’s not one thing to me that stands out where we’re better than we were last year’s Chase. It’s every area from the guys back at the shop building these cars to pit crews to Brad being a little better to myself and my engineer making good calls, and even just the mechanics working on the car being a little bit faster making changes during practice because every lap counts. I don’t think you can point to one area where we’re improving right now.
Q. For anybody who wants to take it, did you all need to have a good race today maybe more than the other guys in the Chase because you don’t have any teammates in the Chase and you’re the only Dodge? Do you feel like just kind of from a mental perspective that you need to get off to a quick start maybe more than some of the others?
ROGER PENSKE: I looked at – I’m up in the spotter’s, and Sam had the speeding penalty, but he ran in the top 10. In fact, I said to myself, hey, we don’t have two cars in the Chase, but when there was a couple of Hendrick’s cars, we were up there, a couple of Gibbs cars, the 230 and the 18, and we were there with Sam. So I think he finished 11th. He didn’t put four tires on at the end which might have hurt him a little bit. But I think Sam will play a role for us. He’s done a lot of the testing, in fact testing we’ve done just this last week probably gave us some information we needed, and he’ll continue to do that. Obviously he’s going to be a key part of our team as we go forward next year.
Q. For Paul, having worked with him now for a couple years, where have you seen his greatest improvements behind the wheel?
PAUL WOLFE: Hmm. That’s a good question. I think it’s important to understand that as we continue to give him better race cars, he can give us better feedback, and I think as a team we’ve continued to grow each and every week. The better race cars he’s driving, the better job he can do and the better feedback he can give us. If you’re driving bad race cars all the time, you don’t know what’s good and what’s bad, and now he’s had some good race cars, he can give us great feedback and we can continue to make them better. I think that’s where over time we still had room to grow, and I think overall he’s just – he does a great job on restarts, and like I said, getting on and off pit road is so important these days with how important that clean air is. I’ve seen a lot of gain there, as well.
Q. Brad, you won your first race in the Chase today, but you also won your first race as a team owner last night. I just wondered, what did you think about that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: A great weekend is what I’m thinking now.
Q. It must have been good for your organization that’s been trying to win for a while.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, yeah, what a great weekend. Other than IndyCar stuff, I feel bad for this guy, but two really big wins for me personally and professionally. And to see Ryan and his family together in victory lane was just one of those heap good karma moments. It just felt good. I remember being in victory lane for my very first Nationwide win and my mom and dad being there, and seeing that with Ryan, that felt really good and knowing that was able to happen, and in some small shape I was able to help him do that.
Certainly I don’t go underneath the cars and work on them, or the trucks I should say, there’s other people that do that, but it was nice to be a part of the bigger scheme of things to make if happen, and I think he’s got such a bright future and really that whole team does. So I’m proud of the whole effort, and I just can’t wait to see – like I said, I feel like the best is still yet to come out of all Penske Racing, and I’m trying to position that truck team to be in position to serve Penske Racing and so they all get stronger together. We’re a strong, cohesive unit across the board per the results of this weekend, and we still have room to be even better. So that’s all very encouraging stuff.