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March 26, 2017
THE MODERATOR: We'll open up our post‑race availability for the Auto Club 400 with Brad Keselowski.
Brad, fourth straight top‑five finish this year, third straight top‑10 at Auto Club. Not sure how you finished second. Tell us, please.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: We were tore all to hell. Gosh, that's unfortunate. Got tore up there really early in the race. Went all the way to back, just clawed all the way up to second.
I don't know if we had anything for Kyle and those guys. Car was tore up pretty bad. To get that kind of finish is respectable. Certainly we want to win. Felt like we had a shot to do just that. Didn't come together, so...
That's the way it goes sometimes when you have a 36‑race season. You're going to have some adversity and days that don't go your way. That's the way it was for us today. But we made the most of it, so I'm proud of my guys.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Brad.
Q. When you suffered the damage, right when the race went green, you came back and finished second. I know you said it kind of wasn't the day that you had wanted. What do you attribute ending up second to? Was it you? Your team? How did you get back to second place?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a good question. Glad I got the race on record on the DVR so I can see it.
The last few restarts were obviously key for us. We seemed to get settled into about 10th there, maybe 7th or 8th. Then kind of just executed the last few restarts. Good pit calls and so forth. Good timing with the yellows. We caught a few breaks, for sure, and made good adjustments to our car to make up for the damage.
It takes a little bit of everything: good execution, good work by the team, and a little bit of luck on the last few yellows.
Q. What happened at the start of the race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I got ran into the back of. It did a lot of damage to the car. We were in a lot of trouble, starting to free fall through the field. Then I got ran over again (laughter).
So I got ran over. I'm not really sure who, why, what. I haven't seen any of that.
Q. Did you get banged up at all? How are you feeling? Were you ready to get back on the track and go?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I'm good. Car was a little tore up. But I'm as ready as ever. I'll run another race. Unload the backup, let's go.
Q. You seem to like this track. Came in second today. You've had a victory here. What do you like about this track and how it handles for your car?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: We really turned a corner here. The first few races I ran here, we were awful. I think I learned a lot, the team learned a lot. Have put together just a much more robust effort for this type of track.
I like coming to places we run well. But beyond that, I think this track is known for having great races and great racing. I thought we saw that here at the end today. It's fun to be a part of those races.
Q. When we saw you up at the very end making a run for the victory, if you could just talk about how the day went. It started out frustrating, then all sorts of things.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, obviously we got hit on the restart. Did a lot of damage to the car. We were free falling through the field. Then I got hit again. So the car was all tore up.
The guys worked to fix it but were only able to partially fix it with the yellows at the start. When they got it as much repaired as they could, we were a lot more competitive and kind of slowly clicked our way through the field.
Then at the end we made a few adjustments and fell back a little bit, put them back at the end, then drove up to where we felt we were capable of, with the top two or three, with those restarts.
An up‑and‑down day, a lot of adversity. We were able to overcome that. I think that's what great teams do, so I'm proud of that.
Q. Brad, after this incident early in the race, I could see your crew guys taped your car nearly everywhere. Did it affect your aero package, all this tape around?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, I'm sure. The left rear quarter panel on the car is destroyed. The fenders and quarter panels are critical to the car's performance. We made the most of it, so I'm really proud of that, as well.
Q. Brad, with the track conditions today, it was a cool day. How did that have an effect on the car? Did it come to you more at the end or was it kind of there all day?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, we had damage and were tore up. It was driving pretty evil all day. It didn't feel like cool track conditions to me, I can tell you that. The cars were a handful, but that's a good thing.
Q. Can you describe the last restart. You just came out of nowhere and blasted to the front.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, the last two restarts, we really hit pretty well. You know, I don't know if I would have had a shot at Kyle, but I'd like to have seen. We came from third on that last one, a couple of three‑wide passes and whatnot, because Kyle was smart. He picked the outside lane, kind of pinned me behind a guy that had older tires.
By the time I cleared everybody, Kyle was just too far gone.
Q. How good is Kyle Larson right now? Three seconds and a win in the last four races. Anything he's doing differently or anything you see that they've got?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, he's on a really nice roll. You know, it takes everything. This is a sport of speed, execution and luck. When you're on a roll like that, you got all three on your side, it's a damn good feeling.
You know, he's been on the other side of that, too. So, you know, credit to him. But those things, you know, they come and go. That's the rollercoaster of the sport. When you're on the top, you just got to try to stay there as long as you can. When you fall to the bottom, you got to try to recover as quick as you can.
It's impressive to me not that he is winning races and running up front, but he's been able to sustain it for a handful of weeks here in a row at the start of the season.
Q. Coming into this weekend with him being so good in the past, would you look at him as like a Harvick at Phoenix?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you knew this was going to be a good track for him. This is the type of track that I think suits his style the best. So you certainly knew this would be a really good race for him.
All the Ganassi cars are running really well. That puts the two together, you got to get the brakes as well, and everything comes together right.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Brad.
We're now joined by the No.14 Rush Truck Centers Ford driver, Clint Bowyer, finishing third today.
You ran up front all day. You were excited about this one, you mentioned earlier in the week. Talk about the run and being back here.
CLINT BOWYER: Fun racetrack. You know, I mean, I think I've been coming here 12, 13 years now. It wasn't always this way. I remember single file around here. Couldn't really pass. Ring around the bottom.
Now, I mean, all hell breaks loose on them restarts. You're trying to protect the bottom. They're calling you outside. You don't know if you're three‑wide, four‑wide, 12‑wide. It's all because of a really wide, cool racetrack. A fast racetrack and a lot of grooves. Five different grooves to race on all day long.
It's just a lot of fun to be out there. Very challenging track. Trying to balance those front tires, the rear tires, not push 'em off. You can overdrive your car. I did one run. Thing fell away. You know, you learn from your mistakes and go on.
But just to have the organization behind me, everybody at Stewart‑Haas Racing. My teammates, to have these teammates like this, at this point in your career and everything that I've been through, you know how fortunate you are when you get this opportunity.
You know, Gene Haas, and Tony Stewart getting out of the car, giving me this opportunity, appreciative of everything.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. You have been getting better and better every week. You can see it in your attitude, that you are just happy with where you're at. When you finished third today, was there anything that Tony said to you when you got out of the car?
CLINT BOWYER: Good job.
Q. That's it?
CLINT BOWYER: Tony wins a lot of races. He's won a lot of races. Anything less than a win, you know... He expects that. And I love that about Tony.
You know, obviously I know he's proud. He was happy with that. But that's what you want in an owner. You know what I mean? To have that instilled in everything, in your DNA, I mean, this is the way I was raised. Anything else but a win is a bad day. You are miserable with anything less than that.
I mean, it's just the way we're wired as a racecar driver from five years old and on. The problem is, is everybody else on that racetrack is wired the same way (laughter). So there's really only one guy happy and everybody else is pissed at the end of the day, is what it boils down to.
To have an organization like that, to have owners like Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, I'm telling you, that's what it's all about. You say 'attitude'. Yes, I'm having a blast. You know, I'm getting a little long in the tooth here in this career. To have this opportunity and the opportunity to go out and compete and win races, you know, and race for a championship hopefully, I mean, that's what you're here to do.
I realize that these opportunities don't come around every day.
Q. Do you have any idea why you were so good and your teammates struggled so much? Did you do something different or does this track just suit your style?
CLINT BOWYER: You know, I love this racetrack. But, I mean, Kevin is so good here. You know, one thing that I didn't see today that we've seen in years past is just that rim riding, ride around the outside. You saw it that first run. Man, I could get down and kind of split the apron in three and four. I could see that I was better than them down there. If I could keep that going throughout the run, you know, I knew that that was going to be an advantage when it come down to these cautions and everything else, the restarts that we saw at the end.
Everybody else catches on and figures that out. But that was something that was a little bit different from practice sessions and everything else. I mean, I don't think I left, you know, the fourth and fifth groove in practice the whole weekend. I think the third groove was the lowest I was in practice, even qualifying. Then all of a sudden you start the race, and you're straddling the apron and running on the bottom and everything else.
That's just what is cool about this racetrack. You got to be able to adapt, you got to be able to have the car free enough across the center you that you can throttle through the corners, not too tight, and tight enough that the rear doesn't come out from underneath you. It's a constant battle balancing those tires and taking care of those tires, as well.
Q. Kind of like a late model experience?
CLINT BOWYER: Yeah, I've got great teammates. We were all a little bit different going into this race. Some of us tightened up a little bit, some of us freed up a little bit.
Track position, once you get that track position, you can't believe how much easier your car drives and evening else. Once you're mired back there in traffic, you're in trouble. Those cautions started coming, helped a lot of those guys get up through there and take advantage of that.
The 2 car, I went by him the first run, I just knew his day was over. I'll be damned if he didn't finish in front of me. How did he do that (smiling)? Did you see that?
Q. Those final few laps, where did that guy come from? A whole lot of people finished in the top 10 that were not running in the top 10 a couple cautions before the end.
CLINT BOWYER: Tires, no tires. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. It's one of those deals where some of us took tires early. You're thinking, All right, that's good. Then all of a sudden, Uh‑oh, caution comes back out. They took tires. Now you're thinking, Where are we going to be on the advantage side of these tires?
