NASCAR Post-Race Press Conference

Brad Keselowski adds his fourth winners decal after his win at Kentucky Speedway
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

THE MODERATOR: We're going to hear from our winning crew chief and then also our winning team. We have Walt Czarnecki, he's executive vice president at Team Penske. They racked up their 101st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win here tonight. I believe last week was 100, two in a row. Brad Keselowski now clinches a spot in the Chase. He's got multiple wins. He's locked in a top 30 spot. He's the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase.

Walt, I'll start with you. Obviously this organization is really coming together here at the midpoint of the season. Just talk about this win tonight and the significance of it here at Kentucky Speedway.

WALT CZARNECKI: Well, thank you, Kerry. Extremely significant, obviously, coming on the heels of our 100th Cup win last week at Daytona, which was huge, and then today our IndyCar team recorded our 500th pole, Simon Pagenaud at Iowa, so it's been a big day for Team Penske.

Looking back over the last six weeks, the job that Paul and Brad and Joey and Todd and Travis and Mike and all the people who are charged with running this program, it really brought the program together. We felt early on that our cars were good. Brad won the race at Las Vegas, but I think we all realized that maybe the team wasn't executing as best it possibly could, and it was clearly over the last six weeks that situation has changed.

I think we've established ourselves as a contender, but clearly there's a long way to go. We're pretty comfortable. I will say this: I think there's a few more wins left in this team prior to getting to Chicago.

THE MODERATOR: Paul, what a race we had here this weekend. Those cars looked like a handful. Down there towards the end your car obviously looked to be the class of the field, but certainly the fuel mileage was a big issue. Take us through those last few laps and how stressful was that, especially when he comes on the radio and says I believe I'm out?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]PAUL WOLFE: Well, it's definitely an emotional roller coaster for sure the last few laps of that race. When we pitted I guess it was with about 70 to go, we knew everyone was a little bit short. I feel like we've been on the good side of the fuel mileage this year. All the guys at Roush Yates have worked hard to give us power and mileage, and that showed up again tonight. But with that being said, we were kind of expecting to see some cautions as we did early in the race, so it wasn't really a big concern, but as the race started getting with 20 to go, then it was time to start making decisions. As you saw some of the guys running fifth, sixth, I think peeled off with maybe 15, 16 to go, and then it was kind of decision time on what do we do because we knew we couldn't make it. We knew we were short. But as we got out there and got the lead in that final run, Brad started saving, and he's one of the best in the business at saving fuel.

So as we got down to 10 to go, it was kind of like, make the call what you want me to do. I kind of know what our strengths are, and that's definitely saving fuel, and I kind of went with that strategy and told him to go and be even to a 10 on a scale of a save mode, and everyone else, I think the 20 ran out and that kind of gave us a big cushion back to the 19. I think it was 10 or 12 seconds, so that really allowed us to start saving.

But it comes down to it, we were out. I mean, we were totally out at the start-finish line, so it couldn't have timed out any better.

WALT CZARNECKI: If I might interject, I was sitting up there with Paul for that last segment, and this man to my right never lost his composure, stayed focused, never wavered one bit. When he made that decision, that was the decision, and it was really wonderful to watch.

Q. Paul, from your position as a crew chief, can you tell us what you saw, what impact if any the lower downforce package had on the race?

PAUL WOLFE: It had a big impact. There was a lot of factors this weekend with it being a repaved track, the first race on the track. It's always a challenge for Goodyear and NASCAR to figure out what tire combination to bring, and these repaved tracks tend to build a lot of heat in the tire so you've got to build something with some durability. It's always a challenge to get that balance. Sometimes that leads to the cars not driving as good as maybe some may like, but ultimately we got the best drivers in the business in this garage.

I think we saw some guys lose it tonight, but I think the cars are tough to drive and a challenge, and I think that's what separates the guys that can rise to the occasion and the ones that can't.

Q. Paul, he finishes out of gas, he wins by less than two tenths of a second. Can you kind of walk us through the last lap and when you were able to exhale?

PAUL WOLFE: Well, like I said, I felt good about it until the 19 closed up to us, and when he first said he felt like it stumbled, that was about with two to go. Typically we feel like you usually can get maybe a lap and a half when you feel it first stumble as much as he was saving. So I still felt pretty good about it, until he said with one to go, I'm out, I'm out again, and the 19 had closed up within two car lengths. We got into Turn 1, he said it picked up fuel again, he able to go, and I think he said it shut off a little bit down the back. As he got into the corner again it picked up, and then once we were coming off 4 I seen he was still under power, and I felt like we had it at that point.

Q. Walt, you guys have won all three races with the low downforce car. Can you talk about the diligence and the work of the guys back in the shop to pull this all together?

WALTER CZARNECKI: I really hadn't thought about that, but I think, again, it's a testimony to the adaptability and the talent of the people that work on these cars at Mooresville. They're prepared. One of the things I think the hallmark of our team has been for many years, not just this year, we want to come to the racetrack prepared with the best possible equipment. So I was at the shop on Wednesday and I was watching the work that was going on, for example, on the cars that we're going to be taking to New Hampshire next week. There's total focus, total concentration. My hats off to the people back there, Roy McCauley and the whole team that put these cars together.

Q. Is Joey all right? Have you guys talked to Joey? Is he physically okay, just battered and bruised?

WALT CZARNECKI: I haven't had a chance to talk to him. I didn't see him afterward, so I really can't answer your question, sorry. I hope he's okay.

Q. Paul, Carl Edwards after the deal said that — his comment was, yeah, I thought he was out of fuel and he wasn't. He played it perfectly, he let me get to him and then stood on it. Two laps before, even before he took the white, he was saying he was out of gas, Joey was laughing on the radio, and basically nursed it the final two laps. Can you comment on Edwards' comment, please?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] PAUL WOLFE: Well, I don't — Brad did a great job saving. I don't know that there was any plan to just finish whatever it was, a car length in front of Carl. But when he said he was out, he was out. Like I said, typically the car will still pick up fuel for a lap and a half there. Honestly when Carl closed up to us going down the back, I thought he was going to go around us. I haven't heard for sure, but I'm assuming he was probably in the same situation as us where he was starting to stumble a little bit.

Like I said, when I made the call to go into full fuel save, it was really just the confidence I had in Brad through that whole 70-lap run that he does such a good job with saving fuel when we need to that I had confidence enough that, you know what, I think we can pull it off this way. Our chances are pretty good, and kind of rolled with it. I knew it was going to be close, but that's what ultimately made it so exciting at the end.

Q. Paul, you had mentioned that it always seems like Brad, when it comes to races like this, manages to stretch the fuel out. Is that like a trade secret or does he just have an instinct for it, or what is it?

PAUL WOLFE: I'm not really sure if it's any secrets. I think everyone knows he's good at it now, but there's nothing — I don't know, he's just able to — the key to it is being able to keep speed and save fuel at the same time, and he's able to balance that out really well, not losing much lap time while saving fuel. Just the techniques and how he uses the brake and the gas, and he's just really been good at it. It kind of showed up more, I think, when we still had the carburetors and all that. It's harder to save as much with EFI now as what we could back when we first started. But it still works. I mean, he's still able to do it. It could just be his driving style in general works really well when you need to save fuel.

When it comes to thinking in the car, Brad is really good. He's really intelligent and thinks a lot about what's going on and is able to react and stay calm. I think that's key in situations like that is being able to stay calm and stay focused, and that's definitely one of Brad's strengths.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, gentlemen, on this win here tonight. Certainly you began the second half of the season in fine form, and good luck in New Hampshire.

We have our race winner here, and that's Brad Keselowski. He wins at Kentucky. It's his 21st win of his career, his fourth win in 2016, which leads our series. He clinches a spot in the Chase with multiple wins.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Really?

THE MODERATOR: Yes. And his third victory at Kentucky Speedway. Talk about the drama that was involved in tonight's race. Certainly you had a great car. Things were going great, but it got down there towards the end and it had to get a little nerve-racking. Take us through the last few laps.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, rolling right into them last few laps, gosh, that was something. We weren't the best car tonight. That's for sure. The 78 car, he was really good. I thought the 4 car looked really good, 19, 20, 18 looked really good. We seemed to kind of hover right in that fifth-to-eighth-place range, and we came down pit road fifth with 72 to go, 73 to go, and left pit road fifth. I thought, well, you know, who knows how these things are going to go but then the 78 got the penalty, moved us into the outside line on the restart, which I think we saw all night was the preferred line. I was able to clear the two inside cars. I don't remember who they were, and get into Turn 3 behind Kevin and I was about half a car width back, which, I had a pretty good ideal that if I could stay within a half a car length of him that I could create an aero wake behind his car and loosen him up a little bit without touching him, and sure enough, we went down in the corner and it looked like he got really loose and I was able to make the move and get by him.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]That's kind of a product of this package, just how hard the cars are to drive with somebody behind you, and that worked out beautifully. We had a great car on restarts to kind of complement that, and once I got to the lead there, I was like, okay, well, we'll see how this all plays out. I kind of expected another restart, and our car was really fading on long runs. It was losing grip kind of rapidly, and with about 20 or 30 to go I thought I'm going to be in trouble here and I was probably not going to be able to hold off the 78 and the 20. That hadn't been our strength. I think Paul Wolfe, my crew chief, he saw that, made an aggressive call to go to fuel mileage. I knew we were way short of being able to make it, so I got as aggressive as I could, and somehow we made it. I'm not even sure you can really say we made it because we ran out with about two to go, and it was — by running out, I mean it stumbled really, really bad, and I was able to just somehow limp it around the last two laps and stay ahead of Carl and bring her home.

That was something. This is a night I'm not going to forget. Last year we came, and I thought we were the best car, and we didn't catch a single break, didn't execute, and those two things kept us out of victory lane, not just here, but a lot of times last year. This week we caught some breaks, we executed, and we were able to win. Not the fastest car, but still a hell of a team effort to be proud of.

Q. I wanted to ask about the racing tonight in general. It wasn't as good as last year's Kentucky race maybe; what's the bigger factor in that? Was it the surface or the lower downforce package just didn't work?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, any time you have a repave, the track gets a lot narrower. I think we saw that tonight. Tonight was one of those nights where I think everybody is challenged to define what great racing is. I would probably say that of course Kentucky last year was an incredible race. It would be tough to beat that ever on a mile-and-a-half racetrack.

But I would also say that the cars are — the new rules package makes them harder to drive and requires a lot more precision as a race car driver, and I can appreciate that about the race. We're still facing and fighting the same dilemmas in our sport of the lead car having a significant advantage over other cars in the field, but that advantage seemed to go from maybe on a 1 to 10 scale, from an 8 to a 6 or a 7 here, which I think is good, but until the track widens out and gets multiple grooves, I honestly think this is the best race you're going to see on a repave.

Q. Late in the race but before you and Paul and Joey were talking about fuel mileage, you said something to Paul, you had a discussion that he had done or you thought he had done everything he could to the car as far as changes, but you needed something on the outside to happen. Was it a change — were you referring to kind of what you were talking about, a change in circumstances or getting that opportunity to be in clean air on the outside?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I was referring to we needed to start the weekend over with a different car. That's kind of what I meant, because the changes we were doing to the car, we just were kind of maxed out. You've got all these knobs in the car and adjustments you can do to it. Once the race starts we kind of turned them off, and it was kind of like, well, there's nothing left to turn here, and all we were going to do is make ourselves worse in one area. It was like, well, leave it alone, let's finish the race off the best we can. That's kind of where we were.

Like I said, we were not the fastest car. We have a lot of work to do from a speed standpoint after tonight. That's not what won us the race. The 78 car I think was heads and tails above everyone else, and there were probably a handful of others who were maybe a touch better than us, as well. We still have a lot of work to do when tonight is over.

Q. Brad, you kind of touched on this, but from your point of view as the driver, what impact would you say the lower downforce package had on the race, especially considering it's just been repaved, the track?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it won me the race. Without the lower, lower downforce package today, I don't think I would have won the race. I would have never made the move I made on the 4 car, and that would have been it.

There were certainly moves you could make today that you couldn't make before with respect to getting behind somebody and being able to alter the way their car drove, and that's a part of being a race car driver. That's a part of this package.

Q. How much did the track being repaved play into the race itself?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, dramatically. It played into everything this weekend, the line you ran on the racetrack was significantly different than the line you would normally run here. Normally we would run in the middle of the racetrack because there was a progressive hitch to the track, but that hitch never took the full rubber that it would need to grip up to optimize the speed and dictated that the cars run on the bottom.

I expect that to change over the next two or three seasons and the groove will move up tremendously back to where it was.

Q. There seemed to be a fair amount of issues in Turn 3. What was your experience like there, and did you kind of anticipate that there would be another caution late because of all the problems?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I certainly anticipated another caution. I don't think we had a stretch in the race that long before that one to my knowledge. And yeah, I anticipated a lot of problems in Turn 3. It's designed that way. The track is specifically designed for Turns 1 and 2 to be fast, somewhat easy to drive, and 3 and 4 designed to be slow and very, very difficult to drive. That's one of the design features of this racetrack, and I think you saw that today. I think most of the accidents were in 3 and 4 because of how difficult that corner was. That's not a bad thing. That's how it was meant to be, and it contributed to the race we saw today.

Q. I'm going to read you a quote from Carl and then I'm going to ask you a question about it. Carl basically implied that you really did a great job playing it perfectly over the last lap and a quarter, whatever it was. He said, "He waited, he basically shut the car off and then went right off of four and matched it perfectly to where I couldn't get it by him down the front straight away and then he ran like heck through 1 and 2, and then I thought maybe he'll run out down the back straight. Man, I drove it down in there trying to catch him into 3 but I couldn't even get to him."

When you radioed in that you were out, did you really think you were out, or was that for someone else's benefit?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: If the question is did I think I was out, yes, I thought I was out. I did not think I was going to win the race based on what I felt in the car.

Q. Did this race play out more like a short track tonight compared to an intermediate track? Seemed like a lot of drivers were using a lot of brake.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Tonight was a very disciplined race for sure. Maybe you can make an analogy to short track racing. I'm not sure, but it took a lot discipline to run this track tonight. If you got into Turn 3 and 4 the least bit wrong, you wrecked. That's just the way the race was, and I think that's what we saw. There's arguments to be made good or bad for that. I think it's a good challenge. We're professional race car drivers. It shouldn't be easy. It wasn't tonight. It was very, very difficult. You had to certainly be very smart.

Q. Earlier Paul was saying that he was really praising your coolness and just how you can just stay focused, but when you have a finish like that and you're wondering whether you can even get to the checkered flag, do you recall a time that was more tense than that, and how did you keep your focus?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it's a pretty helpless feeling being out of gas and seeing guys behind you running you down and knowing that you're not at full speed. There's nothing you can do about it and freaking out ain't going to help anything. I can tell you that. That just makes it worse. I guess that's the way I look at it and approach it. What was the second question?

Yeah, a lot of them are that way. Daytona and Talladega feels that way because you know at any given point, the cars behind you can always develop a run to pass you, so leading there at the last lap is not very fun.

Q. Could you see what was going on when you and Logano came off of 4 and he slapped the wall?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think from my view, it looked like Joey got into the corner and slipped up about two foot off the yellow line and I had just a tiny run on him. I was about three or four-foot back, and he kind of climbed the hill on the gas and either the aero wake off of my car got him loose or he was just loose. He got loose off of 4 and brushed the wall. I knew I didn't hit him. I knew I was probably three or four-foot behind him, but I still hate to see that happen to my teammate.

Q. Can you talk about what that sensation was like in Turn 3 when you come into there? Do you guys lift or are you just trying to get control or get your car pointed in the right direction?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: You're just trying to survive 3 and 4. Every time you go in there on a restart, it's as harry as it can get. It's extremely challenging for sure to go into that corner as a pack and try to make it out of there. I think we saw quite a few times where we didn't.

Q. Penske won all three of the low low downforce races, All-Star, Michigan and Kentucky now. Can you talk about —

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I'll All-Star real quick. I don't think All-Star was low low downforce, I think that was low skew, not to get technical on you.

Q. But anyway, at least Michigan, the low, and Michigan and here, can you talk about the testament to Team Penske —

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it's good. To be clear I thought we were much better at Michigan than we were here at Kentucky for all the cars. Today we were not the fastest car. But I'm still very proud that we were able to get in victory lane. We're very competitive. Rules changes are always tough. But I still think the Gibbs cars were still a touch in front of us and probably the 4 car, as well.

Q. Kentucky Speedway there was a lot of talk about trying to age this repave so that it wouldn't drive like just a brand new track. From your perspective did that work to any extent?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I think the track did all they could do. They brought that tire machine out here which was unsung hero because without that this race would have been a flat-out disaster, and that somewhat opened it up to where you could run the second groove without wrecking. Hopefully that machine will make it to a few more tracks this year, but I thought that was a critical step by the racetrack that they probably got about 20 percent of the credit they deserve for making that step.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] But beyond that, there's other challenges we have. We need the tracks to take rubber faster. We've got some things we've got to work on there with respect to getting tires to do that. That would help out tremendously if the tracks laid down rubber or the tires laid down rubber on the track. I'm not sure there's a lot the track can do about that. This track is located fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you're looking at it, right in that frost belt where it freezes and unfreezes many, many times over the winter. That should help significantly with the curing and aging process, but I think really the key is will the track take rubber here over the next two or three races to where it widens out, and if it does and when it does, I think you'll see the racing get very similar to what we saw here last year.

Q. What are you going to do with the second juke box?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it's a bigger juke box. I'm going to get rid of the first one. No, just kidding. You ever see Indiana Jones, the Ark where it goes in the basement to never be seen again? That's going to happen to the smaller juke box, and the big juke box is going to be put out front somewhere.

Q. Going back to Friday, your media availability, saying you were going to be here —

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I said I wanted to be here to say goodbye to The Commander. He's done a lot for the sport and we're proud of you. Thank you, Commander.

THE MODERATOR: You did what you needed to do.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: So did you. Congrats.

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