2012 NSCS Aaron’s 499 Post-Race Victory Q&A with SRT Motorsports (Dodge) Team Owner Roger Penske, Driver Brad Keselowski and Crew Chief Paul WolfeBy R. Mark Stiles
Roger Penske (Chairman, Penske Corporation)
“My recollection, this is the first time we’ve won a Cup race at Talladega. Brad gave us the first win here with a Nationwide car, in fact the first win back for us a couple years ago. We’ve been coming here almost since 1972. So it’s a long time to get a race win. It was certainly special.
“Overall the car ran well. The Dodge engine showed its power as we came off of four there, which amazed me. Our fuel economy was good. We didn’t run out of fuel. Stayed out of trouble. You never know what’s going to happen with a green-white-checkered at Daytona or Talladega. We were very fortunate and he did a terrific job.”
YOU’VE BEEN KNOW TO BE A VERY CLOSE OVERSERVER LAP BY LAP OF YOUR DRIVERS OVER THE YEARS. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A DRIVER RUN A PLATE RACE WITH AS MANY SMART MOVES IN A ROW AS BRAD DID THERE AT THE LAST?
“Well, I’d say that you certainly become a student of the game. The fact that he slowed down there at the beginning to get Kyle on that restart so they could get a run, then pulling on the outside of Kenseth was amazing. Obviously with the momentum, he was able to pull it off.
“Kurt does a great job, Newman is a great racer, Rusty. If you look at the rules today, I would say he ran a perfect race. He ran the bottom lane all day. When it was time to go, he had it figured out. For me, that’s what we hire these guys for, so it was a good job.”
YOU’VE SEEN A LOT OF DRIVERS OVER THE YEARS. TWO LAPS TO GO YOU SAW THE DAYTONA 500, YOU MUST HAVE FIGURED FOURTH PLACE, MAYBE THIRD. WE THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE KENSETH AND BIFFLE.
“What was going through my mind was I didn’t want to see a wreck. I wanted it to be a safe finish. We weren’t in the top 12. Here we are, two or three laps from the end, we don’t want to make a mistake. I said, Brad, let’s bring this thing home in one piece. When you got Kyle Busch behind you, I think Kyle was hoping he could slip out underneath him like you saw his teammate do yesterday. It was the perfect race. I think it showed how good the car is, the aerodynamics, certainly the engine, and as I said earlier a world-class driver.”
WHEN KYLE WAS IN POSITION LIKE THAT, DID YOU THINK SECOND-PLACE WAS IN THE OFFING?
“Well, when I saw what happened there as we got off of two, we backed up and saw the momentum coming off of four going into the white flag, I knew we had a great chance. I thought Kyle being the smart racer he was he might dump us there at the end and slide underneath us. I think we had the car today that was very dominant. We could run with the 17 (Kenseth), the 11 (Hamlin). Obviously, at the end he was able to pull away from the 18 (Busch), which is pretty amazing.
“I think he’s matured a lot. He’s been a tremendous asset to the team, not just for Brad Keselowski, for Penske Racing. You can see when he comes in the shop; he’s spending a lot of time. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody right now. To me, he came to me, before he went to work for us, he said, I’d like to come to Penske Racing and help build a winning Cup team. He’s certainly demonstrated that from the driving ability. His chemistry with Paul Wolfe and that whole team has made a difference.
“This is not about the driver, the car, the sponsor. It’s about the whole team. He’s the real package. What we’re trying to do is give him everything we can to make him a winner. Obviously, one of the goals in my life is to sit up on that stage in New York or Las Vegas, and I think he’s the guy that can make it happen this year, hopefully.
IT SEEMS LIKE THE ATTITUDE WITH EVERYBODY AT PENSKE IS LOOSE. BRAD SEEMS TO HAVE A SWAGGER THAT IS NOT COMMON FOR SOME DRIVERS. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT, IF THAT’S TRUE?
“He’s come in with an attitude of a winner. Probably the greatest attribute he has is being a team player. It’s not about Brad. It’s about what’s going on with the team. He says it every day. Whether it’s at the engine shop, with Dodge, Miller, any of our sponsors, he’s obviously there supporting it.
“To me he feels that running the Nationwide races give him an opportunity to find out what’s going on. I’m sure yesterday he learned some things. That’s one of the reasons we have the Discount Tire program, is because he wants to have the opportunity to run these tracks on Saturday.
“He’s a very methodical guy. Obviously he’s gained a lot of fans with his tweeting at Daytona. I think he’ll do a lot of tweeting tonight, I’m sure.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT PACKAGE THEY HAVE HERE FOR TALLADEGA? SOME DRIVERS ARE SAYING THEY THOUGHT THE GRILLE SHOULD BE OPENED A LITTLE BIT MORE, THEY WERE RUNNING TOO HOT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SEASON OVERALL, HOW IT’S BEEN FRUSTRATING WITH FUEL ISSUES? DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE ALL THOSE RESOLVED?
“Number one, as far as the rules are concerned, we had a safe race today, that’s what we want to be sure to have. I think the fans have hollered out loud, they want pack racing. They certainly got it today. We all have the same set of rules we work by. I think it’s up to the engine people and the team to give us a package that will survive this kind of running.
“To me, I think the rules are fine. You could get out and back, you could run up front, you could run bottom, you could run on the top. To me it was a matter of how hard you wanted to push. You had to watch your water and oil temperatures. It’s like anything else, I think the rules are fine. Obviously maybe I’m saying that because we won the race today.
“If you don’t like it, Bill France, Sr. told me a long time ago, you don’t have to come and run. I guess I’ve always played by those rules.
“We’ve had a little trouble getting fuel pickup on longer tracks. We had technology we thought would give us an advantage. Obviously it gave us a disadvantage. I think right now maybe we had a winning car at Las Vegas on the restart, we certainly had a better car, had a little problem at Phoenix, then a fuel pump problem at the next race. For me, this was a good chance for us to see if we were in good shape. I think we have it solved. Dodge and Penske engines really pulled that through for us.”
A YEAR AGO AT RICHMOND YOUR ORGANIZATION ON THE NASCAR SIDE WAS MAYBE IN A LITTLE BIT OF TURMOIL. YOU MADE A BIG TURNAROUND. HERE YOU ARE WITH BRAD, WON A LOT OF RACES, THE 22 IS COMPETITIVE AND IN INDYCAR YOU ARE KIND OF GOOD. ARE YOU FEELING LIKE YOUR ORGANIZATION AS A WHOLE IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH? ARE YOU THE KING OF THE WORLD RIGHT NOW?
“I’m not king of the world, I’ll tell you that for sure. I think we made some changes last year after Richmond. We had a plan. I think everybody stuck together. Kurt was a big help there obviously as we got going with getting in the Chase. I think that turned it with both cars in the Chase, won some races. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to at the end.
“I think you’ve seen this year this year we’ve been very competitive. A.J. has done a good job. On the IndyCar side, when you win the first four races, can’t do much better than that. Overall I think we’ve got a great season going. It’s a credit really to our people.”
HOW DO YOU GET THAT YOUR ORGANIZATION ACROSS THE BOARD IN TWO DIFFERENT SERIES IS PEAKING?
“Tim Cindric is the overall manager of our race team. With Mike Nelson and Travis Geisler on the NASCAR side, along with the boys at the engine shop, everybody, fabrication, we’re a vertically integrated company, we do our chassis, our engines, our bodies. We have a wind tunnel. With the support of Dodge, we have a program. We’ve added a lot of people.”
YOU HAVE THE WHOLE PACKAGE, OBVIOUSLY. YOU’RE IN A UNIQUE SITUATION WITH DODGE AND FORD. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU’RE DOING WITH THE FORD PROGRAM? IS THAT LIKE A SECRET ROOM IN THE BACK?
“We haven’t made any decision yet. Right now what we’re waiting for is we’re waiting to find out what are going to be the rules. In any case we’re going to have to take our front clips and cut them off. The Ford engine is different from what we’ve seen from the Dodge. The aerodynamics on the new car are going to be completely different.
“I think we’ve probably got another 30, 60 days before we start going. We have to stay competitive now. Our commitment to Dodge was to do everything we can. We don’t want anything or any comment that I make or someone else makes to derail what we’re doing.
“Those guys are wide open in the engine shop for sure. They have great capability. We’ll see where we go as we end up this season. At this particular time it’s full focus on the Dodge NASCAR program.”
“It was good. It was good (smiling). Long day, hot day. The rain and so forth, that made it hot for everybody. That makes it that much more rewarding. Makes you feel good when you drink a beer in Victory Lane, too.
“We had a solid day. Pit stops was solid. Strategy was solid. Came down towards the last stop, I would say Paul was a little nervous, I was nervous for him, and it worked out. The green-white-checkereds definitely held us tight.
“Then you start to get to those closing laps, you know you have to be in the top four or five to have a shot at it. Spotter did a great job of keeping us out of trouble, in the top group, knowing where the runs were, how to fend them off one at a time.
“Our car was a little bit faster than what we had at Daytona, which I thought was a key to running up front. So everything came together. Obviously had some good fortune at the end with having Kyle lined up behind me who gave me a great push, put us in position, then we closed at the end. Great day.”
“It was a big win for everybody on the Miller Lite team. Coming into the weekend we probably had a different approach than what we ended up racing today with the hot temperatures. Seems like with this aero package, the cars definitely moved around a lot and were unable when you got in the big packs. We found that out on Friday. Brad wasn’t real happy with our car. So we made some changes for today to try to make the car more drivable in the bigger packs, maybe not necessarily looking for all-out speed.
“Overall I think we kind of had hope today. It was encouraging to see how strong our car was. The engine shop is working hard. They felt like they were able to give us some more power for this weekend, as well as everybody in the aero department. These plate races are kind of their deal. It’s a lot of aero motor, staying out of trouble.
A lot of hard work going on back there. It seems like we kind of put it all together today with great strategy as well as some great calculations by our race engineer.
MATT KENSETH LEFT HERE (MEDIA CENTER) A WHILE AGO KIND OF IMPLYING THAT YOU MADE HIM FEEL A LITTLE BIT STUPID NOT DRAGGING HIS BRAKE AND GETTING BY HIM. KYLE THOUGHT HE SCREWED UP, THAT HE DISCONNECTED WITH YOU. I BELIEVE YOU SAID THAT YOU DID HAVE A MOE FOR HIM. THEN YOU HAD A CAR OWNER SAID AS FAR AS THE WAS CONCERNED YOU DROVE JUST ABOUT A PERFECT RACE. WHEN YOU LEAVE TWO DRIVERS LIKE THAT FEELING FLAT-FOOTED, YOU PLEASE YOUR CAR OWNER THAT MUCH, COULD YOU GO THROUGH EACH OF THOSE ELEMENTS?
“Not going to get fired, right?
“Hell, it’s my job to be good. That’s what I get paid for. I don’t get paid to suck at this. If I did, I’m not driving for the right guy. This guy has won all these races over here. We’re trying real hard to get that first Cup championship. We’re doing the right things.
“I felt real good about the move we were able to pull on Matt. Surprised him and the 16 (Biffle) didn’t gang up with more full force than what they did. I don’t want to speculate on what that was.
“Kyle, I just needed to make the move, made it in three. That disconnected us. That was the key right there. Once we got that air bubble in between the two cars, it was going to take two or three laps for him to pop that. Only had to go half a lap, not even quite that.
“You got to have a plan, have the moves ready. We were fortunate enough to have the car and team to put me in place. You got to have the car and the team to put yourself in those positions. Did all three today. That’s a testament to Roger, Paul, everybody at Penske Racing that gives us great cars.
“It takes a total combination. Don’t matter what driver you have. Put him in the worst car, give him bad pit strategy, bad things like that, you’re not going to win races. It takes a team to win in Cup.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT MATT WOULD MAKE SUCH A FUNDAMENTAL MISTAKE?
“Things happen, man. You’re driving, you got to look out the windshield and see what’s in front of you. You look back, next thing you know, that split second has gone by. You’re going 200 miles an hour, how many feet per second. You look out the windshield for a second, you almost covered a football field. It takes that amount of time to break those two cars apart, form that air bubble I was talking about, then you’re done, your race is over. You got to manage all those things. There’s a lot going on.
“Again, I don’t want to speculate for what happened there with Greg and Matt. But that is kind of what it is and it worked out in my favor. Like I said, I’m proud of my team.”
WERE YOU PRETTY CONFIDENT THAT YOU COULD MAKE THE MOVE TO GET TO THE FRONT OR DID YOU THINK IT MIGHT TAKE A COUPLE OF OTHER FACTORS TO COME INTO PLAY FOR YOU TO GET TO THE FRONT?
“I felt pretty good having Kyle behind me. I knew he was a good pusher. It was just a matter if there was another car behind us. I haven’t seen the replay. I don’t know if there was or not. It all worked out from there.
“Talladega, you don’t take anything for granted, not a thing, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I didn’t take for granted that we had this race won, no.
YOU ARE BUSCH MOVED TO THE FRONT QUICKLY THERE. YOU SAID YOU HAD AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO. DID YOU HAVE A CONCERN THAT KYLE WAS GOING TO DO SOMETHING?
“No, I felt pretty confident. Probably next time I won’t, but that’s okay. Those are the kind of moves, similar to the movie made mere in ’09, that you get one chance to make, that nobody wises up on. From there, everybody knows how to make it work. I’m sure everybody will wise up on it from here and they’ll make their moves earlier, which will change the racing again.
“It’s just evolution. You get one shot to be that guy that helps to evolve it. We had the opportunity to do that day and that’s part of what helped us win the race.
THE GUY IN THE LEAD IS NOT SUPPOSED TO WIN THESE RACES. YOU SAID IN VICTORY LANE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT A LOT AND DREAMED ABOUT IT. CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THAT? IS THAT YOU SITTING ALONE IN THE MOTORHOME?
“It’s long nights on them buses, unless you have somebody to make it not long, and I’m happily single. So I’ll just go ahead and clear the record.”
HOW WERE YOU SO CONFIDENT IT WOULD WORK?
“Let’s start with Kurt, I want to run through that. I want to apologize for that. You know, he ran a great race. He’s been a great friend of mine over the last few years, really helped me get to
where I’m at here today. The last thing I want to do is see him go through a situation where he had a shot at winning, wherever he ended up finishing, which I’m sure was not indicative of the quality of race he ran. I wanted to say that first.
“I wanted to make a move. I think it was Kyle and maybe the 22 or somebody of that nature, I couldn’t tell, that was pushing him. They had a pretty good run going on. I was running third at the time. It was pretty obvious they were going to swallow us up. With four to go, if you get swallowed up, you’re not going to recover from that. I knew we had to get to Kurt and go.
“I got to Kurt and tried to push him. He tried staying in line. He didn’t want to go. He probably didn’t know what was going on behind him, which is natural. Probably could see what I could see.
“When he decided not to go, I tried to force him to go. It became evident in the tri-oval that’s not what he wanted to do, and I should have let him go instead of wrecking him. Instead I got a little aggressive and tried to force him to go.
“When he decided to go, it was right where the track has a transition. He hit that transition from the bottom lane to the second lane and it just hooked his car and turned it. I let him go right before he spun out. Can’t cross that line or that transition when a guy is pushed because of the dynamics of the car change. It was a combination of events that were unfortunate. I hated to see that happen.
“Just hard work for results. That’s his saying (referring to Roger Penske). He has a lot of good ones. You know, you got to study these things, know what you want to do. That’s going to get you results.”
WERE YOU IN ON KNOWING THAT HE HAD IT ALL UNDER CONTROL? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU DISCUSSED WITH PAUL?
“Was Paul nervous?”
“I actually wasn’t nervous. I didn’t know anything about his plan.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? WHY WASN’T HE IN ON THE PLAN?
“He’s on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes I’m on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes there’s things I’d rather he didn’t tell me and there’s times there’s things he’d rather I didn’t tell him. It’s in that category. How ’bout that?”
“We didn’t lie to him. But sometimes he doesn’t ask. We aren’t going to tell him.”
WAS THIS OVE THAT YOU MADE SPECIFIC TO THIS RACE SETUP OR WOULD IT HAVE WORKED IN THE PASST WITH ANOTHER RACE SETUP?
“I mean, yeah, obviously the racing has changed. Went to the small rear spoiler. The cars are easier to break apart. You have to make the right moves to do it. I don’t know if it would have worked last year. We’re not in last year, so it’s hard to tell.”
FOR SO LONG THE “SLINGSHOT” HAS BEEN THE GO-TO MOVE IN THIS POSITION. WOULD YOU CARE TO NICKNAME THIS MOVE FOR US?
“No. Y’all can pick a name for it. I ain’t about that. You guys come up with good ones. You’re all writers. You guys got the best puns there is.
“Well, you know, Daytona and Talladega are only four races in our circuit. How many races are we going to do, 38, with the Duels, All-Star. This is only one of the six if you count the Duels, Shootout. So there’s a lot of races. You got to be good at all of them to be a champion.
“I think I have room to improve certainly at other places. That’s what will make this team a champion, if we can improve at all the other places, as well. I know these guys on my left and right are committed to being the best we can be. If we can do that, we can be champions.
“You just don’t know. You just got to keep pushing, moving forward. The second where you think you have become a champion, everybody else evolved in the sport and gets ahead of you. I’m not really good with that label because I think being a champion to me, other than actually having the trophy, is not a destination, it’s part of the trip. It’s a never-ending journey. So I don’t really like that term to be thought of in the sense of having to arrive. I want to be thought of as a constant journey, and that’s one that we’re pushing for.”
IS YOUR GOAL WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
“Sounds good to me. Does that sound good to you? We’re going to work at that. That’s certainly a goal. I think that’s the long-term goal of my tenure at Penske Racing obviously.
“I hate to label that. I don’t pretend to speak for these two guys next to me. I hate to label that if we don’t accomplish that this year we’re a failure. I want to accomplish it this year. I want to go out on a high note with Dodge, with our relationship there. Obviously Miller Lite has never won a championship, so that would be great as well. That’s certainly the goal.
“I refuse to label this year a failure if we don’t win a championship. I was talking about this the other day. Part of what defines a man is what code you live by. One of my codes, it’s probably my strongest code, is to be better today than I was yesterday, and to be even better tomorrow than I was today.
“We’ve shown that we’re better here at this point in the year than we were last year, at this point in the year, and we were better last year at this point in the year than we were the year before. You know, that’s my code. I’m surrounded by the proper people to execute it.
“I’m very thankful for where we’re at. I’m hungry to win that championship, like I said. But I refuse to label this year a failure if that goal is not accomplished.
ARE YOU GUYS SATISFIED WITH THE RULES PACKAGE? WINNING THE RACE PROBABLY ANSWERS THAT QUESTION. WITH THE OVERHEATING ISSUES THAT SOME PEOPLE WERE HAVING, DOES THAT COME INTO PLAY AT ALL? ANYTHING NASCAR CAN DO TO MAKE IT LESS OF A HEADACHE FOR YOU GUYS?
“From my standpoint, the sport’s always changing. There’s always rule changes. It’s our job as a team to be able to adapt and do the best we can with that. We try not to get too involved in what NASCAR decides they’re going to do. We just try to do the best job we can at playing by their rules.
“I feel like as a company we did a great job of that this weekend. There were some teams that I think had issues with overheating. As a whole, I think both Penske cars were pretty fair in that department this weekend. I guess we’re just up to the challenge of whatever they throw at us.
AT THE END YOU HAD KYLE BUSCH RIGHT BEHIND YOU. DO YOU HAVE MEMORIES OF 2009 RUNNING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WITH THINGS IN REVERSE? HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH HIM BEHIND YOU? I ASSUME HE’S NOT COMING OVER TO YOUR BUS AND TALKING STRATEGY AFTER THE RACE.
“That’s a fair assumption (laughter).
“I mean, hell, I refuse to let the prior events of the past serve as intimidation. I never had a concern in my mind about who was behind me. I had a concern about what I could do to win the race and what move I could execute to not give him a chance. That paid off today.
WE’VE SEEN AT A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT TRACKS A DISCONNECT BETWEEN WHAT FANS CONSIDER AND DRIVERS CONSIDER GOOD RACING. HERE IT’S OVVIOUSLY BUILT ON WRECKS. WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE AS A DRIVER ON SO MUCH EMPAHSIS BEING PLACED IN WRECKS HERE AT TALLADEGA?
“What’s my position on it? Heck, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve said all along that as a racecar driver, you walk a fine line between being a daredevil and a chess player. When you walk that line, you look at some of the racetracks we go to and I would say we’re probably not necessarily on the line and we’re more chess players. I’m a big believer in balance. When we come here, we’re probably more daredevils. You look at it as a whole, you hope that you can split the middle of the two. That’s what racing is.
“You know, I’ve said this before. I look at chess matches, not a lot of them on TV, sure as hell don’t get 100,000 people to come to the match, so we got to balance those things.
“This package might be a little bit more to the daredevil side, but I’m all right with that, because we go to places where it’s more to the chess player side. That’s balance. I’ll live with that and I’ll be happy.”
A LOT OF TIMES WHEN WE WRITE ABOUT ROGER WE USE THE TERM “INTERNATIONAL MOTORSPORTS TITAN.” HE HASN’T BEEN ABLE TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP IN THIS SERIES. WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE FOR YOU TO GIVE HIM THAT FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP?
“It’s a large part of the reason why I came here to drive for him, was what you just said. I want to be that first guy. I feel like he’s dedicated to making that happen.
“I look as some of the other elite car owners in the sport, and I don’t want this to be offensive, but to win another Cup championship for Hendrick or Richard Childress is not the same as winning the first for Roger Penske. That’s a whole different accomplishment.
“I think he’s certainly paid his dues in this sport, has that reputation as, what did you say it was, a titan for a reason, and that is that he can get it done. I want to be the guy that, you know, proves it in the record books.”
YOU’VE SEEN A LOT OF RACE DRIVERS. THE MATURITY WE’VE SEEN IN BRAD THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU TALK WITH THE DRIVERS OR IS IT SOMETHING THEY HAVE OR DON’T HAVE OR YOU SEE WHEN YOU HIRE THEM?
“When I look for a driver, I think the first thing we look at is does he know how to win races. Brad obviously had that attribute when he came with us.
“As I said earlier when he wasn’t here, he sat down with me before he came to work with us and said, what I’d really like to do, if I can, is come to Penske Racing and help you build a winning team. He could have raced for other people. He came with us. At that point he said, I want to help you attract the best people. I said that to Paul. If the driver helps you attract the best people, a crew chief like Paul, you get stronger and stronger.
“I saw a driver that could win, one that was committed to the team, not just himself, and he has been good with all our sponsors. That’s a third element you have to have, someone that is key from a commercial standpoint.
“When you put that all together, I think, as I said earlier, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody on the grid.
Source: Darnell Communications for SRT Motorsports (Dodge) Press Release
Article Tags: 2012 Aaron's 499, 2012 Aaron's Dream Weekend, 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 2012 NSCS, Aaron's 499, Brad Keselowski, Dodge Charger R/T, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T, NSCS, Paul Wolfe, Penske Racing, SRT Motorsports, SRT Motorsports (Dodge), Street and Racing Technology (SRT®), Talladega, Talladega (AL), Talladega Superspeedway, TSS