In the second race of NASCAR’s 2019 season, Autotrader driver Brad Keselowski’s win at Atlanta secured a playoff spot for the #2 car. And secured the first NASCAR win in history for the Ford Mustang.
Battling a stomach flu that kept him in his trailer and in the bathroom all weekend, BK lost six pounds from Friday to the start of racing action on Sunday. But it didn’t stop him from winning the Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second year in a row.
The Mustang is Ford’s oldest car and the world’s best-selling sports coupe. Its first race was in 1964 the Tour de France Automobile, a 10-day, 4,000-mile marathon, but it had never competed at NASCAR’s highest level. That all changed at the 61st running of the Daytona 500, the first race of the 2019 season.
With a legitimately sick driver and a new car, how did BK’s team, the #2Crew, pull off the victory? I spoke to Tim Whitaker, the interior mechanic in charge of Keselowski’s day-to-day set up inside the car and NASCAR cockpit, and asked how they pulled it off.
Q and A With Tim Whitaker
Autotrader — Was there an air sick bag on board?
Tim Whitaker — No air sick bag on board, but we definitely had to make some accommodations so Brad could stay in the car for as long as possible. Which really emphasized all the unique features inside the car that a lot of fans don’t know about. My job is just to keep his office clean. At the end of the day it’s literally his office. Races are won and lost in some cases by a few seconds here or there. So it is my job to maximize everything for Brad so that we aren’t giving away time.
AT — Have there been any new challenges for you with the switch to the Ford Mustang?
The digital dash, in general, has made my life easier. The old tachometers and gauges, you used to have to program them all by hand, one by one. Now, our engineer plugs in a computer and loads it up all the data and we are good to go. Day of the race in the morning, we start on our whole-car check list. We check special things for Brad — helmets, visors, the entire cockpit — anything inside the car. Anything special he wants whether he has a special need for the day. Like cooling. Which was particularly important for this race.
AT — Is there anything that Brad is particular about?
TW — The only thing Brad is particular about is the steering wheel. Steering wheel placement is big. We have our measurements and guys at the shop try to hit that. We have a great support crew so we don’t have to show up at the track and make a bunch of changes to the NASCAR cockpit in general.
The exterior of the race car gets the most attention because it looks cool and is the most visible piece. The most interesting and most important parts, the engine and the cockpit set up, can be overlooked by fans at the track or watching on TV. You just don’t know what’s going on with either of those because you can’t see them.
AT — What are the three most important things inside a race car that the average fan may not know about?
TW — Number one is the amount of electronics that goes into a car. There’s a whole lot of wiring and a lot of things to check. From the new digital dashes, to the engine control units we’ve been running for a few years. A lot of connections you make sure are right and tight.
Number two is the safety aspect of everything inside the race car. Double checking the seat belts. All the drive cooling, the helmet blowers. The radios. Communication is big obviously.
Number three would be the ducting. Different tracks have different tubes inside the car that you have to make sure everything is connected right. Which is really important on a day where your driver is sick or less than 100 percent physically.
AT — You were on the championship-winning team in 2012. What do you remember?
TW — That was a good day. Ready to get another one. It’s been a while. It is always something you strive for and a feeling you want again. That’s the ultimate goal. And the win in Atlanta ensures that we will have a shot this year.