Over the Wall with Joey Meier

Above all, Joey Meier, spotter for Brad Keselowski, puts the team first before himself. (Photo Credit: Nigel Standish)

Above all, Joey Meier, spotter for Brad Keselowski, puts the team first before himself. (Photo Credit: Nigel Standish)

Recently, I caught up with one of the most vocal and notorious spotters in NASCAR, Joey Meier of Team Penske.

As a matter of fact, Brad Keselowski has five wins at Talladega Superspeedway. Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano dominated most of Sunday’s GEICO 500.

All things considered, Keselowski was tagged with a speeding penalty although he won the first stage.  However, a vicious wreck with only 22 laps to go collected the No. 2 Snap On Ford.

Consequently, Keselowski was unable to finish. On the other hand, Logano went on to win the GEICO 500.

After a long sought out season in 2011, Meier and Keselowski finally accomplished the first of many trophies they hoped to achieve together in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Just imagine what it would be like to get that first Cup championship after winning the Xfinity Series championship together.

“You race to win, you compete to beat others, and for one moment, you were good enough to win,” Meier said in a previous interview. “Your peers respect you as such. Can’t take it away. It’s the final piece of the puzzle. It completes a person. Sort of.”

MW: Now that you have won a championship in 2012, what do you feel you learned with Keselowski by being up on the roof to put you guys back in championship contention?

JM: You know, as a driver spotter crew chief relationship moves forward, it’s very important to remember – in fact, I just had this conversation just less than a week ago as a “one on one with Brad” – that it’s just very similar to a marriage.

The fact that you have to realize that good things are happening, that’s easy. But when bad things are happening, it’s how you work through the bad things that makes you better. And I can give you multiple examples: leading a race (except for speedway race), but leading a race which we won several non-speedway races. From a spotter’s standpoint, that’s really easy.

There’s really nothing to improve on. But when you’re back running 10th to 15th and you’re struggling on a bad day, you’re working a lot harder and there’s a lot of different types of information you’re giving your driver.

As you move forward, because not every week is a top one or top two finish, you have to be able to gather that information when things are bad, and see how you can improve communication and make things better.

So we take it from the last time we talked to when where we were fortunate enough to win in 2012.  You say that was the epitome of what you were trying to do.

Now, how can we be better? Right? If you can continually do what you did in 2012, you’re going to be behind within the next year. So you have to continually work forward, and not look back. You can’t just say, “OK, we won a championship” now we’re just gonna keep doing that over and over again.

It doesn’t work that way. You always have to work on the communication to where when things are good, they’re great but when things aren’t good -how to make them better. And that’s that marriage I was talking about that fortunately Paul, Brad and myself we have.

MW: This year, you have a new spotter alongside you for your teammate, Joey Logano. Do you feel that having TJ Majors beside you will be beneficial for the Penske No. 2 in the draft or will it be a disadvantage at Talladega?

JM: No, it’s funny because TJ and I used to work together at DEI prior to him coming to Penske. (When we were both working at DEI, I was spotting for Martin Truex Jr. and he was spotting for Dale Jr.)

So, it wasn’t the first time we’ve had the relationship as a coworker or acquaintance on the roof. Fortunately, TJ [Majors] is an ex-racer that understands the importance of information that we give out that.

And, we talk and try and move forward with that relationship about how he gives Joey different pieces of information versus what Joey [Logano] got in the past. TJ is a very good restrictor plate racer spotter, I should say, and in fact, that causes me concern.

I wouldn’t really say concern. But, it raises my elevation to where I want to do a better job because, I know Joey is getting different kinds of information which is what he wanted out of his new spotter.

But it elevates myself, specifically to the four speedway tracks, because I’m now competing against a guy who has been successful with Dale Jr., and has done a good job with Joey Logano up to this point.

MW: So, do you feel that along with being friends with Majors, and having that extra knowledge is the key to communication that we’re seeing as success with teammates on track this year for Penske?

JM: You know, I don’t know if adding a spotter is what they were missing from the 22 standpoint. Obviously, they’re second in points and have been performing at a higher level than they finished last year in 2017. But, I don’t know if they’re added piece was just their spotter.

I know there’s been a lot of changes that TJ’s been able to a small portion of, specifically the relationship with TJ and I. We hang out a little more away from the race track than the previous spotter and because TJ also is friends with Brad and Dale Jr.

In fact, he was his best man at his wedding so there’s a closer relationship with TJ and my driver than there would’ve been with the previous spotter, and that kinda involves me a little bit more.

Majors now rides out of their airport hangar a little bit more rather always up top the roof, so that’s even more time spent together Meier’s went on to mention.

Several years back, I asked Meier a question regarding safety and competition while on the roof. During our conversation, I inquired about it again, especially with him and Majors having such a great friendship and with Talladega being known to be destructive and carnivorous.

MW: Even if you weren’t another driver’s spotter and you seen them wrecking and they were a competitor, would you advise them immediately? Especially if their spotter didn’t see the incident?

JM: You know on the roof, that happens on a frequent basis. A couple weeks back, I had Joel Edmonds, who spots for the 10 car this year, we were in different portions of the track and, I point. I have a bad habit, or a good habit, of pointing and grabbing the attention or direction I’m pointing.

It just so happened that we were a half a lap difference of the race track, so I pointed out to the gentleman next me (which was Joel), “Hey, you’re missing that wreck.” And even when we were in racing Richmond, I had Eddie D’Hondt sitting next to me, and I was able to tap him.

There was a wreck up in turns three and four; I just happen to be down in turns one and two and was able to pick it up. So regardless of competitors, teammates, or even if I don’t like the guy next to me; I’m going to do whatever I can to prevent regardless.

We have to remember as spotters: We are a safety device, we are a helmet, we are a roll cage. We’re a fire suit, we’re a safety device first, and foremost, if I can alleviate anybody else from getting into a wreck, damaging their car or getting injured, that’s really my priority on the roof.

MW: When you’re up on the roof and the commentators or race analysts are trying to reach you over the radio, do you ever get nervous or feel that you’re being put on the spot?

JM: No. The one thing that I found to be most interesting, and you’ve interviewed me several times; when you are truthful and you speak from the heart, you’re not making things up. There’s nothing to hide. So no, I have no problem being asked what’s going on, or talking on the air or off the air.

I still love the sport. You know, that’s the one thing that in 2018 that my wife and I sat down and talked about. How much longer am I going to do this? And unfortunately, on the racing side of things, you don’t get a win every week.

Kyle (Busch)’s won the last three, (Kevin) Harvick won the last two and we haven’t won yet. So that aggravation of not winning makes me realize that I still enjoy the sport, even though we’re not winning these races.

So if somebody asks me about racing during the day, I’m going to give them my honest opinion. And if it comes a time that my honest opinion isn’t adequate or isn’t politically correct anymore, then it might be time for me to step away from this sport. But fortunately, I haven’t come to that point in my life and hopefully I never will in my career.

In my head, I was truly thinking, damn, Meier. Sometimes, you just have to take a breath before continuing after a man of such, I’m not certain of the word really. Integrity, maybe? He’s incredibly humble.

MW: How important do you feel it is for you to be in Victory Lane when the entire team and crew is getting their photos taken after a win?

JM: There’s no importance. I know my place in history and I know what my place in the sport is as a spotter. We always call ourselves the “field goal kicker of the team.” We’re only supposed to be able to do our jobs. And realistically, we only get the accolades if we do something wrong. Then we get the recognition – unfortunately.

But I try to get down there and say, “Hi!” It’s just that certain tracks are a lot easier to get down to than others to winner’s circle than others. I have a tradition that I kinda started myself, and that is I always make a point to get a picture taken not so much taken directly with the team itself, but I do try to get team pictures.

I specifically want to get a picture of me with the driver and myself. We work for that specific moment hand-in-hand. So, whatever win I’ve been fortunate enough to get, about 98% of the time, I have been in Victory Lane with the drivers. It’s the combination of the efforts at the end of the day. We’re working on the win for a long time and if I’m fortunate enough to get to Victory Lane, I’m definitely going to do it.

MW: Is there a difference between the way you communicate with the driver when they’re in 1st V. 5th. What information is most important?

JM: Absolutely. Most interesting is when you’re leading the race you’re trying to move forward and watching for your lapped cars. As a spotter, you’re always trying to look forward. You’re paying attention to the lines you and everyone else is running.

If it’s a single groove race track, say like example, at Texas, you’re trying to work with other spotters. The preferred groove, assuming they’re not racing anybody else or position, or the free pass, something a little different than if you’re in fifth, if you’re not moving forward, we’re trying to pump the driver up mentally by giving them lap times.

If we’re not moving forward, we’re trying and we’re getting caught, we’re not just trying to get them lap time, then we’re letting them be aware that guys are catching up to us.

So, I don’t want Brad to change his line. I want him to continue to move forward. But, if we’re not moving forward, we might bring up the fact that he’s getting “beat in the exit of say turn two.” That’s information for Brad to give up entry into turn two and that will help him on his exit. That’s three different scenarios right there.

MW: Do you ever feel discouragement from the fans when they say things like, “That’s the spotter’s fault right there” when it’s truly aerodynamics?

JM: You know know, it’s just part of it. You take the good with the bad. I realize that there are 39 other individuals on the roof that do my job. But, on any given weekend, about twenty-thirty thousand people in the stands that either (a) want to do my job or (b) those ten thousand who probably think they can do my job.

That’s a good problem to have. I think I have a pretty cool job that other people want to do. If they think it’s my fault, they need to walk a mile in my shoes, per se, and realize that not every accident has a person to blame. And I’ve always said that, and I truly believe it. Not every event has a person to blame; it’s just a matter of pushing the envelope to the extent that we do on the Cup side – that things just occur. Sometimes you’re just a participant of this wreck.

For sure, if I make a mistake, I’m aware before anyone else is. But, over the years, I’ve rarely been the cause of one of these incidents.

MW: Do spotters group together and meet like teams before the race and have a plan for the draft? Or is that a decision on owners or manufacturers?

JM: We won’t have a meeting per se. We know that we’re stronger as a team than individuals, until the end of the race. Then we’re on our own. There’s definitely a mentality to work with other teammates with that “blue oval” while on track. But, that’s a good question. I’m unaware myself. Is it fifty laps to go, twenty laps…when do you quit working with your other manufacture teammates?

That always seems to play itself out every time. You can always tell when a driver’s done working with another group of drivers from the roof. It’s worked out in the past a handful of times at Talladega so far, I trust Brad on that decision making.

Trust goes a long, long way with these two as Meier is also Keselowski’s pilot.

Also, I inquired about Paul Wolfe’s birthday and Meier informed me that he was receiving an all expenses paid trip to Brooklyn, MI.  Coincidentally, it was where the No. 2 tested and it was his gift from the team last week.

“We’re paying his way for a two day Cup test,” Meier said with a chuckle. “We thought that would be nice.”

The deuce usually carries a special tribute, quote or something unique every year. Meier talked about the paint scheme for Darlington, which was recently revealed, and his hopes for the No. 2 team making the playoffs.

Most importantly, Meier pointed out that they need to secure a victory.  Despite a solid start to the year, he did not want to wait until the last moment.

“We don’t need to wait till Indy to get a win, the last race to make the playoffs,” Meier said.

One of my all-time favorites was the “Chasing Greatness” from back in 2011. Currently, they’re sixth in points as they head to the Monster Mile in Dover this weekend.

I’d like to thank Joey Meier for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Be safe up there, and I’ll see you on down the road!

Melissa Wright

My column focuses on the unsung heroes in motor sports. I’m an avid sports lover, bow hunter, and a humanitarian that has the effective ability to help communities that have been hit by a natural or man made disaster. Paying it forward as a Disaster Responder with the American Red Cross is the most important action of kindness, and gratitude that I can give to others. Lover of coffee, the beach and LivePD.

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