May 8, 2022
Darlington, South Carolina
An Interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We will now start our post-race press conference with our winning team, the crew chief of the winning No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, and that's Paul Wolfe, and the president of NASCAR operations for Team Penske, and that is Mike Nelson. We will go right to questions.
Q. Paul, I know you're not driving the car, but considering where you guys are in points, the way your season has gone, is that something that you're like, man, if you have a chance to win, you have to take it, because you guys aren't necessarily running top 3, 4, 5 every week right now?
PAUL WOLFE: What are you referring to?
Q. I'm referring to the bump at the end.
PAUL WOLFE: Oh, the bump at the end? Well, I don't really feel like I need to have those conversations with Joey. I mean, he's experienced. He knows what's on the line, where we're at, and what he needs to do.
I mean, we got ran into the fence off of 2 on the restart. That's probably the only reason the 24 was in front of us to begin with. Obviously our car was much better on the long haul. Anyone that got the lead was able to at least hold on for a while, and then eventually if your car doesn't hold on the long run, then it's going to be hard to fight him off.
Fortunately our car was good on the long run, and we were able to recover from losing the lead there, and yeah, ultimately there's a lot of guys with wins, and to your point, we aren't leading the points, so I think Joey knows where he's at and is going to do what he needs to do.
Q. Do you think that the current level of parity that we have, I think it's 10 winners in 12 races, is going to be sustainable for the rest of the year, and then therefore that's going to make any opportunity to win a race all the more valuable than we've ever seen in recent history?
PAUL WOLFE: From my side, well, yeah. Our box to work in is smaller. I think early in the season to where we're at today, I mean, teams are still learning a lot. We're still trying to figure out setups, where we want to be. I feel like that will tighten up as we get more opportunities at tracks and guys will start to figure it out when everyone will get closer, and I feel like for sure it will get harder and harder.
Obviously the Chevrolets have been strong and so are the Toyotas, but it was good for us to be able to come out here and show we had speed in qualifying and then back it up in the race.
Yeah, it's going to be tough to win races. A lot of guys have speed right now, and I expect that just to get tougher as we go when everyone figures the car out.
Q. Do you think it's more likely that the field could stay closer together as everyone kind of figures it out together or that one team or organization could hit on something and then create that separation?
PAUL WOLFE: Man, I don't want to say never, but I feel like it'll be really hard to do, just by the rules and what you've got to work with.
In the past there was opportunities to build this or that better, and right now you're really just using the pieces that you purchase and it's really about how you put your shocks and springs and that type of combination.
It's going to be really hard to get an advantage, but I won't say nobody will.
Q. For Paul, did you think that Joey's car had the speed to catch up there with William at the end? Would he have caught him on that final lap? And is there any risk then in putting that move on him?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, he kind of opened up a pretty good lead on us there with 10 to go, and I thought maybe at that point it was going to be hard to run him down, but his car, the 24, really seemed to fall off pretty hard there on the longer run.
In the second half of the race I thought our car was probably one of the better cars on the long run, and obviously Joey was getting all he could out of it at the end. Obviously track position is huge, and catching somebody is one thing and passing them is another, and I think we saw that a lot today with even earlier in the race when we probably weren't the fastest, we were still able to hold the lead just by having that clean air. I think Joey knew he probably wasn't going to get more than one shot, and he took advantage while he could.
Q. Mike, how do you feel about where you're at as far as car count, parts, pieces at this point in the season?
MIKE NELSON: Yeah, we're definitely gaining on it. You know, it's a new car, so there's a lot to put together every week, and you think about the number of parts and pieces that we've changed going into this year, and it's definitely been challenging, especially at the early races. But I feel like we're slowly starting to get our feet underneath us.
It's the same for everybody, so we're moving along and making progress every week.
Q. Paul, you guys have had some good runs over the years here at Darlington. Was there a difference today than some of those other times when you guys were close?
PAUL WOLFE: Really, I mean, it's still Darlington. It was about managing your tires, see how your car was short run, long run, the way the car drove itself. That's probably a better question for Joey, how he managed the car from inside.
But yeah, it's just keeping the track position. I think pit road was important to us, like it always is. But as far as kind of the way the race played out and what you would expect here at Darlington, I think it was pretty normal.
Tires were important. Managing the tires today, we didn't have an abundance of tires, so that was a question mark early on, when to take tires and when not to, so tire management was a thing today, not only on pit road but the driver behind the wheel.
It was, like I said, fortunate that we were able to have the long-run speed that you need to be able to keep that track position, and the guys did a good job on pit road.
Q. Mike, you've been a team engineer, and with your engineering background, how frustrating is it to be in this situation with the car right now to where everybody is so equal and it's putting pieces together rather than developing?
MIKE NELSON: Well, no matter the size of the box, there's always challenges for the race teams to try to be better than the other. Whether it's strategy, whether it's just the right combination of shocks and springs, there's still a lot to learn. I think we're talking about parity and things like that. There's guys that figure things out on a weekly basis to get an edge.
Anytime that you make a change, there's a lot of room for innovation, whether it be something that's a tangible part on the car or how you put those parts together or how you run the race. We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of challenges ahead.
It's definitely a lot of fun to try to figure that out, as long as we get some wins along the way. We're working hard at it, and there's definitely a lot of ground to be covered with this car.
Q. Paul, yesterday when Joey came in here and was asked to kind of assess the season, one of the things that he said that stood out was, "We're not fast enough." Today you go out and lead the most laps and win the race, so why is he saying you're not fast enough and why did that change overnight?
PAUL WOLFE: I guess we were so bad at Dover last week, you just remember your last race, right? I feel like in general over the last month or so, we don't feel like we've quite had the speed that we need to go out there and dominate and win races.
After the short practice we had yesterday and in qualifying, there was a little hope there, but still, how is that going to translate over to longer race runs and would the car hang on. I think that was still a question mark.
Early on in the race, it kind of seemed like when the 5 was pressuring us and the 18, it was like, well, maybe we still are off on speed, but as the race progressed, track really rubbered in, and the handling was important in the long-run speed. I feel like we got where we were pretty competitive, and I wouldn't say that anyone really had a big advantage on us from a speed perspective.
It was kind of interesting how that played out.
Now, obviously some of those guys had trouble. I don't know if the 18, where he would have been if he was still in the race, but I felt a lot better about our car the second half of the race and how it was on the long run, and I think that showed being able to drive back and put the pressure on the 24 for the win.
THE MODERATOR: Paul, Mike, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations on the win.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports