NASCAR Transcript: Michael Nelson and Paul Wolfe – Press Conference – 05.19.24

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to get started with tonight’s post-race media availabilities. We are now joined by Team Penske’s Michael Nelson.

Q. How gratifying is it as an organization to have Joey win this, and also what Team Penske did at Indy today? It’s got to be a good shot in the arm, good motivation for the entire team.

MICHAEL NELSON: If you had to wait, this was the day to wait to get that done. Yeah, great day for Mr. Penske and the whole organization.

Q. What was your assessment of the tire experiment today?

MICHAEL NELSON: Well, I thought it was a great race, for obvious reasons with the way it turned out. But just the racing in general was really good. I had a good feel for that, watching the truck race today in terms of the track itself, but as far as the tires go, yeah, it was a good race. Some options there to do some different things.

Hopefully you guys and the fans feel the same way.

THE MODERATOR: We’ve also been joined by Paul Wolfe.

Q. Paul, how frustrating has it been over parts of last year into this year and have the start that you have, knowing you’ve got the driver, knowing you’ve got the team and it’s just not working, and then you put together a night like this?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, well, obviously you’ve been in the sport long enough, you know that’s kind of part of it. This isn’t the first time we’ve had our struggles over the years. I’ve been through it before.

But I think all the experience we have on the team and within the company, I think you’ve got to just stay focused and continue to work hard and work smart.

I think the short track program in general has always been a strength for us, especially here with the new car. We’ve had some strong performances at Martinsville and Richmond earlier this year, and we were fortunate enough to do the Goodyear tire test here a couple months ago.

I think the key there is it was great that we were able to capitalize on that. We ran over 800 laps here at the tire test and took all that information and helped Goodyear do their part of it but also got what we could out of it as a team, and take that back and put together something that was obviously shown to be pretty special here tonight with the performance in that car and what Joey was able to do.

I think you had to have a really good balanced car to make those reds work the whole race like we were able to do. That was key. I think we saw guys that didn’t have a well balanced car that would fall off whether tight or loose, but it took a pretty balanced car to do that, and fortunately we had that.

Q. You’ve got a veteran group and obviously a veteran driver. How hard is it to keep going like, guys, we’ve just got to keep grinding and doing the right things. It will turn around. How hard is it to keep the team directed that way and to keep pushing that way?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough. It’s easy to lose confidence. This is a tough sport, but I think the fact that we’ve been able to have such good success together, and most of the guys on this team have been with us for a long time, not only on the pit crew but my mechanics and those guys, they’ve been with us a long time, so they’ve been through it. They have faith in what we’re doing.

Like I said, as you’ve been in it a long time, you start to understand that it’s just part of it sometimes, and we just keep going every week and grinding and knowing that eventually it’ll turn around.

Hopefully tonight was a little boost for everybody. Unfortunately it wasn’t a points-paying race and didn’t lock us into the playoffs, but it showed that as a group we’re still capable of putting together a good weekend like this right from qualifying.

The pit crew — I wouldn’t say we did anything super fast on Friday or in qualifying yesterday, but there was no mistakes. Joey did a great job executing pit road on and off. The pit crew just had a solid stop, and the car put down a nice lap. That’s kind of what it took and gave us that track position to be able to manage the race from there.

Q. Paul, with what you said about the balance, was there any consideration of going to the primaries at the 100-lap break?

PAUL WOLFE: Well, we obviously talked through a lot of things pre-race, and you try to lay out a rough plan. But you never know when the cautions are going to fall, those types of things.

That caution lap 1 or 2 or whatever it was, lap 2, that kind of threw us off a little bit, I’m not going to lie. It was very hard for us as a leader to give up that track position. I understand when you don’t have the track position, the move those guys made because everyone was a little bit uncertain about how long could you go on these tires. We were fortunate to get — I think we ran 65 laps on the option tire in practice, so we kind of had an idea that we weren’t bad on them. I know guys saw some blistering and stuff in practice.

Not giving up the track position kind of put us on a different strategy there because I kind of had a feeling that guys were going to — now they have two sets of option tires to finish the second half of the race, and I just felt — we were able to manage well and kind of monitor the lap times through the end of the first stage and felt like without giving up a bunch of track position, we’re just going to have to stay on the reds.

Fortunately there was a lot of — I think we had nine cars behind us or so as a buffer to start in that second stage. It kind of went down that same path and worked out.

Q. Roger Penske and Team Penske has a penchant for putting together big days. This is another big day. Shot out the front row at Indy, win this race. Can you talk about this being another highlight day for Team Penske?

MICHAEL NELSON: Well, we’re just happy to be able to give that to him for all the things he’s done for us and for the sport in general. We just feel like that was the expectation. We saw what happened today in Indianapolis, and I think that’s a little extra motivation for us to try to hold things up here in North Wilkesboro. It’s an honor when we can do that.

Excited about the upcoming race in Charlotte and also the Indy 500. Hopefully we can bring him a little more success in the coming week.

Q. Paul, when you have a car as good as what you had tonight, is it sort of a double-edged sword because it’s so good but then you’re sitting there thinking, holy cow, what can go wrong? Does that go through your mind when you have a car this good?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, absolutely, and like I said, it’s always hard as the leader. At times it’s a lot tougher as the leader, making those tough decisions on pitting, not pitting. Obviously tonight we threw in the variable of another tire. At times it’s almost like you’re a sitting duck because they’re a lot of times just going to do the opposite of what you do you have the track position, the guys in the back don’t. So they’re going to play the opposite strategy.

Like I said, fortunately we had a great car. Obviously we didn’t know that until we got deeper into the race, but fortunately it played out that we did.

Now, when we started the race, Joey thought his balance was really good, and we were able to, like I said, manage that option tire, which had more speed for sure. Short run we know that. We just weren’t sure at what point it was going to go over the cliff and really give up.

Now, being the leader of the race, that always helps to be able to manage your stuff. You’re just kind of managing that gap out back. So I’m sure that was a factor in it, as well.

But like I said, having a good balanced car when you’re on a tire like that that can give up when you abuse it, that was really key to being able to run that option tire for both segments of the race.

Q. What can this do for your season? I assume it hasn’t really gone the way you’ve wanted.

PAUL WOLFE: No, like I said, more than anything, I think it just gives myself and Joey and all the guys working on this car every week just confidence that as a group we can still win. We can still put on performances like this. No, it wasn’t a points-paying race, but I’m pretty sure everyone in the garage was still doing everything they could to win this race.

Like I said, we’ve been together a long time, a lot of experience. But the sport is very tough, and you also have to be able to adapt. We’ve seen the evolution of this new car and it change over the last few years. I think it just lets everyone on the team know that we’re still capable of this and stay positive, stay motivated, and let’s keep moving forward.

We’re capable of winning more races and championships, I think, is more than anything what I take from tonight.

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