“We shouldn’t have run second again. We’ve got to fix some things. We’ve got fast cars so we can be fast.”- _Dale Earnhardt, Jr., second, on his team getting better and better each week._
Admit it, NASCAR fans; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is right on the cusp of breaking a nearly three-year victory drought. Last week, he came 500 yards away from victory. This week, he had the fuel mileage, but Brad Keselowski simply had better track position at Kansas. The off-season crew swap as a whole has been a mixed bag of results for the Hendrick Motorsports fleet. But the clear winners in that switch are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Steve Letarte. Earnhardt, Jr. has a fire burning inside of him that hasn’t been seen in years on and off the track, and Letarte has rebuilt his reputation after a somewhat disappointing stint as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. If the past couple of weeks are any kind of omen, Junior Nation may be in for quite the resurgence in the coming weeks.
*Most Controversial Quote:*
“He’s got to make those decisions. I can’t see the monitor; I can’t see the lap times and you’ve got to trust what he sees. The hard thing is that they know it was a problem in not getting all the fuel in the car and that changed our strategy. It took what was going to be a good day and just made an average day out of it.”- _Tony Stewart, eighth, on Darian Grubb making fuel decisions._
When Stewart pitted one lap after Brad Keselowski on lap 211, most everyone watching at home assumed that Stewart would be good to go on fuel mileage. But in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friends!” It turned out that Stewart’s crew did not get the car full of fuel, and Stewart had to stop with ten laps to go, a disappointing finish to what could have been a spectacular victory. In the post-race, it seemed as if Stewart, in a round-about way, was placing equal blame on his crew and the crew chief. But, on the plus-side of the ledger for Stewart fans, it’s looking as if Stewart may have his usual mid-season mojo working with the strong run yesterday at Kansas.
*Crew Chief Quote Of The Week:*
“Yeah, obviously being my first win, really excited about all the effort that’s been put in so far. And to be able to get the Miller Lite Dodge to Victory Lane was pretty special today. Brad and I talked I think this week or the week before that, man, if we just keep putting ourselves in the top-10, it’s not always the fastest car that seems to be winning these races. So, we’ve kept working on our program since the beginning of the year. It was kind of embarrassing of how we ran at California and Vegas earlier in the year. So, to see the progress that we’ve made and put ourselves in position to win these races now just says a lot about all the hard work and everything that’s going on at Penske Racing. One point in the race, I don’t know, we were still running 15th and Kurt was out there leading the race, and it was pretty cool, because we knew what the leader had in his car, we knew what he had. Its just been a good team effort here of late, just really trying to understand how to get these cars better and running similar geometries and front ends has definitely helped I think both of us to get our cars better.” – _Paul Wolfe, winning crew chief for Brad Keselowski, on the progress he and Brad have made this year._
Last year, in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, it was evident that Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe had great chemistry as Wolfe, the former Busch Series driver-turned-crew-chief, helped lead the driver and Roger Penske to their first NASCAR championship. Now, 13 races into their time together at the Cup level, they’ve won a race together. And they didn’t back into it either. The car had run in the top-10 all day and Keselowski, with Wolfe’s guidance, made it to Victory Lane for the first time since Talladega in 2009. Unlike that win, there was no controversy about this triumph.
*Owner Quote Of The Week:*
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress the last several weeks. People haven’t really noticed it, but bad break there when the [No.] 4 car stalled at Charlotte with the [No.] 2 car there and the [No.] 22 has run well. This is a real step-up for us. These are the tracks that were tough for us, the one-and-a-half miles. It looks like we have a handle on these now. We’ll see what happens.”- _Roger Penske, on the progress his organization has made the past several weeks._
Roger Penske’s organization, until the past couple of weeks on the Cup side of things, has been oft-maligned by fans and media wondering why the Penske equipment wasn’t quite running up to snuff. Last week saw things head in the right direction with Kurt Busch finishing in the top-5 and Brad Keselowski having a strong car until the brou-ha-ha on the chaotic green-white-checkered finish at Charlotte.
