THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started with our post-race press conference. We welcome Brad Keselowski, who finished second in today’s race, and Jimmie Johnson.
Brad, talk a little bit about to run out there today. The last few laps were just crazy.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. Well, you know, just hard, hard racing on a great racetrack. You know, I really enjoy coming here. This is a real road course. Seems like all the other places are parking lots with corners. This is a real road course. You see real racing here. I think that’s what today was.
I’m proud of the last two days I had. I feel like Jimmie Johnson with the cars I’ve had on road courses as of late. You know, just a good couple of days. Happy with the runs. Obviously would have liked to have one more position in both of them. We were very, very close. Trying to keep in perspective how far we’ve come as a team. To run this competitively on road courses is something I’m very proud of.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie Johnson, our new points leader. Jimmie, talk about the last few laps as well as the race, and speak about being the new points leader.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Excited to be leading the points. Whoever the team is, I really believe they get some much-needed experience with the pressure of the points lead late in the season. It’s just different than leading at any other point in time. I look forward to the pressure on my team and myself.
Every little thing we can do to get prepared for the Chase is helpful. This is another step in that direction. Excited about that.
Those last two laps, next to the last lap was really the most difficult because we were discovering where the oil was. The white flag lap I made some good adjustments, except turn 11, to dodge the oil. Slipped pretty bad, almost crashed. The 15 and a few others were coming quick at that point. Just a wild last couple laps.
In general I thought the racing was really good. Our cars work good around here. Even with the strategy we had today, I had to pass a lot of cars, and seemed like a lot of good racing everywhere.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up to questions for Brad and Jimmie.
Q. Brad, can you go into the move where you got into the back of Kyle, took him out of contention? Are you going to try to talk to him before the Chase begins?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I would think Kyle has enough racing experience, he drove through it himself, that he would understand what happened. I’m going to guess he does. I probably won’t take that for granted.
Certainly I had a shot to get underneath him and I took it. The track was complete oil. Neither of us were going to make it out of to corner. That was unfortunate.
I think he knows I had to make that move. No different than the move he had to make on the restart with his position. He made a very, very aggressive move on the restart that was going to wreck both of us if I didn’t let him in. I could have held the position and wrecked us all, but I didn’t.
I showed understanding of his situation and hopefully he’ll show understanding of the situation I was in. I think he will.
Certainly not the ideal situation to wreck the leader, no matter what the situation or circumstances. But it was just one of those unavoidable deals where the whole track was undrivable. Somehow we all found a way to get back around – or some of us did. I regret that Kyle wasn’t one of them.
I’m thankful he was still able to get a respectful finish out of it. Looks like he finished 7th. Like you said, I thought it was his car that was leaking. Somebody said it was the 47. His car seemed to be reacting the worst to it when I was behind him. That was why I thought that. He lost a lot more ground initially in the oil than the rest of us did, and that’s why I thought that.
Last thing I ever want to do is wreck the leader. That’s just not an ideal situation. But, you know, sometimes there’s unavoidable circumstances. If there is one, I can’t think of a bigger one than what we saw here today or on those last few laps.
Q. Brad, take us through the last lap when you and Marcos swapped the lead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You guys done with me? Can I go home (laughter)?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I remember Pocono last year.
What were you asking?
Q. Take us through the last lap where you and Marcos swapped the lead in the dirt and the grime, he ended up ahead of you.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The last lap, I guess you have to back up to turn one where I got in front of Marcos the lap before and we got down to turn one. Kyle had whatever issue he had, whether it was his own oil or the 47′s. Stands to reason it was the 47. He slipped up big in turn one. There was just nothing he could do, nothing I could do.
When I got to turn two side-by-side, there was nothing but oil. I felt lucky not to wreck myself. He spun out. Marcos was right on my bumper. We got going through turns three and four, it was nothing but oil. We all about spun out. I could see him in my mirror. We got to inner loop, nothing but oil. We both slid off the racetrack. I knew I had to drive in there hard. If not, he was going to hit me.
When I got out in the grass, I just thought, Oh, no, I’ve thrown this race away. I looked in my mirror and he was in the grass, too. That shows you how bad the track was.
We got to the carrousel, drove in there, slipped up again. I looked at him. He was slipping up. I turned back down to the bottom to get going. I must have hit the oil spot one more time. I slipped up, he didn’t. He got a run down there to the chute to turn 10. Certainly had position, cleared me. Got to turn 10, he slipped again. I was lucky enough to have him as a brake pedal.
Got to 11, I thought I had him being on the outside, but apparently wherever the oil was, it was in the high lane in turn 11. I just hit more oil than Marcos did, just barely kept from spinning out. I think you saw Jeff spun out in the oil. That’s how bad that corner was.
Just fun. We leaned on each other, we bumped each other. We were both cool about it and didn’t dump each other. This is what I think racing in NASCAR is supposed to be, hard-nosed, going for the win, bumping and rubbing without any of that intentional wrecking nonsense. Marcos gets that. I enjoy racing with him.
Q. Jimmie, were you close enough to see the battle between those two? Did you feel like it might be an opportunity for you the way they were going at it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I could see the aftermath. I saw Kyle trying to get back going. We get to the inner loop, there was dirt and stuff everywhere. I didn’t see what started it. I was hoping it was those two leaning on each other, but I really couldn’t see what was going on.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: We need cars to blow up and put oil on the track every week.
Q. When exactly did you notice the oil? How did you maneuver around it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I did the next-to-last lap in turn one. I thought I blew a right front tire when I turned in. Why would I blow a right front? The right front was in the oil slipping, I could feel that.
At that point I think the 18 was turned around, and my spotter was saying the 18 had spun, be careful. When I went into two, I had issues. Kind of pieced together that lap.
The next lap wasn’t as bad because I had an idea where to miss some of the stuff, except turn 11. I went wide on the last corner coming to the checkered. There was more wide than there was low. I slipped and almost lost third. Clint and a few others were low and were coming pretty hard at me towards the end.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you very much. Congratulations on your finish.
We’ll take additional questions for Brad.
Q. Brad, it looked like there was a little bit of damage from the contact with Kyle, tire rub or something like that. Did that affect the performance at all?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That’s the first I knew of it. If it did, I wasn’t aware of it. Makes sense. Yeah, we’ll go with that.
Q. Talk about just the race as a whole. You had to battle dry conditions, the intermittent showers, talk about the adjustments you had to make throughout the day.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Seemed like a lot, didn’t it? Just one of them days, man. How else can you sum that up? One of them days where the world throws everything it can at you and you hope to make it through all of them. You know, I just didn’t. I just missed it a little too much, trying a little too hard to get the win. That was really unfortunate, but part of racing.
Q. Obviously the win is huge for Marcos. The win would have been huge for you. Did that cross your mind at all?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I knew that when Kyle made the move on the restart. He tried to out-brake us, and he did. If I wouldn’t have let him in line, all of us would have wrecked. When he made that move, I can’t fault him. You look at his situation, it’s win or go home. I would do the same thing.
I hope he respects my position that I can’t just let him win either. I had a chance to pass him. The way the oil and all that worked out, it just ended up badly. I hope he respects that like I respect why he had to make that move. Same thing with Marcos on why he had to race aggressively. And I do respect that. I would respect that even if he didn’t have anything to win because I think that’s the core of this sport, why people come to watch, because people know we’re going to give it our all on any given day. If a day comes when we don’t do that, we’re no longer racers, this is no longer a sport, it’s politics.
That’s our job. Something you don’t have to be an asshole about it. You can always find a reason to be that. But I don’t think anyone was here today and it was all understandable.
Q. Sam Hornish matched a career best top five today. It was his first fifth-place finish since Michigan in 2009. Can you talk a little bit about that. Have you talked to him? He said the three years he was here before he felt like he was auditioning. Talk about the improvements that he might have made over the last four weeks.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, there’s no doubt, and we’ve talked about it, Roger and I have even talked about it, he’s done a phenomenal job of growing as a driver. I think running in both series has been huge for him. He’s got two good teams with the Nationwide and Cup efforts. I think he’s gaining a lot of confidence and starting to come into his own in a way.
Certainly the question is, can he have those performances on the ovals. That’s really what’s going to matter for him and his future. I’m sure he’d probably tell you the same.
But his progress as of late has been something I’m proud to see. I hope that in some small way I’m a part of that in working with him. So that’s just great to see. It’s something that I think we all enjoy watching, is a driver get the hang of this sport, especially a guy as kind, who has paid some dues like Sam has.
Q. On the restart where Kyle took it three-wide, did you feel like you were between a rock and a hard place?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. I mean, basically the sport has changed. When double-file restarts came onboard, especially on tracks of this nature, you see it more so on the Nationwide and Truck side, where the leader is no longer the best spot to be in. Again, you see that more in the other two series.
On road courses, short tracks, at the Cup level, the leader is in the most vulnerable spot at all times. It’s really unfortunate because you work so hard to get that position. A yellow comes out, you’re no longer in the best spot.
The reason for that is the cars behind you can time their start based off your cadence, then bonsai the **** out of you into the corner. You either give them the position or they clean you out and themselves out at the same time. The third-place guy knows that.
That’s what you’re seeing in the racing, whether it was here today or yesterday. I was in both those situations in some sort of fashion. I think you see that a lot on the Truck and Nationwide side. I’d like to see a stat, how often the leader of the race comes back to the line in the lead. I think you would see that margin is getting lower and lower to where it’s less than 50%.
That was the situation with the move that Kyle made. He’s a smart racer. He knows that. He put me in a situation where it was either I let him go or we both wreck. It didn’t make any sense to wreck out of this race for me.
I can respect that. He’s smart. He knows that that gave him a shot at winning the race. Had the 47 not blew an oil line, he would have. The dynamics of restarts have changed racing. It would have been interesting to see what happened had we had another yellow there at the end. That would have put me in the third-place position where essentially it would have been my responsibility to dive the **** out of turn one and hope that Kyle let me in. It would have been interesting to see what mentality he had then. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have let me in. Go back to Martinsville, the same thing we saw with Clint, Jeff and Jimmie. It’s how racing has evolved.
It’s a bit unfortunate. It’s not something I like seeing personally. It is the game we play as the rules are set right now.
Q. Last year there was a big problem after the large crash about the safety of the track. Did it feel safer this year after the changes that were made?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Tough question to answer without being offensive. There’s no doubt that improvements have been made. But in my opinion there are no road courses in America that are up to the safety standards they should be. I think you look at the road courses in Europe, how much better they are. It speaks volumes of why American road racing is where it’s at.
There’s been improvements, but certainly not enough to where if you polled the whole garage they would say it’s satisfactory.
Q. What did you think of your chances when Kyle made that pass on the restart and then Ambrose got you and you’re sitting back there?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, Marcos didn’t get me till two or three laps later, five or six laps later. That was just from pushing so hard to try to get by Kyle. That didn’t have anything to do with the restart. That was just me doing all I could to get back by Kyle.
He had the clean air. I think my car was a little bit faster. When I got behind him, I pushed so bad, but I couldn’t get that positioning on him to make a move.
Q. Talk a little bit about how much you enjoyed that last lap, even though you came in second.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely enjoyed the race. Of course, I’m a little spoiled on that answer being a front finisher. Probably would not have that same perception if I was not.
I just think this is what racing should be. I think this is what the fans come to expect out of NASCAR racing and why it grew to the popularity that it did. We need to produce shows of this nature to continue to sustain the level that we have.
So I’m proud to be part of one of those races.
Q. That being said, would you like to add another road course? Could you see a Montréal on the schedule in the near future? It just seems like this has almost replaced short-track racing. When you come in, you talk about how exciting it is. Would it be cool to add a place like Montréal?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t think that’s the right approach to what the sport needs. I think there’s certainly other tracks we could look at. I enjoy the international market. I had a blast in Montréal. But I think that’s the wrong line of thinking.
I think you have to look at why these races are so good. It fits with the way this car is built. It’s built for tracks. Not necessarily built for road courses, but it’s built for the beating and banging that you’re seeing. That makes it an ideal car for a track of this nature.
I think if you want to look back to obviously some of the peaks of our sport, where the racing was generally considered to be the best, it was on ovals. I think we need to simply correct some of the things that we need to make oval racing better.
That’s obviously NASCAR’s way forward. I know they’re working on that. I support that approach.
Q. Any thoughts of déjà vu considering it was the three of you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely, yes. Unfortunately, it involved spinning the 18. That part is not déjà vu and not something I wanted to happen.
Q. After last year’s race, were there times you thought, If I had done this differently? Are you going to go away from this race thinking, What could I have done differently?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Probably. You have to understand there’s a part of me that’s so thrilled to be competitive on a road course, I don’t want to say second is a win, but there’s just a large part of me that’s tickled to run that well because I’m not supposed to run well on road courses. The last year and a half we’ve been very strong. I’m just tickled to be with a team that gives me cars that can do that. To have shown whatever level of growth it’s taken to get to this level as a driver.
Q. What makes you so good at Watkins Glen?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I got good cars. I don’t know. Just things are clicking. If I knew what it was, I would have gone after it a long time ago. Sometimes things just go well. You don’t sweat why, you just enjoy it. That’s where I’m at.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, congratulations on a great weekend here.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thanks, guys.