THE MODERATOR: Let's roll into our post-race winning team for tonight's 51st annual Irwin Tools Night Race here at Bristol Motor Speedway. And our race winner is Brad Keselowski. He drives the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing. This is Brad's third win in 2011, his first win here at Bristol. He moves up to 11th in points. I believe it was six weeks ago maybe, five, six weeks ago, he was 23rd, 24th in points and nobody was talking about Brad back then.
But talk about the win here tonight at Bristol. I'm sure this has got to be a real, real feather in your cap, winning at a track that is considered to be certainly one of the most cherished on the circuit.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. What an honor to win at Bristol and really just to have a great car all night long. We were strong, man, that first run, I knew we had something for them. And it kind of fell off a little bit after that first restart when Matt and I kind of got together, and I was really concerned from then on. I thought I had done some damage to my car and hurt it.
But we did some more adjustments to it and got it back right, and by the end of the race, we got up to the lead and the sky was the limit.
Proud of the effort and everybody just kept digging all day long. Last pit stop was good, the adjustments were good, I was driving my butt off, and next thing you know, we find ourselves in victory lane at Bristol. Just amazing.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, obviously you had already qualified for the Sprint Summer Showdown, so tonight's win certainly reinforced that, but you'll be paired up with two fans now.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Does that mean I only have to finish second?
THE MODERATOR: No, if you win the fans will --
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm saying I should get something for winning two of the races, like a handicap.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the Sprint Summer Showdown because that's a pretty cool deal that you're going to be going for next week in Atlanta.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it was always nice to run some special things, and thanks to Sprint for putting that on. Obviously would like to win a million dollars for charity, that would be pretty cool and a million dollars for the fan -- that's even a better question. Is it $2 million now?
THE MODERATOR: No, it's a million dollars, Brad, just a million dollars.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: We've got to do some better negotiating. Get Roger in here. Roger could get it to two. I'm serious, he could. But that's great. We're going to have fun with it either way.
THE MODERATOR: Paul Wolfe, crew chief, you've certainly been an important part of that run for the 2 team and arguably this team is the hottest team in NASCAR.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, we've definitely kind of got things going for us right now, and it's weird because it's not really doing anything different. It's been a lot of small things over the past couple months just starting to add up. And we've got fast race cars, the driver is doing his part, the pit crew is doing their part, and we're making good calls on pit road and adjustments.
The biggest thing for me that I've noticed being in the Cup Series is these races are a lot longer obviously than the Nationwide races I'm used to, and you've got to be able to adjust on your car as the track changes. And as the race goes on, everybody seems to get better.
I feel like as a team we've done a good job adjusting on our cars and making them so they have adjustability in them. And we continue to bring good race cars to the racetrack every week and something that Brad can go out there and do his part.
Q. For Paul, during the race, especially there at the last pit stop, Brad was able to really get on the gas once the jack dropped and pass at least one car if not two on pit road. Was that based on -- did you make the decision on where that pit stall was based on the timing line so he could do that or was that just a benefit of how the pit stalls kind of fell out when it came to your decision?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, every week everybody chooses their pit stall off of how they qualify, and you try to pick the stalls that you think will work out for you. It's all part of the race.
I feel like we've been doing a good job at putting together a whole weekend. It's not always about just having a fast race car. It's about the guys having good stops. They had a fast stop there at the end when it counted, and that was able to get us towards the front row, and then we had a shot at it.
Q. You're only 21 points out of 10th. Is it important to get to 10th considering if you are in the top 10, you get the bonus points when you start the Chase; if you're not in the top 10 you don't get the bonus points?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Who's 10th, is it Tony? Tony is pretty good. He's pretty good at Atlanta and Richmond. Richmond we really struggled at in the spring, so I'm really not sure what to expect going back. 21 points is still a lot of points. That means you've got to beat the guy by over 10 positions over the course of two races. Beating Tony Stewart by an average of 10 positions over two races, that's going to be pretty tough to be honest.
I'm just happy with what we've done here tonight, and I hate to look too far ahead, but yes, having those points for three wins would be huge in the Chase. But I don't think we've seen a Chase yet where that's mattered.
So maybe this one will be different and maybe we'll be kicking ourselves if we don't get in the top 10 and it comes down to Homestead and we lose whatever points those are. But there's no point in sitting and pouting about it. We've got to look forward and continue to do the best we can.
Q. Brad, since the great coincidental ankle, your average finish is 1.75 and you've picked up 12 positions in points. So while you say you're going to be hampered by that ankle until the season's end, it appears you've picked up a direct deal of upward mobility.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes. Is that a question?