This week saw Kurt Busch dominate the race, but teammate Brad Keselowski was the victor at the end of the day, masterfully conserving gas at the end of the race to earn his second career win in Sprint Cup competition and his first in over two years. Busch ended up with a ninth-place finish, but was quick to compliment his teammate and praise his organization. Perhaps “The Captain” is back in the saddle again?
*Best Of The Rest:*
“It was hot out there. We’ve been so close. We’ve been plugging away. We had a car that I thought was capable of winning. I had a car last week that sat on the pole and had a shot at it and just caught the wrong line on the restart. The same thing at Dover and Darlington, we could just never catch that good break. You can only put yourself in that position so many times before you’re going to catch the right break. We caught a great break today because of all the hard work by the Miller Lite team that works on these Dodge Chargers. We got great gas mileage and that doesn’t hurt either.”- _Brad Keselowski, race winner._
“I’m proud of our whole FedEx Freight team. We did a great job today. We had a really good car there at the beginning and there towards the middle part, I’m thinking something gave out on the front end and we just went real bad tight. So, we decided to come in, work on it, get fuel to put us right there on the pit window, and obviously it worked out great for us. So, can’t say enough for this whole team. We’re battling back. The pit crew is really stepping up these last few weeks and getting ourselves back in position.”- _Denny Hamlin, third, on whether he was happy with his result._
“I really wanted to win and it is really hard to win here. Today was a little bit extra difficult because the track was changing a lot. The first third of the race and even the first half, our Aflac Ford Fusion was superior. It was great. Bob and I didn’t change the car enough to keep up with the conditions. We had a restart and I went backwards in a hurry and I thought we had to really gather it up. We did that and made it up to fifth. I had a good time though. It is a fun race track and it is my new favorite race track. When it is hot and slick like this, you can slide the cars around and run multiple grooves. It is a lot of fun and I like it.”- _Carl Edwards, fifth, on his day._
“We just kind of missed it. We thought we were pretty good Friday, but we missed it today. The track really changed on us and we didn’t keep up. I am really happy to finish sixth. I saw those other guys pit the race different again and I knew some of those guys would beat us if it went green to the end and it looks like three of them got us. We finished third out of the guys that were all racing for speed there, so I guess that was pretty good.”- _Matt Kenseth, sixth, on his day._
“Is this the first time it’s happened? Nah, and it won’t be the last time either. That’s just part of it. There is nothing you can do about it and it’s not a problem. Its part of racing. Crew chiefs are pretty smart and they know how to play the odds and they know what their scenario is and what their situation is and you lose a heck of a lot more of them than you win that way, but its nice to steal one once in a while and get it that way. You’ll take them any way you can get them.”- _Tony Stewart, eighth, on all these races coming down to fuel mileage._
“I’m proud of the way that this team has run. To have a car to lead laps today and be very competitive, I was all smiles. I felt coming into the weekend that if we could pace ourselves, [and] have good team communication, we would be competitive. It was great. There was always something in the back of my mind today that we weren’t going to win, but I’m glad that Brad Keselowski got this win for those Miller Lite guys, for Dodge. We’re really happy to keep AAA up front all day today. Its just one of those days where you’re on the right side, sometimes you’re not. For all my guys, we’ll take this one and the points. I’m not discouraged at all.”- _Kurt Busch, ninth, summarizing his day._
“It was really, really hot. My feet were burning up. That wasn’t our biggest problem. Our first run, we were alright. Then, we could just never get a handle on it. The track changed a lot and we never got it back.”- Joey Logano, 23rd, on his day.
“We had an alright day. We definitely made the car a lot better and kept adjusting on it through the race and put ourselves in position to have a decent finish before we ran out of gas at the end. It is a disappointing end to a halfway decent day.”- _David Gilliland, 33rd, on his day._
“That was a tough day. Our car broke a sway bar pin coming to the green flag. The pin fell out of the car and I don’t know if it broke or if we overlooked it or what. Obviously, we ran all the way to the first caution without a front sway bar and it took us like 15 or 20 laps to get it fixed. Our day was over before it even started.”- _Travis Kvapil, 34th, on his day._
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