Seems like obviously your advantage is to have those tires. If it comes out right off the bat, it kind of levels the playing field. All of a sudden some of them that didn't take tires took tires. Then they're on the advantage behind you.
I mean, it's a constant mind game right then. You just got to scratch it out of your head, get off into one. That's when everybody's pushing hard, three‑wide, four‑wide. I mean, I just knew that I had to floor it and try to get across to the three quarter mark ahead of them, figure it out from there.
That's kind of what I did. Left it pinned till I got over there, lifted, hoped it turned, knock the wall down, and that's what it did.
Q. Clint, with all those cautions that kept coming out late, you're getting closer and closer to the front. How eager were you behind the wheel to try and make something happen, being in that position?
CLINT BOWYER: Yeah, I mean, all day long, it was just kind of, you know, the temptation was killing you, you know. You could see it, you just couldn't get it.
My car was so good, but it was teeter‑tottering between too loose on the endings in and out, or in and off the corner, and too tight in the middle. You know, I wanted to free up, try to get it better across the center, but I was afraid to get too loose getting into three, because I was have having trouble there on the long run.
I was kind of stuck in a box. This is one you'll think about on the way home. Should I have freed up a little bit? What would it have done? Could it have given me an advantage that I didn't have?
But that's racing. You know, I mean, there's so much that goes into it. The teamwork, the communication. Bug, I went too his room last night, it was the most awkward. I've never went to a crew chief's hotel room. Sat down at his desk. Liked at sim, throttle traces, all sorts of crap. Never done that before.
Q. How weird is it maybe to have Tony Stewart not only at the racetrack but in your ear? Weird?
CLINT BOWYER: It is weird still. You're exactly right. I mean, me, included, look at him, he's ready. You could put him in a fire suit. You know he'd go out there and get the job done in that 14 car.
To give me the opportunity is super cool. To have him on the box is really cool. It's neat to see a smile on his face. I really believe he just looks happy. You know, he looks comfortable, you know, at ease. I mean, the guy, that's a long time. That's a long career to be in any kind of sport. He put his time in. He's an owner now, still a part of it. That's the coolest thing about his gig right now, is he's still a part of this sport. Maybe in the biggest way he's ever been.
Q. We know you have struggled in the past. Now this year you're running in the top five and higher.
CLINT BOWYER: Fixed it.
Q. Is it better equipment? Attitude? The new team? What is it with you and Tony that you're doing so much better?
CLINT BOWYER: It's just the opportunity you've been waiting on. You know, I mean, everybody knows the situation. You know, this opportunity, this is something I signed up for a year and a half ago. I've been chomping at the bit to be with an organization like this, to have an army of people behind you like this, the teammates, the sponsors we have, the manufacturer in Ford, all of that.
It's the total package at Stewart‑Haas Racing, which is why they've won a championship and win all these races that we see. That's what you thrive to be a part of. Finally got my opportunity to be there.
Q. After the last caution, LaJoie spun into the wall. At the restart, just looking, your speed seemed phenomenal. Your other teammates were struggling. How identical are the cars set up compared to your teammates' cars? Are they identical, different, much different? The second question, did you stay up last night and watch the action from Australia?
CLINT BOWYER: All right. No, I didn't stay up last night. I actually was a good boy. It was a school night. I went to bed.
I remember thinking the same thing that they probably thought last week. Where were we? Oh, at Phoenix. The 4 car blew my doors off and went up and finished in the top five, wherever he was, ran in the top five all day. I was struggling to run 15th. I was thinking, Are these the same cars?
It all comes down to the communication, the setup you put in them, the teamwork you have, the track position, the effort you put in all day long.
We all have an opportunity to do that. All of our cars at Stewart‑Haas Racing, they're all built by the same people, assembled the same way. Some days it's your day, and some days it's not. Some tracks suit you a little better than others.
This has always been a fun track for me, always been a good track for me. It was like last night, Bug and I were sitting there talking. I overthink things anyway. Everybody knows me. I would just rather not think, just do it. That was what I told Bug last night. Hey, man, this is a good track for me. You got a good hotrod, you brought me a good car. Don't overthink it. Go out and have fun. And we did.
Q. Clint, I was wondering with this start to the season, how you approach Martinsville next weekend? Looking forward to going back to short‑track racing?
CLINT BOWYER: Another one of my favorite tracks. It's 40 minutes from the house. You know, finally get home to see my family and everything else. To bring everybody up there, drive to the racetrack every day, sleep in your own bed, I mean, it's just a fun, fun weekend. Fun racetrack. It's old school racing at its finest. I've been close so many times there. It's one that I want to win more than anything.
With this momentum and the confidence that we take from here, maybe we can.
THE MODERATOR: Clint, great to have you here.
CLINT BOWYER: Thanks, guys. Y'all be safe getting home now.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports