Ford Performance NASCAR: Team Penske Winner's Press Conference

PAUL WOLFE:  FORD SWEPT THE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES THIS YEAR.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?  “Well, to your point there, Ford sweeping the speedway races, hats off to Doug and all the guys at Roush Yates.  They continue to work hard and bring us great power, and these Fords aerodynamically are great on these speedway races.  Individually all the different teams are able to get a lot of speed out of these things.  Hats off to our guys back at Team Penske for continuing to push on the speedway program and getting more because as we've been so good, you need to continue to find more as you move forward, and qualifying I think showed that we've been able to keep up with the progress that other teams have made with having our cars up towards the front in qualifying.  The 22 was obviously very strong qualifying, and we were sixth. Just a lot of effort on these speedway programs, and we're trying to capitalize when we can.”

            THE MODERATOR:  With the unpredictability that goes into speedway racing here at Talladega, how nervous were you in those final laps watching the Blue Deuce trying to bring it home?

            BUD DENKER:  “Well, I watch the races in the top of the grandstands, so I was up there in the very top, which is what took me so long to get down here.  But that was really something.  It was so impressive, also, what Joey did, to come from the adversity he faced today and to come back and make it all the way to Brad to help push him across the finish line.

            Ryan Blaney did a great job today, too.  Those stage points, you see now how important they are.  They really are, after his mishap, and then I think he had 18 and then Brad almost ran the table today.

            But Joey did a great job today, and every car was fast out of our shop today.  But Paul and the team, despite the adversity they faced, they had an antenna get chopped off from debris ‑ that's a first for us, right, Paul?  They overcame with no communication for many, many laps, and then came in and made the call, and the call obviously worked and now we're advancing to the next stage of the round with Brad and the team.  We can kind of going to Kansas, can't we Paul, and kind of learn from it, so well‑done.”

            Q.  Paul, with the broken antenna, how did you communicate with Brad, and how did you get him in to pit?

            PAUL WOLFE:  “Well, it was tough, obviously.  He was coming in and out, and obviously when he would come down the front stretch close to the pit box, he could hear a little bit of what we were saying, and I could hear him a little bit.  It was breaking up really bad.  But it was kind of ‑‑ the first couple opportunities we had to come down pit road, I kind of left it up to him because I couldn't tell how much he could hear or not.  We didn't really need to hear what he had to say, but it was important for him to be able to hear the spotter.

            Those first few cautions I was kind of leaving it up to him, and as it went on, I could tell by a couple of the runs there where we were losing all this track position, I really felt like it had to be because he wasn't sure, he was trying to clear himself through his mirrors, and it's almost impossible to do that at a place like this.  So it got to the point where I was like, to win this race, we're going to need the spotter.  It's that important, and you hate to give up the track position, but I really felt like to win the race that's what it was going to take.

            Obviously you put yourself in jeopardy when you lose that track position of getting caught up in the big one, and we were fortunate today to miss that and get through it, but ultimately I knew we were going to need the spotter to win this race.”


Ford Performance NASCAR Notes and Quotes

Alabama 500 – Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Page 5

            Q.  I know that every team comes to the racetrack intending to win.  Brad got his first career Cup victory at Talladega in 2014.  He was in a must‑win situation and he got the win here.  Do you ever feel like in these situations with Brad that you don't need to worry, that he'll figure this out?

            PAUL WOLFE:  “Well, as I looked at the playoffs as we tried to understand what we need to do in each round and look at our strengths and weaknesses, it's no surprise we know we're off a little bit to the Toyotas on the mile‑and‑a‑half, the downforce stuff.  But I looked at Talladega and this round as an opportunity.  Obviously there's a chance you get caught up in it, but I told Brad, I've told the guys all along, that this was going to be our path to make it to Homestead, and that was going to be winning Talladega.  And I told Brad that again after the race at Charlotte last week on pit road when we didn't have the results we wanted.  We ran very poorly for what was expected out of us at Charlotte.  And I told him, you know, we've got to go to Talladega and win.

            You know, to your point when he gets in these situations you're going to get the most out of him that he's got.  Like I said, you've got to have a little bit of help, a little lucky breaks, whatever you want to call them, along the way, but I knew if we had that, our cars have been fast enough, and he's talented enough at these tracks that I knew we could get it done today.”

            Q.  Brad said he didn't want to pit, and he felt he was fine.  How did you convince him otherwise that he needed to pit and you needed to address the situation?

            PAUL WOLFE:  “Well, I mean, obviously he had the track position, and it's very tough decision to give that up.  But gosh, there's so many moves that happened that I felt like he doesn't know about or can't tell through his mirrors, and I know how important that spotter is to help with that.

            Like I said, I saw a couple moves, and honestly I haven't had the opportunity to discuss this with Brad, but we were up front, and then I saw us going backwards really fast, and I thought something was wrong with the car at first, but as it happened a few times, I started to believe that it had to have been just because he wasn't 100 percent confident in a move because he couldn't tell just by the mirrors.  I knew we weren't in a good position without the spotter, and ultimately, like I said, I knew our car was fast.  All the Fords were fast today, so I felt like it was worth the risk to give up the track position and come down and fix it right.”

            Q.  How in the world do you tell somebody that Talladega is a must‑win situation?  That doesn't seem like that's very good odds.

            PAUL WOLFE:  “No, and like I said, you do have to have a little luck.  But we haven't been lucky four times, or I guess we've won here four times.  Brad has won one once with Finch.  You don't just get lucky four times.  That's having fast race cars, like I said, a guy that's very talented at these style racetracks.  I had confidence.  Obviously I knew there was an opportunity we could come here and get caught up in the big one, as we saw our teammates had issues, the 21 was very strong and he had issues, but ultimately you've got to have confidence and know what your strengths are, and I knew this was our strength right now.  You've got to believe you can do it and hope for the rest.”

            Q.  Do you tell him when he gets up here that Martinsville is a must‑win situation?

            PAUL WOLFE:  “Absolutely.  I think I've told my team that.  We've looked at it.  You've got to be realistic about where you're at right now, where our cars are at speed‑wise, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and you've got to do your best to capitalize when you can.  Absolutely I look at Martinsville as we need to go there and win, and if we can do that, we'll race for a championship.”

            Q.  When did you lose the antenna, and could you have won this race without Joey's help there at the end?

            PAUL WOLFE:  “Like I said, obviously it's hard to say if we could have won it or not.  I think we broke it there kind of lose track now, everything happened so fast, but somewhere there after ‑‑ right before ‑‑ it was after the second stage, I believe, before we were pitting there for the last time.  I don't know, it's really hard to say if we could have won without it, but I knew we could win with it, so I felt like that was the decision we needed to make there to give ourselves the best chance.”

            Q.  We know that Roush Yates engines are very strong here at superspeedways.  How do you feel going forward to the Martinsville, Texas, tracks like that, with Roush Yates horsepower?

            PAUL WOLFE: “I feel good about it.  Those guys have been working hard.  You know, they're very open to feedback from the teams, and whether it's from our team or Roush or Stewart‑Haas, it's good to have Stewart‑Haas in the mix now, they've got some input and some ideas, and I think Ford as a whole, we all try to work together and all pull in the same direction, and the engine shop is no different on that.  Speedways have always been a strength and something Doug really focuses on.  But they've been bringing us really good stuff to the other racetracks.  Just seems like the short tracks are obviously a little less aero dependent, and we've been able to be a little more competitive at those, so that's where I look at Martinsville as the next opportunity.”


THE MODERATOR:  This was his fifth victory in 18 races at Talladega Superspeedway.  That's a pretty good ratio for superspeedway racing and any racetrack in general.  Walk us through how you were able to get it done today, please.

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, of course it's a special day any day you can win, but to win at Talladega for the fifth time is something I was never sure I'd ever have the opportunity to do.  Just winning here once felt pretty incredible, and it's hard to believe that was eight‑some years ago.  To win here again, it still feels pretty darned good.  It doesn't feel much different.  I'm a little older now, but yeah, you never know when your first win or last win could be, and I want to of course soak this one up and be thankful for it, and of course there's a lot of carnage and other things that we were able to survive that give me good reason to be thankful for, as well.

            I think we made it through three big wrecks, and the races here at Talladega in the spring and both Daytonas, we got caught up in all the big ones.  This one we made it through all the big ones.  I thought we were probably pretty strong at those other races and didn't have the luck.  Today we had the luck that we needed, and then we were able to execute at the end with the moves on the last two or three laps, so just really, really special win to be able to put it all together at the end.”

            Q.  Paul was in here earlier and I pointed out that your first Cup victory came at Talladega in 2014, you were in a must‑win situation.  He told you at Charlotte that you had to come here and win.  When you are in these positions, what is it that makes you able to step up and rise to the occasion and deliver in big instances?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Well, you'd love to be able to pat yourself on the back and say it's all skill, but there is some luck that's involved in this.  2014 we were in one of the big wrecks, and it just hit us in an area that didn't damage the car to affect its performance, very similar here today where we made it through the wrecks.

            But I feel like what's critical to be successful here, whether it's a cutoff race or a must‑win or a not must‑win, you know when you come here that probably three out of every four races you're going to get caught up in a wreck or something like that happens.  But the races where you have the good fortune, where you don't get caught up in a wreck or you don't have something break or any of those things, you have to take those races, run up front and win them.  And I think that's what we've been able to do.

“We've wrecked out of the last three plate races, which really stunk because we had great cars at those and I thought we made great moves and led a lot of laps.  So coming here it's kind of felt like a hand of cards where you're like, well, I can't keep getting the bad cards so I'm going to get some good cards, and when you get them, you'd better make a good play with them, and I think we probably felt that coming into today.

            And being able to put that all together, I would say you have to take the races where you don't have bad luck and win at them, and that's what we've been able to do.  Today it was one of those days for us.”

            Q.  After some of these races you've talked about being a gladiator and cars have been flipping and everything.  There were a lot of hard wrecks but all the cars stayed on the ground but yet there were only 14 cars running at the end of the race.  Is that less ridiculous than cars getting up in the air?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, I don't know.  I feel like some weeks we race, and it's probably a little bit easier than it should be, and some weeks we race and it's probably a little bit harder than it should be, and you could probably average them all out and it's probably about right.  Talladega definitely brings it back to the more aggressive side, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.  There's some weeks where I kind of feel a little bad about the paycheck I earn for the workload, but Talladega ain't one of them, I'll tell you that right now.

            I kind of take it in stride and just thankful to have the position I have.  As far as the carnage is concerned, this year in particular we've seen more carnage on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs than I think we did last year, and I think there's ebbs and flows to that that are hard for me to explain or make any sense out of because I felt like the last two years there wasn't a lot of crashes.

            I don't know exactly what to make of that, but I was glad to come out victorious despite it.”

            Q.  Do you think the fact that ‑‑ nobody being able to lay back because of stage points and everything increased the number of cars that ‑‑

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “No, not really because I thought the spring race at Talladega and Daytona in July especially had a lot of carnage and not a lot of cars left at the finish.  I don't know if I would say that.”

            Q.  Your teammate was also up there making moves.  Were you wondering what his agenda might be because there were times where it looked like he was going for it, there was other times where he was throwing big blocks on people.  What was his agenda there?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Well, Joey and I are good friends and I think great teammates, and I think that we have an understanding between each other that no matter what the scenario is, we don't expect each other to hurt themselves to help each other, but if you have a way of helping each other without hurting yourself, you try to take it.  You know, I think he made the block he made on the last lap or so, I don't know exact timing because it was the right move to help his day, not necessarily to help mine.  And at the end he made the move to win the race, and I just was able to execute the block.  He didn't let up at all.  He could have chose a different lane for sure and probably had an equal shot at winning.  He chose the one he did, and if it didn't work, it was going to benefit me, and that's kind of what happened, or in my opinion from what I could tell.

            I don't think I would have won the race if he would have picked a different lane.  I don't think he was trying to make sure I won the race, I think he was trying to make sure he won it, and it just didn't come together for him.”

            Q.  Fords have won all four restrictor plate races this year; what makes them so good on these type of tracks?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “A number of factors.  You know, I would say the reliability is good.  We have some pretty good drivers for these type of tracks.  That doesn't hurt.  The deficiencies that we seem to have on the mile‑and‑a‑half tracks lend themselves to probably proficiencies at these type of tracks, with the power ban in the engine is at the very high rpm, the way the motors have been limited on the other tracks to very low rpms, so that benefits us here, hurts us at other tracks, and the cars are quite a bit down on downforce for the mile‑and‑a‑halfs compared to the rest of the field, but also quite a bit better on drag, which makes it advantageous for these type of tracks.

            I think the strengths and weaknesses throughout the field right now are quite a bit different between the manufacturers, with this being the strength of the Ford package at this time, and you probably could say the Chevrolet package, as well, with how they qualify and race here.

            So in that light, we know we have to come to these races and make something happen because this is our opportunity, and we like to find more to be more competitive on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs, but that's not the opportunity as it stands right now, so we'll have to make the most of these.”

            Q.  You talked about the advantage Roush Yates horsepower has here and the disadvantage it has going to other tracks.  How do you feel going forward?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Well, the good thing about Martinsville is you spin the tires there, so the engine from a horsepower standpoint is not as critical when you can't put the gas pedal down.  I think that's why we run so well there.  If you look at the tracks where the Fords have won this year, it's been the tracks where you have very little rear tire grip, a lot of wheel spin, Sonoma, Martinsville, and it's been at the superspeedways, so I don't think that's a mistake by any means.  But then I look at Texas, Kansas and probably even Homestead and Phoenix, and we know those are tracks that we're not as good as we want to be.  The 4 car seems to have found a little bit more speed than the rest of the Fords, and he's close, but I think even he would say he's probably not exactly where he wants to be.

            So you know, we can get caught up in deficiencies or we can make the most of what we have, and I feel like we have a lot of opportunities in front of us, and I want to make the most of what we have.”

            Q.  I talked to Joey after the race, and it was on his 300th start he got a win.  On your 300th start you got a win.  Some other drivers have gotten a win on their 300th start.  How does that make you feel, that stat?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, I'm not real big in numerology.  I know some people like it.  I don't.  If this was No. 299 I'd be just as happy, I'll be honest with you.  But it is still nice.”

            Q.  Do you feel that Martinsville is a must‑win situation, and if you can win there, do you feel like you've almost kind of stolen a spot in the Championship Round?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, Martinsville at this moment as it stands I would say is a must‑win for us, and we know that going in.  We tested there, and we feel like that's the type of track that we have a lot of strength for.  At this point, yes, but you know what, that could change.  You hate to say that; it's still three weeks away, right?”

 Q.  You had the "cheers to Dale Jr." on your car; how much did that mean to you, and what was the mindset to do that?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, there was a lot going on this weekend, and that was one of the special ones for sure.  At the start of the year, we were very fortunate because not everybody gets these opportunities, but Miller Lite told us that we could take the car for two races and put whatever paint scheme we wanted to put on it.  They gave us here and Phoenix, and we were able to take our car for Phoenix and do something with our charity to be able to celebrate Veterans Day that we're really happy about, and then take the paint scheme here at Talladega, and we were trying to come up with the right idea, and it just was kind of a "duh" moment when we said Talladega, and we get a special paint scheme, we should do something to honor Dale for that with respect to the opportunity he gave me early in my career and the white 88 Navy car.  So it was kind of a perfect fit and was nice to be able to show some love and respect to him for everything he's done for me and for the sport.  I think that's something that we can all be grateful for in a lot of ways.

            I was happy to do that.  I knew coming in here it was going to be tough because people saw me running that paint scheme, and I think they expected I was going to let Dale win.  But one of the great things about competition and I think about Dale is that I think he respected the car and what it meant to run that kind of paint scheme but didn't expect for us not to try to beat each other, and that's exactly what we tried to do.  He pushed me to the limit and did a great job.”

            Q.  I guess it was at Daytona in 2016 we sat upstairs in the press box and we watched the Toyotas gather together, work out a game plan, and Denny Hamlin went to the finish of the Daytona 500.  Since then the Ford camp has won the last seven races.  You guys came in with a strategy this weekend.  Can you just talk about how that evolved to have that kind of gamesmanship among you all and push you to the seventh consecutive win for Ford?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, that's a big number.  You know, I think in other things that happened, we got beaten and kind of embarrassed at Daytona in 2016 for the 500, and I think we all felt like at that point we hadn't done enough homework and that we needed to get back to work, and in a lot of ways that's exactly what we did.  So you know, that was definitely hitting right between the eyes.

            But I also think that the Ford drivers and teams are cognizant of how difficult these races are to win by yourself, and again, nobody expects, at least I don't expect I should say, anyone to pull over and let me win a race, but if there's an opportunity to help a Ford win, we want to see that happen.”

            Q.  The fact that you guys from the weekend, when the weekend started you guys were out there practicing together, pulling together, it just seemed like one team effort among the Fords.

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “Yeah, I'd say that for sure.  That's a good way to summarize it.  You know, there's conveniences to that with respect to not having too many cars in the packs and risking getting wrecked and so forth and pit strategies and whatnot.  But it also can be difficult sometimes.

            But I think in general I'm really happy with how all the Ford teammates have embraced each other because we want to see Ford be successful.”

            Q.  The decision to pit to fix the radio, I believe Paul said when he was in here that he didn't think you could win if you couldn't talk to your spotter.  Did you have a role ‑‑ I don't know what you could hear at the time.  Did you have a role in that decision, and what did you think about it?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  “No, you know, Paul was about the only one I could hear.  He had some big old honking radio that broke through all the antennas, I guess, and interference.  I heard him say "pit," and I'm like, I don't want you to say pit.  But I have to respect that they can see things I can't see, and I feel like that's what happened, transpired.  He said it, and I was going, oh, God, I hate this.  But we pitted, and it worked out.  I'm still not sure what broke, but they did a great job fixing it.”


Ron Fleshman

RIS NASCAR Editor.  Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.

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Volume 2017, Issue 10, Posted 11:45 PM, 10.15.2017