NASCAR Transcript: Paul Wolfe – Press Conference – 06.30.24

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to get started with tonight’s post-race press conferences. We are joined by our race-winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

Q. Paul, how close were you guys on fumes?

PAUL WOLFE: Well, he said he ran out coming off of 4 there coming to the checkered. Obviously that was probably a lap and a half longer than what we had predicted.

We just got to a point where I was like, well, we’ve got guys around us that were racing for the win to get into the playoffs, and at this point we’ve come this far, let’s just stick with it, even though everything, our tools and my guys figuring the mileage manually, showed that we were probably going to ran out somewhere on that last lap. I felt it was worth the gamble at that point, and stick with it, and fortunately it was enough. He did run out on the last lap, though.

Q. Some of the drivers seemed a little flabbergasted by the fact the race went to five overtimes and all the insanity that unfolded. Is that kind of an unexpected way for you guys to win a race?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, it was five overtimes? Is that what it was? There was cautions there at the end. It’s always hard to say what NASCAR is thinking. Sometimes they throw a red flag. Sometimes they don’t. I don’t know all their thought behind the decisions that were made.

But I had said it, we keep pacing these laps, we’re going to run everybody out of fuel, and obviously that’s eventually what happened. Fortunately our Roush Yates engine was making good fuel mileage and Joey did a great job on all those caution laps, being able to save. Every little bit counts, and the guys that can do that the best under caution, it just helps.

I don’t really know what to say as far as why we did that, and I understand frustrations. We were getting frustrated, too. Luckily we came out on the good end of it.

Q. Was it a hard decision to leave him out? You talk about you’re on the bubble for points, so you’re trying to weigh between trying to stay on that bubble for points or win your way into the playoffs.

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, absolutely. It was, and I was so close so just calling him down that last one because at that point, you’re only so accurate. My engineers are figuring the fuel mileage manually and then we have simulation tools and things that are predicting how many laps we can run, which is based off of — it can kind of tell when the engine is running or not, how much Joey is saving. They weren’t totally lining up, but I went with the one that told us we could run the longest.

But that last one, that one said we were running out. So at that point, it was very tough. But I thought it was worth the risk. It’s hard. I know we’re on the points cut, but you’ve got to figure over the next few weeks someone else is going to win a race, and then it’s all about winning I feel like.

So I think that made the decision a little easier, knowing someone behind us in points, it’s pretty likely they could win a race here with all the different style tracks coming up as we lead into the playoffs.

Q. You’re known as a bit of a gambler. How big a gamble was this one because you kind of were going for broke because you run out, you end up maybe below the point cut line or something, or you run out and somebody crashes you.

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, for sure. Yes, I would say typically aggressive, and I work real hard at my strategy game, if you will. I know that’s an important part of it, especially the closer and closer everyone gets, they’re running the same speeds as everyone is figuring this new car out. Like track position is everything. We talk about it everywhere.

So I know the importance of the strategy side of it. We did a little bit of that tonight, obviously not qualifying well. We were able to find ourselves up in the top 5, top 10. Once it worked out, the other time it didn’t. We just weren’t good enough on restarts.

But I think overall, I was pleased with kind of what we did, and being aggressive, I think that’s just part of it.

Unless you have a car that’s just dominant, and I think you see guys at times that are, and I think when you have cars like that, I don’t know that it matters what strategy you do, you usually find your way in the front.

But I think it’s all weighing out what speed you have in your car and then deciding your strategy plays from there is kind of how I look at it.

Q. As the overtime restarts or cautions are coming, how do you balance, hey, we have a shot here if we keep moving up, with the fact of, we may be pushing our fuel limit and putting ourselves in a really bad spot?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough. Obviously my two with guys that are figuring the fuel mileage, they’re way more nervous than I am. I have a lot of faith in them, and I just know the situation we’re in of needing to win. Like I said, can we point our way in? Sure. But like I said, I feel like you’re going to get another guy or two that wins, and then at that point it’s all about winning.

To the whole how you weigh out your strategy and those types of things in my mind as the race is playing out, I kind of got to a place where I felt like it was worth the risk to potentially give up 20 points or so if we did run out versus the upside of it. I felt like we needed to roll with it.

Q. About where was Joey running when the caution came out to send it into the first overtime? Do you know roughly what position he was in?

PAUL WOLFE: I feel like we were just in the top 5 because we had pitted for two tires, and that’s how we got track position there, and then I think the cautions started from there. I believe we were in the top 5.

Q. You kind of touched on this, but coming into this race, your teammates had won in the last four races. Were you sort of — but you also had put yourself into position where you could make the playoffs on points. Were you resigned to either strategy coming in based on the performance of the organization as a whole of late, and now that you have all three of you in the playoffs, how does that change your outlook?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I think from a performance standpoint, the last six weeks or whatever, we had the stretch of short track races in there, I guess starting maybe with Wilkesboro, winning the All-Star Race there, I think from there I knew the three races coming up after that, Iowa, Gateway, Loudon, it’s like, I told Joey, those are going to be our opportunities to win a race.

Obviously we weren’t able to do it. Our teammates were, which was good for the company. But we still weren’t in a good spot.

When we came to Nashville this weekend, I feel like in practice we felt fairly good about our cars. I think the 12 and ourselves thought we were in the game. We didn’t qualify well, which obviously put us behind.

But I feel like we’ve been making some progress. Obviously we’ve got a few oddball tracks coming up that we’ll have to see how we stack up on those. I talk about obviously the street race and Pocono, Indy, those are unique tracks, so I’m optimistic that we’ve been working in the right direction, but I think until we get to some of those other tracks, we’ll really see where we stack up.

But I think myself and one of my engineers has kind of been of the mindset that hey, we’re going to have to win a race. As much as you want to say you can point your way in, that’s great, but I think personally we’ve been in the mindset we need to win, like I said, and I kind of told Joey coming into this last stretch of four or five races. We didn’t win, obviously we ran top 5 and had good speed at all those short track races, and even last weekend at Loudon we were pretty good and had the issue on that restart there with the 9.

So this is good, and now it gives us the opportunity to continue to build.

I think the 12 car and the 22 have been doing a pretty good job of collaborating here the last month trying to help each other and trying to find speed and also make sure we’re maximizing the weekend with the limited practice. I think when we work closely together, it helps us get our cars a little more dialed in come race time.

We’ll continue down that path, and like I said, see how we stack up on some of these higher speed tracks. Obviously this was a step faster than what we’ve seen on the short tracks. I think the 12 felt pretty good from what I heard by the end of the race where they were at from a speed perspective, so that was encouraging.

We had moments in the race where Joey was happy with the car. He thought it was good – we just needed track position – when we had the balance correct. We had a couple runs there where it got the balance off and we didn’t look as good.

Overall I don’t think it was a terrible race, but it was obviously very — track position was huge tonight. We were able to make two tires work there for a while, and that just shows how the clean air is big.

I think on the long runs we weren’t even seeing a second of lap time falloff, so that opened up the opportunity to try some different stuff.

Q. You guys ran longer than just about everybody else in the first stage. Did you find out anything during that run that gave you more confidence to make that call at the end?

PAUL WOLFE: Well, I think just seeing where the lap times went. I wouldn’t say from a fuel mileage perspective or anything like that it changed, but I felt good about the two-tire play, which is what got us back up to the front there at the end.

It kind of split, I guess; some guys did four, some did two. But I felt pretty strongly looking at our left side tire wear and those types of things that for us, it was kind of — at that point in the race, it was a no-brainer that we were going to put two tires on if we got another caution.

We stayed out a couple times there. I think we got up to 15 laps on our tires and we stayed and then went back green and then that last caution there when I think everyone had run 30, 40 laps, I think it was a no-brainer for us to just put two on it.

Q. 110 laps on that last tank of fuel. Have you ever gone longer on a tank of fuel like that?

PAUL WOLFE: We were predicting we could run, today starting the race, 75 to 80 laps. That was what we thought our mileage was. Obviously I don’t know how many of those were caution laps. Obviously the old-school ratio is 2-to-1 caution lap to green, but the guys that are really good at saving, I think it’s quite a bit better than that, and obviously that was a big part of being able to run those extra laps.

Q. So your last pit stop you take two tires and you get all the fuel in the car. That doesn’t usually happen. For you guys was there any concern about that?

PAUL WOLFE: No, we knew it was full. We felt good it was full when we made that last stop, and at that point I think we said, well, we’re 10 laps to the good. Like if it ran regular distance, we felt we could run to 310. The first overtime my guys were like, we’re all right, we can maybe do one more. Then another one came and it was like, we’re pushing it, but I think we can do it.

Then after the second one, like yeah, it was just — it was nerve-racking for sure.

Then by the last one I was kind of numb to it at that point. I was like, it just is what it is. I was like, if you feel it stumble, just bring it to us. It was a big roller coaster of emotions there going through all those late-race overtime cautions.

Q. When you saw it go second overtime, third overtime, any thoughts about, man, maybe I should have come at 301 with a bunch of those guys, then I wouldn’t be worrying about this at all and would still have decent track position?

PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, it’s a good point. Yes, Monday morning quarterback, right? Or hindsight. Yeah, because you look at even our teammate, the 12, he had to pit under green, and I think he still ended up sixth or something just because of how it all unfolded.

Yeah, for sure after the third one, we were like, well, this probably isn’t what we should have done. But you’ve got to be willing to take a little risk, right? It’s not easy to win these races, and sometimes you’ve got to be willing to go out there on a limb and try to make it happen, and that’s kind of where we were at.