NASCAR Media Conference – Brad Keselowski and Scott Graves – Richmond

THE MODERATOR: Talk about the speed you were able to find out there today.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Both cars seemed to find their way to the front. Got to the lead in stage two. Somebody told me there were five or 10 laps to go. Chris was running second. I knew he would be a contender, a threat. What did you start, 23rd?

SCOTT GRAVES: 26th.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: At that point, passed 24 cars. To do that, I knew he was really strong. We had the stage win there at the end of stage two. When we began stage three, Chris was able to keep right up with me. I think he was actually a little faster than me.

He had a great pit sequence. I struggled a little bit on the pit sequence with some of my stuff. He found himself at the lead, never looked back there about 110, 120 to go, I guess.

Then from there, it’s just the strategies, guys on one stops, guys on two or three stops, everything in between. They were able to call a great race. Chris was able to execute. Had a curve ball thrown at him there at the end with the spin. You’re thinking, Man, just let’s not lose this race with something silly happening. Glad that wasn’t the case.

Certainly tremendous execution. We wanted to win 1-2. That’s the ultimate goal. We didn’t get that, but we still had a heck of a day where we ran 1-2 the parts. This is kind of the next step for us, is to be able to win races on a contender basis.

I told somebody, a lot of you guys here this year, we moved from irrelevant to relevant. The next step is to try to be contenders. You get to the contender status by winning races.

We’re not where we want to be. We want to be where we win every week, we’re 1-2 finishing. This is another step in our progression and a lot to be proud of.

Q. Follow-up on the pit entry, sideways in the box. What happened? Do you think that made a difference with them undercutting you, being a little faster?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’d have to go back and watch it all. I just got in a little too hard, wide, locked up the right front.

Yeah, I’d struggle to give a great answer on how big a difference that would make until I’ve seen all the information. Certainly Chris was very fast. When we got back out on the track, got passed by two or three cars, I was just trying to hold on there for a little bit.

Car handling got away from me a little bit. Not exactly sure why. We’ll go back and take a look at that.

Q. The second time, Bristol, where you had to balance happy for the team but a little disappointed in your personal performance. Is that kind of the case here today, too?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, obviously I want to win the race as a driver. That’s super important to me. Bristol honestly stung a lot more than this did because it was out of our control where we blew a tire. Here I think there were some things in my control, our control as a team. I wasn’t flawless today. There’s a little bit of work to do there on my end.

I don’t think it stings so much the way Bristol did. In both cases we had two good cars and we were able to strike with the 17 car. That’s something to be proud of.

Q. Brad, in broadcast they were saying pretty much inside the car was over 130 degrees. Talk about the physical demands of that. Is there anything that’s comparable?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I don’t know what you would compare to that. Driving a race car is a very unique environment. The conditions today were certainly hot.

It ended up being more forgiving than we thought it would be coming into the weekend. We thought it was going to be a challenging race, hundred-degree temps. We got a reprieve, 88, or 89 today. A lot cooler, right (smiling)?

Driving a race car isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be challenging. That’s what separates the great from the average or the good from the average and everything in between.

There’s, of course, limits to everything. The physical duress that it takes to drive a race car and the mental challenge that goes with it, the combination there together I think is what makes winning so special because it’s certainly not handed to you.

Q. Brad, how rewarding has it been to lead this organization in its revitalization over the past year and a half?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I’m not the only person, right? I’m one of the people. There’s a team of people. I’m happy for them.

I take the most pleasure from seeing that a group of people come together, whether it be the ones that you see with the drivers and the pit crew and the team members or the people you don’t see, which is the mechanics, management team, so forth, the partners. I take just as much pride in that as anything that I’ve done.

Really my job is to be a facilitator, it’s to try to make sure the resources are there in combination with the right people to be successful.

In that light, I don’t feel like I really do that much work, to be honest. I just try to listen to the people that do the work, make sure they’re getting what they need in a servant leadership style. Some days are better than others, certainly. We have all of our flaws. I have all of the flaws that come with that.

I think we’ve come a good ways. I’m not looking up today, everyone as strong as today was, and saying that we got everything we want and need to win every week. We’re progressing and we’re putting ourselves in position.

Q. You recently signed the big deal with Build Submarines. How much does this win give you confidence in the financial end?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It’s huge. We are doing a great job with our partners right now. I’m thrilled for Fastenal. Key partner for us. Been with this team for almost 15 years now I think. That’s a big win for us, to be able to get them in Victory Lane.

We signed some key partnerships here in the last few weeks, with Build Subs, which a lot of their group here is based out of Newport News. We’re glad to have them here. Seeing us in Victory Lane with one of our cars, just super proud to be where we’re at.

Obviously the sponsorship game is so critical for us. 60 to 70% of our team revenue comes from partnerships. We need those partnerships to be world class partners. I think we’ve got a couple really solid partners, with Fastenal and Build Subs. To see them both in Victory Lane today was really great for us.

Of course, we’re always looking to land more partners of that nature. This certainly bodes well for that. A good day for us on the partnership front obviously, as well.

Q. Scott, a race like this where it’s very strategy-heavy, old school race, for a crew chief, is there a thrill and a kick that you have such an impact on the outcome?

SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, for sure. I always enjoy the races where we have a part like that and a role.

But there’s the strategy. It also takes the execution of the pit crew and the driver and everyone else. For everybody to execute as well as they did today, our pit crew was incredible. I think you’ll see we gained spots on pit road. Chris gained spots on track.

I knew starting where we were, we were just going to have to gradually ratchet our way forward. We were able to do that without mistakes. That’s really what was key for us today.

Q. Brad, there’s going to be a lot of talk about the short track package. What was the quality of racing like today? Fans may not have enjoyed today for whatever reason, but from a driver’s perspective, was it fun out there?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m sorry, what was the first question? You asked so many, I couldn’t keep up. Can I get a prompter (laughter)?

Q. As a driver, was it enjoyable today with these long green-flag runs…

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It was for me. When I started Cup, this is what Cup was: long green-flag runs. I’ve been around NASCAR X Series for the last few weeks. You run 12, 15, 20 laps, they throw a yellow. I’ve been picking on the series for that when we’re in our more intimate sessions. Geez, guys, is this the senior tour where you can’t race more than 20 laps? It completely changes the dynamics of the race when you have 20-lap runs.

When you don’t know if it’s going to be a 10-lap run or a hundred-lap run, you have to make choices with how you drive the car, set up the car, how you approach the entire weekend as a team. That creates all these different variabilities throughout the field that I think makes races fun as hell.

From the driver perspective, when they dropped the green at the start of stage two, I was just digging. I’m in the background going, Oh, God, don’t let this go long green flag run because I knew I burnt the rear tires off this car.

That part to me is fun. That’s the challenge. It feels like there’s a game of chess going on and you’re trying to play it as smart as you can, trying to have the feedback loop with the team so they don’t over-adjust because you burnt the tires off, all these different things.

That’s what Cup racing to me is. Every once in a while you get these short-run races where there’s a lot of wrecks. The variability is what makes Cup to me so much fun, is just not knowing what you’re going to get.

By nature, that means you have to have races with long runs because everyone will sell out for short runs, then the racing get dramatically worse. When everybody in the field can sell out for short runs, you never see any passing, comers and goers. Start the air pressures high, do all these different things, have the car crazy sideways loose. That to me is the worst racing you’re ever going to see.

Yeah, I appreciate races that have long runs. The end of this race came down to a short run. Three-lap green-white-checkered-ish kind of run. I think there’s a little bit of everything in there.

I love the fact that at a track like this you can run the bottom, middle, the top. That puts it in a spot when you have racing like this that makes elite drivers want to be in this series. I think that’s really important.

You’ve heard me say it a couple times. We need this series to be a series where the format rewards elite talent. If you continue to strip things out of it, that elite talent does well, you’re just going to drive them away or they’re not going to rise to the top. That’s not good for us.

I think in that light, yeah, I love the fact that there were long green-flag runs today. We had a fast car, it favored us to some extent. There’s weeks where it doesn’t. I think that’s part of what makes Cup racing special.

Certainly last week in Pocono, I didn’t think we were particularly strong on long runs. That’s what this series is. I think that’s part of what makes it so much fun. Certainly you have to have long runs if you have three-and-a-half-hour races.

No, I think it was the type of racing that the Cup Series needs. We can’t have the same type of racing every week. The variability of it is tremendously rewarding to me and demands a lot out of the drivers, a lot out of the teams.

When all is said and done, because of that, more often than not you look at who is in Victory Lane and you say that person deserved to be there. I think that’s critically important for our series.

Q. You talked about how you and Chris were effectively in the Playoffs. Now Chris is locked in the Playoffs. What does that mean for you as an organization?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it’s a big step forward. I don’t know if I have an answer for what it means other than we get to stay in business (laughter). Which is always good, right?

But it’s a good boost of confidence for us that we’re doing the right things, for me personally. Beyond me, just the people that work there every day, that put their effort, heart and soul into the cars and the team. I’m happy for them.

Q. Scott, throughout the year Ford has battled a lack of downforce. How did that play or help Ford today with this hot, slick racetrack?

SCOTT GRAVES: I think a track like this, I mean, it kind of evens the field out a little bit. Maybe it shows up in qualifying if you’re a little bit off on one area or another of the car. But you get into like what Brad was talking about, the long runs here, it’s really more about just handling of the car, what it’s going to do short run versus long run. We had a really good long run car and Chris was able to manage the falloff really well.

I think that takes horsepower out of the equation. With all that falloff, it takes downforce out to some extent. It just kind of evens it out a little bit.

Like Brad said, it’s more how does the driver deal with it. Are they going to manage the car well enough to get through a long run or not. Really just taking care of it to be able to move through the field like Chris did.

Q. Scott, you’ve had a very up-and-down career in the Cup Series. What is your pride or personal satisfaction in building this 17 team?

SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, it’s been up and down, a lot of years of frustration. But I’ve always felt like this is where I can be. Always wanted to be part of a team that executed at this level, like what we did today. That means a lot to me personally.

I think Brad talking about his impact, wouldn’t be able to do this if he hadn’t come into the company and really helped I guess give the leadership. I know he says maybe he doesn’t feel like he does a lot, but I think the expectations he brings, but not only just the expectations, he actually gives us the tools to do it. That’s probably something that we lacked before.

There’s always an expectation. Sometimes didn’t always have the tools that we needed and the resources to get there. I feel like he’s been really critical to that.

So to be able to see this build, get the team better, it means a lot to me ’cause I really fought hard for this for a lot of years, wanted to be at this level. To see it come to fruition means a lot.

Q. What has clicked or why has it worked between you and Chris?

SCOTT GRAVES: We worked together in the Xfinity side, had that relationship and success there. With the way things work in the industry, we ended up getting split and going different ways for a while.

For us to get back together at that point at the end of 2020 or 2021, whichever, it really worked out well. We just kind of fell back into the way we had worked before in the past.

I think our personalities work well together, both stay fairly calm. Chris does a good job of that in the car, giving the feedback without getting too worried or stressed out during a race. I don’t know, I mean, able to read that I guess in a good way. Hopefully more often we’ll get him the faster cars that he’s looking for.

Q. Brad, after the awkward pit stop, Chris leapfrogged guys, were you still optimistic it could cycle back in some way?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you never lose hope, right? We ran really hard to try to get back in the top five. Wasn’t really able to push back through. I was kind of stuck sixth or seventh I think for the remainder of the race with some guys in front of us that were staying out. Couldn’t quite get back by some of those guys.

I think I passed the 23, but the 8 passed me, kind of drove away. Just couldn’t make that next step. So just lost the handling there a little bit. Not entirely sure why. That’s part of it.

Q. Brad, do you feel like you’re the best Ford team right now?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t know if I would try to quantify that. I mean, we’re in a good spot. I don’t know how you would measure that. How do you quantify what’s best and what’s not?

If you go by wins, yeah, we’ve got a win and we’re locked in the Playoffs. That feels good, right? I think we’re on a good streak. If you go by points, I think the 12 and the 22 are maybe in front of us in points.

Fords, we’re all really close. 12, 22, 17, the 4, we’re all very close in points. I don’t know how you quantify who’s best and who’s not.

I think the four cars – the 22, 12, 4 and 17 – are all right on top of each other. I’m right there as well. Maybe the five of us you could lay a blanket over.

We do have two cars and we’re a two-car team, and we have both cars there. We don’t have any good cars or bad cars. We don’t have any bad cars, which that feels good.

We’re positioning ourselves to get there one day, and I’m proud of that. That’s earned, right? You got to earn that title. You do that with winning multiple races and contending for championships. We’re knocking on the door of that.

Until we are walking in at Phoenix with three or four win stickers on our cars, it’s hard to say that we’re the best. That’s what we want to be.

Q. Scott, I don’t know if it was you or the spotter, but somebody came over before the final restart and said, Don’t let Denny do what he did to the 5 last week. Did that play into the strategy of having Chris take the inside lane?

SCOTT GRAVES: I mean, the inside lane was probably the favorite lane for restarts. That was definitely going through my mind.

Q. Was that you?

SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, it was me. Probably being a little dramatic at that point (smiling).

Q. Honest.

SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, being honest.

With this car especially you find yourself on that outside lane, it might be faster, but you’re just vulnerable. Especially you get late race restarts, guys get really aggressive, it’s too easy for someone to wash up into you and use your car up.

Yeah, that was definitely a cue to, hey, let’s start on the bottom and take it from there.

Q. A couple weeks ago you mentioned about working with the SRX Series. Did that help you give more the time you wanted or the feel of different cars? Also, what are your plans going into Detroit for next week?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, actually I’ve had a great time – not always a great time – I’ve gotten wrecked in all three races. Outside of that, it’s nice to show up and drive the car and not worry about anything. That’s actually a lot of fun.

Walked away last week and the car needed rear clip, all kinds of work done to it. I said, All right, see you next week (smiling). That’s sometimes a good feeling. I’d forgotten what that felt like.

On the flipside of that, I haven’t gotten a win over there. Was close this week. We’ll go to Michigan this week. We go to Berlin Michigan on the West Coast, then a whole bunch of things with Michigan being a home race for me and Jack Roush with different things that they have going on. It will be a fun week I can tell you coming off of Chris’ win. A lot to be proud of.

Appreciate your time, guys.

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