Q. It was a feeble attempt at one. But what I'm getting at is with three wins and one position out, you have -- there's a lot of people who are trying to figure out whether to go for consistency or wins. You have more freedom than anybody in there. You're in no matter what.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, hell, why not just go for both? I'd like to consistently win. That's what the sport is all about, right? You know, it's been good. This sport in its simplest form is just about winning. Why make it any more complicated than that? If you've got cars to win, go out there and win. If you don't, get the best finish you can.
I look at Jimmie, and the years of success he's had for winning championships. He wins races in the Chase and you've got to be able to do that. I'm sure we could look at this all different kinds of ways and coast into it or however you want to look at it or just take all those stupid risks to win races, but you just do the best you can on any given week. You try to be smart at it and smart about it and try not to overthink it.
And you'll have great weeks like we're having here if you've got a great team. We've got a great team. I don't think we're overthinking it.
Q. Brad, you said that there was never a real moment when the lightbulb went on. But that being said, since the two of you have worked together, you've won a championship together. So it's not like you guys didn't know each other, even though there was a crew chief change. What has been the biggest change over the last four weeks or before the four weeks? Is it mechanical? Have you made any changes to the pit crew? What exactly would you attribute your recent success?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: What, are you looking for like a part? I'm not sure -- I don't think anything is different. I don't know. I really don't think anything is different. Paul could answer better than I can. Maybe he changed something I don't know about.
Are you changing things I don't know about, Paul?
Q. Anything that you found on the car perhaps, any changes to the pit crew, anything you can point to, Paul?
PAUL WOLFE: No, I think it's a lot of things. I've kind of answered this question a lot over the last month, of course. We've continued to make our race cars better, all the guys back at the shop, from our aero to our chassis shop to the guys building the engines. I think everybody has just been working hard.
And then for myself, it definitely took me a few races to kind of understand what I needed to do. Obviously there's a lot of things that are similar to the Nationwide car, but there's so many things that are different. You know, it took me some time to get my feet on the ground, and then I feel as we've started to go back to tracks for a second time, that's where we've started to shine.
Obviously this is our third track I guess we've been back to for a second time. Each track we've gone back to for a second time, our results look to be pretty good.
Just a lot of little things, and like I said, we've still got more to come and feel like we still have a lot of room to grow to be able to compete for a championship that we know is going to be a tough task. But it's something I feel like everybody on this team is capable of.
Q. Brad, did you temporarily forget about the ankle when you jumped off the roof of the car? It looked like you got reminded a little bit when you hit the ground.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, stupid is as stupid does (Laughter).
I don't know, it's worth it to win the race.
Q. You mentioned the great Tony Stewart. You made up 27 points on him tonight, so 21 is not impossible. When you look at the streak you've been on, could you have imagined anything like this? Is this a championship caliber team now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think we have the potential. We have some pieces that I personally would like to see us improve, and I think that's probably a better question for Paul.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, like I said, we've obviously made gains. We've got more to go. We know where some of those areas are we need to work. But overall we're not going to change what we've been doing or how we approach things.
Like Brad said, the simplest thing is just to go out there and try to win the race each and every week. And we feel like we have speed in our cars to do that now, and we'll continue to try to make them better each and every week.
Just really proud of what we've been able to accomplish our first year together. We'll work as hard as we can as we get into this Chase and can't be disappointed in however it does work out. I'm just real proud of what everybody has done so far this year.
Q. Brad, obviously you guys have stepped it up the last couple weeks, but you look at some of the other guys you're in this wildcard card contest with and nobody seems to want to make up any ground. Tonight guys two laps down, three laps down. That's a function of Bristol I'm sure, but are you waiting for a challenge from some of these guys and wondering when it's going to come?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, it'll come. This sport works in cycles. I've been at the bottom of the cycle since I've come in and we're just now getting back to the top. And you've got to capitalize when you're at the top. You've got to find a way to win, got to find a way to get good finishes. And I know we'll cycle back to the bottom, it's just a matter of time. Every team does. You hope your cycle is at a time when it doesn't mean anything.
I think you look at teams like -- Denny is the best example. He's cycled both ways, and as a team and as a driver you can just hope when you're at the top of the cycle you capitalize on it. And when you're at the bottom of the cycle, you find a way to persevere through it.
Tony Stewart is not going to run wherever he finished today forever. This is by no means the end of his career. So he's definitely going to cycle back up. Does he cycle up tomorrow or does he cycle up four weeks from now or more? I don't know. But you certainly can't count on him to not get back to his winning forms.
Q. While you were celebrating in victory lane, Mike Davis tweeted something and said that, "I was just thinking about the day Brad K. Was sitting trying to convince Dale, Jr., to give him a shot, and now look at him," or something to that effect. So much has happened in your career in a relatively short period of time. What do you think about -- you almost sounded a little bit speechless in victory lane tonight.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think about what an honor it is to have this opportunity. There's so many talented race car drivers out there. They're everywhere, and some of them get the opportunity and things happen outside of their control, or sometimes they just screw it up. A lot of them don't.
I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity and to not have screwed it up. There were several times where I felt like I had, so just very, very fortunate to be where I'm at right now. When you're running those last few laps, you're thinking to yourself, I just can't believe this. I didn't even think I'd ever have the opportunity to run this race, let alone to be leading it with five to go or whatever.
I can remember talking to my brother right before he got the chance to start the Daytona 500. I asked him, What do you think, how you're going to do in the race?
He said, I don't care, I can't believe I'm in the Daytona 500, I'm going to get to run it. No matter what happens this is the best day of my life.
And I try to keep that in perspective, how lucky I was just to even be running this race and how fortunate I am to be a part of this sport, let alone to be leading it at the end and to win it. It's just a huge honor.
Q. For Paul, Brad recently told a story about when you met with him in a motor home at Michigan when he was trying to convince you to be the crew chief, and he said that the way he recalled you were real quiet and sat and listened to him. And when he was done, you looked him straight in the face and said, "No, I don't think so," and walked out.
How tough was that to make that decision when you walked out the door, and did you kind of second-guess yourself or wonder where your path might have led or surprised how it has led?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I don't know --
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Paul, what were you thinking that day (laughing)?
PAUL WOLFE: At the time I was committed to the team I was with. It was exciting to have Brad give me the call and want to talk about it. It's always an honor to be wanted, I guess. I had worked really hard to get where I was at, and like I said, I'm pretty dedicated and loyal to people that have helped me out. And the situation I was in, I felt like that was where I wanted to be and I had made a commitment to those guys and I was going to live up to it.
So I'm not sure if that was the response Brad was expecting or thought he was going to get out of me. And then as the season winded down, the opportunity came about when that team didn't have sponsorship, so at that point, we started to talk again.
Q. Brad, a couple for you. No. 1, driving the 'Blue Deuce,' with all the success of Kurt -- I know you're a big fan of the sport and respect the history of the sport. Talk a little bit about that first.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, yeah. I mean, first off, the Miller partners or distributors or what have you, the group in this area is so supportive of the race program. Like Paul said, it's an honor to be where you're wanted and where you're supported. He was talking about it in some other context, but it's the same thing as it talks about the sponsors. Miller loves Bristol.
It's always an honor. I was so thrilled to drive by that banner pulling in here to the racetrack and just feel like I lived up to the commitment they've made to me by being able to win and be successful. And I wasn't sure we were going to be able to do that.
Obviously you try really hard. Miller is a marquee sponsor of this sport and one that's been around for quite some time. It's an icon with obviously the 'Blue Deuce.' More people know the 'Blue Deuce' than know me for sure, so I feel very lucky to get to drive that car. And I just hope I can pay it back by having strong runs like we had today.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the rides of course you're giving to the veterans tomorrow and what all that means to you.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure, yeah. Spending the night here at the racetrack and having an event with my foundation here tomorrow, I was hoping I'd get a few more of you media guys to come out and maybe I could give you a ride and scare you all to hell, but nobody volunteered; imagine that. Who knows, maybe somebody will now.
We're going to have a lot of fun with it. My foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, we do some cool things with the track, and we also are partnering with Miller to do it, so I have some cool things going on, and it's going to be a blast.
It's always nice to kind of pay it back to the people that make it possible for us to get to drive race cars in a circle and hoot and holler and make a lot of noise in victory lane. The veterans and those that have made sacrifices, and specifically the ones in my foundation that have made sacrifices to life and limb, it's always an honor to be a part of that with them and give back to them.
Q. Brad, kind of following up on that, you went in the diametrically opposite direction from last year with your pre-race driver introduction tonight. What's the story on the two veterans you introduced and are they going to be ride-along tonight?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The two guys that were out there, yeah, they will definitely be part of the ride-alongs tomorrow, and I'll be glad to have them for sure. Are you coming, Nate?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That means no.
Q. Before the obvious jump off your car in victory lane, what was your pain level tonight in the car?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Last 100 laps I was certainly starting to feel it. But you know, I don't think anybody wants to hear me whine. Every once in a while I do and they tell me just to shut up anyway, and it hasn't been very productive. It obviously has felt better. I wish I wouldn't have jumped off the damned car.
Q. I know you don't want to look into the future, so I'll ask you to look in the future. Can you keep this up for 12 more weeks, and do things change as far as how the racing goes once the Chase starts? We've seen a lot of guys make surges into the Chase and once they get in, things seem to change for them.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I haven't heard any voices in my head yet, so it should be all right. I'll have to ask Jimmie. But I'm going to have fun with it. It's an honor just to be in the Chase. At the start of the year it was certainly one of our goals. And to come in on a high note is just great. Past success does not guarantee future success, and I'm a big believer in that, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt. That's why we run the races.
We could run the races on paper and in our head all day long and say that such-and-such is going to win, but you just never know. So we'll just have to see. But we're on the right path.
Q. For Paul, assuming you're in the Chase, it would be easy to say that with everything that's transpired so far this year that just being in the Chase, whatever happened, would just kind of be gravy. But given the opportunity to be in it and how well you've been running lately, do you then instantly become kind of more focused on now how do we win this since we're in it?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, you know, it's hard to say. Obviously this will be my first Chase if we do make it, and as of right now I don't see myself doing anything different than what I've done to this point. You know, there's a lot of pressure to perform in this sport. That's what it's based on, and I feel like every day when I go to work I have to prove myself again, and that's what I continue to do every weekend is continue to work hard.
Now that we've won three races it doesn't mean that we're just going to put it on cruise control because we've accomplished a lot this year already. The better you run, it's like the expectations just continue to get higher and higher.
Looking back at the beginning of the season, if we could just run top 15 we, thought that was going to be good. That was a big accomplishment, looking at how we ran at Vegas and California, and we've far exceeded the top 15 now. So the better you run, the expectations just continue to get higher and higher.
So to go back to running 15th really isn't acceptable. I guess what I'm getting at is I'll continue to work hard and do the same things that I've done to get to this point, and that's what I'll continue to do if we get in the Chase.
Q. Brad, there were a lot of people, me included, that thought it was a really stupid move to get out of the Hendrick pipeline and jump over to Penske to get into a Cup ride when you did, and I'll admit I was obviously wrong about that. Does it feel extra good -- obviously winning feels good, but does it feel extra good when you outrun the Hendrick guys to do it?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, man. Well, there's no doubt that that was a very difficult decision -- hey, it's Chad. Hey, Chad. I'd better wait until he leaves the room to answer that.
Sometimes in life you have to step back and look at the complete picture and be able to see the complete picture and know that you have to let go to get what you want, let go of what you have, leave your comfort zone to make it to the next level. And I'm sure, although I did not have a spot at Hendrick for the 2010 season, I'm sure Rick and his team would have figured something out.
But I wasn't sure what that was going to be. And I had an incredible opportunity that Roger gave me. I knew that if I made the most of it, that he would reward me. I knew how loyal he was from talking to him and kind of checking out the sources and felt like I was being afforded an opportunity to create something.
And if I had gone to Hendrick or waited it out, there was a long list of bad things that could have happened and a very short list of positive things that could have happened. And I didn't see that at Penske. I only saw a list of things that were good that could have happened, and the biggest negative that could happen was everybody telling me I was an idiot. Well, people tell me I'm an idiot every day, so I'm pretty much immune to that.
But I felt like by having an opportunity to create a Nationwide program from the ground up, to create it with perhaps the vision that I had with having a guy like Paul to crew chief it and having some of the people behind the scenes inside of it -- and Paul put a lot of that together. He deserves an amazing part of the credit. I felt like that would perhaps offset the Cup stuff.
And I'll be honest, last year in Cup, I was miserable. There were a lot of people that told me, "you should have waited, you should have waited.
But there just wasn't an opportunity, and it's such a tough question to answer because no one here can sit here knowing all the pieces to the puzzle. Quite honestly, I can't tell you all of them, and have all the information that I had, and with all the information I had, I believe in my heart that this was the right decision.
And I'm glad we're able to perform now and prove to everyone that it was. I think the performance at the end of the day is always the proof.
I'm really proud of this whole group to be able to prove that this was the right call. It certainly wasn't the easy call, but this was the right call. And I think Paul would tell you, too, that he had other opportunities besides Penske that certainly were easier calls to make. But at the end, this means more. This means more, it really does.
It's been since 2005 since two cars from Penske Racing have made the Chase, and I think that was the only year. And I don't think there's really ever been a year where both cars have been competitive and really winning races like there is now. I'd like to think that Paul and I are both a large part of that, and essentially we've taken what was the 12 team, turned it into the 2 team, created two amazing groups with great sponsors like Shell and Miller that can really do this and do it right, and everyone is being rewarded.
Not the easy call, for sure, but it's looking real good right now.
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