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March 6, 2016
Las Vegas, Nevada
THE MODERATOR: We're going to hear now from some of the folks from the winning team. That's the crew chief, Paul Wolfe, and vice chairman of Team Penske, Walt Czarnecki. Congratulations to you both. Big win all around finishing 1‑2, then the 21 having a great run for the Wood Brothers.
Paul, last week you probably didn't get out of the box like you wanted to at Atlanta, but certainly you turned things around here today at Las Vegas. Talk about how that happened.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, absolutely. I think heading into Atlanta last week, there were high hopes as we were very strong with this package, the low downforce package, in 2015 the couple opportunities we had to run it.
When we unloaded at Atlanta, didn't have quite the speed we were hoping for. That was a little frustrating. We worked hard, didn't qualify where we needed to be. Got our cars better for the race, but still not where they needed to be to contend for wins.
From there, I think there were a few late nights back at Team Penske where guys worked really hard. We felt like we needed more potential out of our cars. We worked very hard on some aero pieces, some different things. Felt like when we unloaded here at Vegas this week, we kind of showed that all that hard work paid off in qualifying, having both cars up front. As we translated into the race today, we showed the strength in race trim.
Really all I can say is hats off for all the hard work back at the shop. There was a lot put in. This West Coast swing is very hard on the teams early in the season. We were able to bring better racecars to the racetrack and we got the results because of it.
THE MODERATOR: Walt, certainly a big day for Team Penske. Got that Chase berth locked up now for the 2 car, and the 22 certainly with a great run, and the 21 from the Wood Brothers. Talk about what that means for the organization this early in the season.
WALT CZARNECKI: Well, thank you. Just on what Paul said, this really took a little bit of a sting out of what happened at Atlanta. We thought we had two pretty good cars at Atlanta. Didn't perform. Ended up with a decent finish.
As Paul said, we had a team debrief meeting on Tuesday that went for an hour and a half that was thorough and candid. So Paul and Todd Gordon were pretty confident they were going to come to Las Vegas with two good cars.
Specifically both cars I think showed great long‑run speed. I think it demonstrated the way we finished. Certainly you hope, from my perspective, to have a 1‑2 finish anytime. I wasn't quite expecting it because the level of competition out here frankly was pretty stout. The typical suspects, the 48, the 4, the 18, the 41 for sure, then they all got caught up in that wreck. This wasn't a lay‑down kind of a win.
To answer your specific question, this is huge for the team. Being in the Chase right now for Brad takes a lot of that pressure off, as we know. It really allows Joey then to really focus on getting that win. I think even from a points standpoint he's still in good shape, but we want to get those wins.
We know that Team Penske is capable of running with anybody right now and being competitive.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely, especially after today.
We'll start with questions.
Q. Paul, when you came in and opted to sacrifice track position for four tires on lap 199, were you already thinking ahead to the point you might do the stay‑out on the next caution?
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah. I mean, obviously once you lose your track position, I think the two‑tire strategy works well if you can get the clean air, get out in the lead. Obviously the 48 was able to do that early in the race when he did that.
The way I look at it, if you're going to do two tires, you got to get that clean air, otherwise we'll take 4‑All day long. It gives you opportunities at the end to do some different strategies to get that track position back.
Obviously we knew when the caution fell there, we were still short on fuel. At that point it was worth the risk to take the gamble and hope for the cautions. Obviously we got those and were able to get to Victory Lane.
Q. Paul, what is Brad Keselowski like when he's on a 33‑race winless streak and his teammate has won five times during it?
PAUL WOLFE: I think it talks about the whole team and how strong we are, how we continue to push. We had to overcome adversity today obviously. I think Brad and this team showed in the past there's no one I think that's any better at that. Getting that speeding penalty early on, you know, obviously wasn't ideal. No one gave up. Brad obviously continued to push hard and show the strength of the car.
A couple breaks there at the end with the cautions, we were able to have enough fuel and ultimately show how good the car really was at the end as we were able to get away from the 48 and by the 18.
THE MODERATOR: We'll hear from our race winner tonight, Brad Keselowski. His 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his first win in 2016. It gets him a spot in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His second win here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Brad, congratulations on this win here today. Just talk about how this team has improved leaps and bounds since Atlanta, and also talk about those conditions out there today. Not the typical weather conditions that we see, but you put on a super show.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: First off, thank you, commander, we're glad to be back in Victory Lane. It's hard to believe it's been 34 races. We've led a lot of races in that time span, probably deserved to win a few more races than that. That's just kind of how racing goes sometimes.
But, yes, of course thrilled to be back in Victory Lane. Thrilled to be locked into the Chase so early in the season, which is a tremendous feeling for our team, one that we're of course very thankful for.
Team Penske, 50th anniversary, this is the first win of the year. That feels really good.
For our team, I think we've seen such a major turnaround in a couple key areas, essentially the pit crew especially. My guys on pit road, there's nobody I would trade for right now. They're the hottest group on pit road, a large part of our success this week. They helped to keep us strong last week as well in Atlanta.
Then, of course, Paul and the team made some major adjustments and gains on the car in the one week we had between Atlanta, traveling back and forth.
All that stuff paid off and is a big part of being in Victory Lane here today. Had to fight for it. Certainly wasn't an easy race with, like you said, the weather. I didn't think the weather was as big of a challenge as I thought it was going to be, specific to the wind. You could feel it, but it didn't put us in anything that I thought was too risque.
I did feel like the speeding penalty early, middle to late part of the race, was something that was very detrimental. But Paul and the team, they got us in a spot where we could have enough speed and strategy to get back in it.
Got that long run at the end. We knew we had a lot of long‑run speed. Sure enough, we were able to hold off the 48, who was really, really fast on his own. Next thing I knew, we were closing in on our teammate. Took a long time to get by Joey. He put up a heck of a fight.
If anyone wants to say that your teammates lay over and give it to you, that's not how we are at Team Penske. We race each other hard but clean. That was something to see and be a part of.
Then, of course, the very end, to be able to pass Kyle and get the win. I know the local media is probably not very thrilled about that. But he did pass me to win the championship last year on the last race. Maybe some tradeoffs there.
A lot of things going on there. It's good. It's good to be back in Victory Lane.
The new rules package today I thought was tremendous. I think you saw, because of the rules package, where the cars fell off a lot at the end of the run and you really had to drive them sideways. Took a lot of balance as a driver, a lot of precise footwork and accuracy with where you put your car, how you place it, which is exactly what we want.
This shouldn't be easy. This is the Sprint Cup Series. These cars should be very hard to drive. At the end of the run they were a challenge. It's nice to be a part of that.
I think the next piece to go with that is somehow trying to convince NASCAR to do one more step and I think the racing will get even better like we saw today.
That's the highlights of how I felt about the day. It was a little bit long.
THE MODERATOR: Pretty good synopsis, Brad.
We'll continue with questions.
Q. Brad, if you just looked at the stat sheet, you'd say, Wow, Penske goes 1‑2. Their mile‑and‑a‑half program must be the best. A lot of people had a chance to win today. Where do you think your intermediate track program stacks up right now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm not particularly sure. I thought the 20 car looked really strong. I thought he was going to win when he got the lead with 60 to go I think it was. The 48 car, he was fast all day. We seemed to be able to hang on and work with him. That was good.
Joey got to lead a couple times. I thought he was going to be not passable.
Then the 18, when he made the move to get the lead, Oh, God, we're racing for second here. Then he fell off at the end.
I think there's a lot of variables to that question. Probably the biggest variable will be the tire compounds week‑to‑week. I think you're going to see some tire compounds that are easier to drive and some that are harder to drive. It will be hard to pick one team out as being a favorite.
But certainly the performance we showed today with finishing 1‑2 with Team Penske shows that when we get things right, we can be one of the dominant teams, but not by a long ways.
Q. Brad or Paul, could you afford to deal with trying to get by Joey for at least a couple more laps because it took a long enough time? Five, six to go I was thinking was the time to afford it. What was the feeling like in the car?
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, obviously as Brad said, it was tough. It was a challenge. Initially the 18 was able to drive away because he had the clean air. But we got partway in that run, I remember coming over the radio telling Brad that even though we were racing Joey real hard, both of us were catching the 18 and starting to put a little distance on the 48. At that point I knew there was hope.
I could tell we were a little bit better than Joey as we got longer into the run. Once we were able to clear him, I felt like we were going to have a shot at it. Sure enough, once we cleared Joey, we gained a lot of speed.
At that point, listening to Kyle, he pretty much used up what he had. I can't say it was probably much of a fight getting by him. We were able to get by him, then take care of our fuel to finish it out.
Q. Brad, we've seen you in the role of the hunter and the hunted. When did you know you had Kyle? What's it like when you're the second guy in the fast car as opposed to being the first guy in the slow car?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's a great feeling. One of the best feeling. It's a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often, being the fastest guy and having opportunity. We had the opportunity to win the race.
I knew when I was watching, as soon as I passed Joey, I focused in on the 18. I watched him for one lap. When I saw his car, the way it was sliding and taking a set, the line he was running, I knew after that first lap that we could win the race.
After the second lap, I gained a big chunk on him, I thought, He's either saving fuel and tire or I'm going to pass him immediately. Of course, that's when we passed him in two or three laps.
One of the best feelings in the world, I can tell you that.
Q. Brad, how frustrating is it to go 33 races without a win when your teammate is winning? Joey told me you've been ornery.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: He has, too (laughter).
Q. Did you think you threw it away with the speeding penalty?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I definitely didn't feel good after the speeding penalty. It certainly didn't improve our chances. The Las Vegas line probably went down. Probably a good time to put a bet on it.
As far as not winning and your teammate wins a lot of races, I've been on both sides of that. It's not an easy question to answer. If it was, both of us would have been winning.
But there were a lot of pieces in play. There was a lot of misfortune and there was a lot of self‑inflicted things I could have done better and beyond.
But I can't sit here and dwell on that. At the end of the day, the last four seasons, the 2 team has won the most races two of the last four years. So I think you can focus on the negative of last year, not winning as many races as we wanted to, but there's plenty of positives to go around. It's my goal to make that three out of the last five years where we won the most races.
I think in any professional sport, a stat like that is a pretty good one. I'm going to try to focus on that one.
Q. Paul and Brad, since you have now won early in the regular season, how much does this win open up the playbook for strategy?
PAUL WOLFE: You want me to answer that first (smiling)?
It's huge. Last year we were able to get the win in Fontana, and now here we are even earlier than that. It just allows us the opportunity to continue to maybe try new things and develop our cars to be as strong as we can when the Chase starts.
Whether it's, you know, some different things we do on race day as well, obviously the strategy piece with not having to worry about points anymore, we may try some different things there as well as, like I said, try different setups or explore a little bit, that if you didn't have the win you would have to focus a little more on being consistent and having those good finishes to make sure you take care of the points side of it.
Q. Brad, last weekend in Atlanta, a lot of the drivers were exhausted but happy and confident in the aerodynamics package. How would you rate it this weekend in Las Vegas?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Like I said earlier, I thought it was great. The cars probably had a little bit too much grip and lack of throttle response early in the run. But late in the run they seemed to settle out very nicely, sliding around, allowing various talents to fall in line.
I thought it was a really good balance. The challenge is for NASCAR that we've got all these race teams spending millions of dollars to develop the aerodynamics on the cars because there's such a competitive advantage to finding more downforce, finding more side force, reducing the drag on the cars. It will only take us about half a year to a year's time to where we remove all the benefits that this package has given the racing to showcase a day like we saw today with a lot of passing for the lead.
I think the challenge for NASCAR is just to continue to stay ahead of that with segments and changes, knowing that the teams will continue to develop.
There's a lot of different interests, of course, in this sport. The interest of the teams is to be the fastest. Quite frankly, when we have the fastest car, we just want to be fast, we don't care if it makes the racing great or bad.
As far as the downforce package is concerned, we have to continue to stay ahead of that as a sport to continue to have great finishes to races like we saw today and quite a few passes for the lead. That's what we've all come to expect of this mile‑and‑a‑half racing, and I think that's what we saw, which is something to be proud of.
Q. Brad, with Penske finishing 1‑2, Blaney in the Wood Brothers car finishing sixth, we know you have the technical alliance, but is there any mentoring you're doing for him?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you know, he drove my truck for a while, so there was a lot of mentoring there, mostly in the form of, Please don't wreck it, I can't afford to fix it (laughter).
He's got the right people around him with Jeremy Bullins and the Wood Brothers, a lot of help and support there. Essential willing to help him wherever I can.
He's in a good spot. I don't think he needs me. He just needs some time.
Q. You alluded to this, but it is a big deal, the 50th anniversary of the organization, and to have a win, have it be so relevant. Talk a little bit about that.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The 50th is certainly something that's very special to all of us at Team Penske. To get that first win, it feels good.
But the 50 years is a lot bigger than me. I think as we move forward it is very amazing for any team to be relevant in 50 years, or stay relevant in 50 years. There's a lot of other sports where there's teams that have been good for 50 years, like the Yankees and so forth, but with significant ownership changes. Obviously Team Penske hasn't had that.
That dynamic I think just showcases Roger's own strengths and his ability to put us in a great spot, to have the resources to be successful. We had that today. It showed off.
Walt, you should speak. You got better stuff to say than I do.
WALT CZARNECKI: I've been here for 46 of the 50. I've seen a lot of them. This was one of the better ones. The conditions, the drama, the excitement. As I said before, I knew we had a couple good cars.
I've been listening to Brad's comments. From my perspective, watching Brad and Joey race each other, I had absolute confidence in both of them, I really did, absolutely. We don't have team orders. You touched on it. We don't have team orders. It's really kind of ironic because this morning Joey and I were talking about team orders. Somehow the topic came up.
Sure enough later in the day we were in a situation where both guys were racing each other. But I assure everybody in this room, I had absolute confidence in both of these guys because we are a team, it's a Team Penske win.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. A great win for Team Penske. We wish you the best of luck the rest of the season and we'll see you all at Phoenix.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports