THE MODERATOR: We're going to roll into our post-race press conference for today's fifth annual South Point 400 here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and we're joined now on stage by the winning crew chief today, Paul Wolfe, of the No. 22 Pennzoil Ford for Team Penske. Paul, this is your fifth win here as a crew chief, your second here with Joey Logano, but none sweeter than today, punching your ticket into the Championship 4. Walk us through that.
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, I was talking to someone out there, I thought I'd only won four times, so thanks for reminding me it was five. I forgot Joey and I had won already here once.
Obviously it turned out to be a great day, obviously not without adversity. Honestly going into the race today, we weren't confidence in what we were going to have. We've really worked hard ever since the Homestead test there a few weeks back to try to get our mile-and-a-half program a little better, and we've made gains on that.
But this track is unique with the high speeds but also the bumps you have to deal with. We had a little work to do after practice there, and fortunately the adjustments we made and things we did for the race today, the car had speed, all the Team Penske cars had speed.
But with our issues on pit road, we also had to use a little strategy to execute for the win there at the end. Overall proud of the effort. Obviously Joey drove a great race all day, kept the car clean, and we were able to not give it away at the end.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Michael Nelson, the president of NASCAR operations for Team Penske. Just a really strong day overall, exciting finish. What does this mean to Team Penske to be the first to punch your ticket into the Championship 4?
MICHAEL NELSON: Yeah, I mean, it's everything. This is the race that you want to win. You want to peak at the right time. We had good cars today, fast cars.
The guys are really hungry. We haven't been exactly where we've wanted to be. We've just been chipping away at it every week.
Texas was a little better, and obviously this race was better, as well.
Yeah, so thankful to be in that final race. It really gives you a chance to focus on that race and takes a little bit of pressure off.
Q. Paul, a couple things. On the one pit stop I think you lost six spots, couldn't get the left rear off. What happened there, please?
PAUL WOLFE: Yeah, it appears from what little bit I studied it during the race, we had kind of like a bad hang and the wheel didn't get on the dry pin on the initial hang and then it kind of put some material in the holes of the wheel, and then it just makes it very hard for it to draw up tight. It eventually got tight, but then the wheel was, I guess, wedged on there to a certain extent if you will, so then we paid the penalty on the next stop, as well, getting it off. After that obviously we were good to go, but we kind of had to pay for it twice unfortunately.
Q. Also, we've seen the progression of you guys at mile-and-a-halfs, and I know you referenced the Homestead test, but can you take me through kind of how you guys have progressed? Obviously back in May you'd think Toyotas would go one, two, three, four, five, and they did some places. How have you gotten to this point? You were already showing progress before Homestead, so why was that more of a key point?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I think just how we race these days without having practice weekends, I guess, if you will, just having 20-minute practice sessions with very limited things you can change, it's very hard to develop anything new because it's always a fine line of you run decent so you're afraid to get too far out of the box, but you know you also have to get better.
You're making small steps, but really until we got the opportunity to go to Homestead -- and I guess actually we had a Charlotte tire test before that, as well. When you have data on the car and you have two days to put together a plan and try things and learn, try to understand this new car, it makes it hard.
Having those opportunities, I'm thankful that we were able to take advantage of it, because it's one thing to test, but you're hoping you can learn something, as well.
I said it after Texas; we found speed at Homestead at the test, we tried to carry over some of those things we learned at Texas. It worked. Then coming here this weekend, it appears that it's paying off.
Obviously by no means are we all the way done or where we need to be, but we've made a step, and we can compete for wins, and I think that's important as we move forward here.
We talk about Blaney, Blaney was very good at the Homestead test, as well. Obviously he didn't end up having a good day at the end, and there's no reason he can't go to Homestead with the speeded there and have an opportunity to win, as well.
Q. Paul, the call to go with four tires, were you planning that ahead of time, or were you adjusting off of that in the moment knowing the situation and the laps that were remaining in the race?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I think you always have to be adjusting on the moment or making decisions on the moment depending on how the race is playing out. Obviously we have thoughts and a game plan going into it, but you have to be able to adapt to whatever comes at you.
We had kind of tuned our car around running up front. When we lost that track position, we got pretty tight. We were kind of at a point where I didn't -- although I thought we were still better than most of those cars in front of us, it's very hard to pass right now.
I felt like we were able to score a lot of points in Stage 1 and 2, and if we -- we were running ninth, and if it turned out where we gave up two or three spots, I thought we had done a good enough job up to that point in the race, and if we wanted to have the mentality of we're here to win, that was going our play to win. We weren't going to have enough time and be good enough with as tight as we were back there to think we were going to drive to the front and win the race.
At that point with what we were dealt with, it was kind of an easy call for me.
Q. You made the Championship 4 two other times with two other drivers, Keselowski in '17, Logano in '20. What has felt different about the progression of this season versus years past?
PAUL WOLFE: Probably a lot of just the unknowns with this new car, and like I said, as we're trying to learn throughout the year and develop it. There's just a lot of unknowns.
The way the playoffs have kind of -- how it's gone so far. In years past you felt like you've had to win races to advance and really run top 5, but we've seen a lot of guys have issues and trouble, some of their own doing, some not.
It's just the racing is a little bit different right now. The competition is closer. There's more non-playoff cars that can contend for wins.
It has quite a bit different feel, but overall I feel like our team has done a good job since the playoffs have started of getting the most we can out of every weekend.
There's been a couple little hiccups along the way, but we've had pretty good speed and fairly good execution.
It was nice to come here today obviously and get the win in the first race of this round.
Q. Following up on what Tom asked, were you surprised you came in for those four tires? You gave up some track position. Were you surprised by how quickly Joey was able to get back up through the field with only 26 laps to go? Also then looking ahead, Phoenix, does this set you up really good for a track like Phoenix?
JOEY LOGANO: I don't know that I'm totally surprised we were able to do what we did. I felt like tires meant something today, and I think everyone had right around eight or nine laps on our tires.
Honestly I was just surprised more guys in front of us didn't peel off and come down for tires, as well.
Honestly that was kind of a better scenario for us when everyone in front of us stayed out, and then I think there was only three cars that were running behind us that stayed out. So really we gave up three spots for four new tires. I thought that was a pretty good trade-off.
Our car just had speed today. That was the thing. We were arguably better than most of those guys on equal tires. I knew on a tire advantage and as good as Joey is at the end of these races when you give him an advantage like that, he worked the traffic really well and made it happen.
It took a few laps for the pressures to come up, and then when Ross got out there to a little bit of a lead, I wasn't sure how long it would take to catch him, but finally we were clicking off quite a bit faster laps, and it didn't take very long.
Q. Michael, for as strong as the 22 car was today, Blaney was obviously very fast, as well. Again, had to rebound from an incident. Their resiliency got them into the playoffs in the first place from having to rebound at Daytona. What have you seen from Ryan Blaney and Jonathan Hassler as the season has gone on and they've had to battle back from adversity?
MICHAEL NELSON: Obviously they're a really good team. They definitely haven't taken the lead in the luck category. Today wasn't a luck situation, but they've led so many laps, been in command of a lot of races this year.
We're coming up to some tracks that are really good for him. They had a good test at Homestead, he was really good at Martinsville. He's got to run well, and a win obviously will help, and I think he's capable of doing that next week. All he's got to do is just knock the door open and they'll be right there for Phoenix, as well.
Q. Paul, obviously with a few wild card tracks coming up, as Joey had the chance to take the lead with eight or nine to go, take me through your head as Joey ended up going to war with Ross with like four to go.
PAUL WOLFE: Like I said, initially Ross got out to a pretty good lead and I wasn't totally sure how long it would take, but once our tire pressures came up in our new tires and his tires got hot, it really wasn't -- I didn't really feel like it was much of a challenge, honestly. Eight laps is quite a difference in tire advantage.
Although the 1 was up there, I didn't look at him as one of the stronger cars today. He was good, but he wasn't one of the stronger cars in my eyes. I thought his teammate was actually faster than he was.
Like I said, we had a tire advantage and a better car. I figured it was just a matter of time.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Joey Logano, our race winner.
Q. Joey, would you say it's safe to place a bet on you to make the Championship 4 in 2024 because I don't know if you realize this, but you've --
JOEY LOGANO: I know. It's every other year. At least we were in it in 2022. I hope we're in it in 2023, but it seems like it's been every other year for the last five years, five times.
I guess that's an okay average. I wish it was every year. Maybe that's the greed in myself.
But I think overall, yeah, it feels good to be able to get into Victory Lane and race for a championship when we get to Phoenix for sure.
Q. You started this year off with the win in the new car back at the Coliseum; how do you feel your chances are? Do you feel like this is one of your better years to go for a second championship?
JOEY LOGANO: I feel like we've had a good shot every year in all the races. I feel like we've done a great job as a team executing the playoffs and getting to the Round of Eight, now to the Championship 4. We've done a good job getting there, now it's just down to one race, and Phoenix is one of our best racetracks, it's one of Paul's best racetracks by history, and we'll hopefully bring a really fast Shell-Pennzoil Mustang out there. We've got a few weeks to think about it, which is nice. We will be able to focus in. I've lived this story before winning at Martinsville and being able to give yourself a bit of an advantage when you get to Phoenix when that's all you think about for the next couple weeks where everybody else is fighting tooth and nail to get in. We're able to really focus in on the one race that counts for us now.
Super proud of this race team and everybody to give me the opportunity as a driver to go out there and do my job.
It all worked out well.
Q. Joey, Ross Chastain said that he hopes he's racing you for wins in the Cup Series for a long time to come. What was going through your mind as you were approaching him trying to pass him for this win, and do you have any kind of established relationship with Ross?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, Ross and I have a great relationship. I've talked with him a lot. We have a mutual understanding of how each other races, and honestly we work together pretty well on the racetrack.
I knew coming down to the end, I had a tire advantage. I knew what was on the line. It's a possible championship on the line right now. I thought, boy, he's going to be willing to do a lot to get in.
My thoughts were, I need to make sure I am 100 percent positive that when I break the plane of his bumper I am going to pass him and don't give him a chance to door bang me down the straightaways or do anything because I knew what was on the line. People are willing to do a lot of things when they're desperate, and when it's a chance like that, that's what the playoff does. The playoffs test your character all the way through.
With the car that I had, I knew I had to be patient and make sure that when I was able to get the run on him, it was going to be good enough to where I could clear him and I didn't have to worry about him, and that's ultimately what happened. I waited for that chance and took advantage of it.
Q. To your point about your character, in '18, '20, this year, you locked in with a win in the first race of the Round of Eight. Just through your development as a driver, what do you think has made you such a clutch driver in these situations?
JOEY LOGANO: I don't think it's just a clutch driver. It's a clutch team. Everybody raises their game. That's what the playoffs -- I love the playoffs. It's just the attitude that we bring to the table as a team is that you love this part of the year because you have the opportunity to just do something great and ultimately win the goal that you set back in February, to win the championship.
You have this opportunity when the playoffs start and you've got 10 weeks. This is what it's all about.
I can't help but get excited and love the opportunity to do something great like we did today, to have the moment, to do something big and really change the outcome of your season possibly.
There's no better feeling than that, and I guess I'm always in constant search for that feeling. I get excited when I win or we win because we try so hard, and everybody does. Everybody is so good. When there's this much on the line, there's nothing like a playoff victory all the way through. But when you get it in the Round of Eight, it's the second biggest win of the year.
Q. Obviously Ross said he's gone to school on you as sort of the master of blocking at these tracks late in a race. If he makes every block perfect, is there any scenario where he can hold you off because you had so much more speed on those tires?
JOEY LOGANO: He couldn't. He couldn't. He did a good job for the five or six laps that he did, where I kind of was trying to pull the old bait-and-switch because everybody mirror drives at this point; everyone is looking and moving around. He did a good job of kind of entering low and then fading up, and then the wake is so bad that -- I thought I was going to have good enough tires to where I could cross the wake and get air back on the nose and get him. Ultimately I wasn't able to do that.
Once I kind of realized, okay, I can't do that, I lost a little bit of time, I was able to gain it back and then see the opportunity of his weakness. His weakness was off of 4. I had the opportunity with a lap car on the bottom to get his quarter on the exit of 4, and like I said, make sure that when I came off of Turn 2, he didn't have a chance anymore. He wasn't going to have a good enough run.
That's why I felt like I had to be patient, because he was doing a good job of holding me back there. I knew he was going to make it hard. I was hoping I could get around the outside of him, but ultimately the inside was going to be the place I had to go because he was doing a good job blocking the top.
Q. Joey, is there anything you can take away from the spring race at Phoenix and apply to next month that gives you guys an advantage or has the car changed so much throughout the year that you'll rely on practice to help you dial it in?
JOEY LOGANO: A little bit of both. We've got some time to think about it here and think about things we want to try in practice and things that we were able to do in the spring, and to be honest with you, I haven't looked at Phoenix yet. I hasn't even been on my radar yet. It will be tomorrow morning, but not at the moment.
I was so focused in on these three races in this round. Now that we can take our focus off of those next two and really focus in for the one that really matters, it's a great place to be.
Q. 16 laps to go when that final restart came. Was it just a matter of waiting Ross out to make a mistake, knowing that you had enough car, or could there have been too many laps for you at that point to try and run him down? Do you feel like there was enough, the timing was there, and just picking your spot to make the move?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, the more laps, the better when you've got the tires and you're trying to move your way through the field. I was hoping I had enough laps, and it really comes down to the restart at that point. If you're carrying forward momentum into turn 3, you're in a pretty good spot. If you get in a bad spot in 1 and 2 and you don't carry the momentum down the backstretch and the outside lane blows by you a couple cars, and all of a sudden you put yourself in a bad spot.
It ended up working out to where I had a couple good restarts to be able to cycle ourselves up and ultimately be able to put ourselves in position to get to third or fourth place and then pick off in the last two.
Q. You and I spoke yesterday even before today's race, this was your best track of all the tracks on the schedule right now. You actually had the best average finish out of all the Cup drivers here at Las Vegas. You said you didn't really know why this place was so good to you. You've got another race now under your belt and another win. Have you figured it out?
JOEY LOGANO: I've got a general idea on some areas that we're good at as a race team and as a driver, some areas, as well.
Yeah, like you said, it's been a good track for me from the get-go. Even when I was horrible at all the racetracks, Vegas was I think my first top 10 came here. It's just been one of those racetracks that has fit my style in the past, and hey, now that it's a very important race in the Round of Eight, heck yeah, it's great. Let's bring the championship here. This would be a good place for a championship race, wouldn't it?
THE MODERATOR: Phoenix may beg to differ.
JOEY LOGANO: You'd have a hell of a time afterwards. You could go down to the city. It would be great. Marcus would like it.
Q. Joey, where does today rank kind of given the circumstances behind it, you being able to chase a guy down ahead of the championship? Where does this rank and stack up to some of the bigger moments of your career?
JOEY LOGANO: I'll let you know in a couple weeks. We'll see if we win the championship, then I'll say it's a pretty important race. But I think it definitely puts us in a good spot.
We've got a one in four chance now. I feel like our chances are way better than that. But I do think it'll be interesting to see what the next two weeks are like, and yeah, I'll let you know in Phoenix how important this one was.
Q. In less than three weeks you could be a two-time champion. What you've already accomplished as a champion is a fantastic achievement. What does a two-time champion mean or what would it mean to be attached to your name if that happens?
JOEY LOGANO: Obviously it means a lot. I guess you're going to ask me what's it mean to be a three-time champion if we win in Phoenix. It means the same amount. It's just the goal. That's all that matters when the season starts. All I care about is winning a championship. That's the number one goal. When you go through these Playoffs, you have to change the way you race; you have to do different things to give yourself a chance to win the big goal. The mission is to win the championship.
Yeah, it's everything. This is what we work for. There's only one, and it means a lot to have that. We've been in position -- I think of the one we won, but I think of the four or three we lost. Even as much or more, how close we were. Even the last one in 2020 in Phoenix, coming off pit road as the leader and getting a tire vibration in the last run and falling back to third or fourth. That's going to hurt for a while. I still get mad about that.
I'm hoping that this is redemption for 2020.
Q. Also we've seen the progression that you guys have made, particularly on mile-and-a-halfs. Earlier in the season Toyotas were certainly by far the strongest. How have you guys gotten to this point where I know the tires help but still be able to be in a position? How did the Homestead test help? I know Paul referenced the Charlotte tire test. Has it just been in that period? You've certainly seen the progression you guys have made at some of the bigger tracks throughout the summer?
JOEY LOGANO: You're 100 percent right, and especially for the 22 in particular. 12 has always been pretty good at the mile-and-a-halfs all year long, but we've been off. Just trying to find the right feel and the right things that I need inside the car to be able to do the moves that I want, like restarts and just be able to carry speed in general.
I feel like we found some things in Miami that helped and carried over to Texas and now to here to where we have a solid race car to where we can go out there and race for a win.
We didn't have that up until here recently. If you had asked me four or five weeks ago how do you feel about Vegas, it wasn't very good. I can tell you that much. But after Texas, I felt really good about coming here to Vegas.
THE MODERATOR: Joey, congratulations on the win and we look forward to seeing you at Phoenix Raceway for the NASCAR Cup Series championship race.