Transcript: Jonathan Hassler, Michael Nelson – Press Conference – Charlotte

THE MODERATOR: Well, it seemed like it would never get here. We are now officially rolling into our post-race press conference for the Coca-Cola 600. We’ve now been joined from our race winning team, crew chief Jonathan Hassler and also Michael Nelson from Team Penske. Thank you both for joining us.

We will start with questions. If you have questions, raise your hand.

Q. Let’s start with Michael. What’s the emphasis been on to sweep this weekend for Team Penske? And after the win yesterday at Indy, was there any change of mindset going into the weekend of, hey, let’s give Roger this first sweep of the weekend?

MICHAEL NELSON: Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything that changed, but definitely we keep each other under pressure for those doubles. It’s something we really wanted to do. We had a chance to win the All-Star and the 600 before, but to get the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 all in one weekend is pretty amazing.

Yeah, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to deliver that one after the big win this past weekend.

Q. This question is for both of you. Ryan ran really well last year. You look at the stats, he did everything but win a race. Overall the performance is really good. When he’s doing that and the wins aren’t there, what have you guys had to do to kind of keep his spirits up? What has he been like behind the scenes? Has he been normal Ryan, or has he been beating himself up?

MICHAEL NELSON: Yeah, we believe in him. We’ve talked to him about that. We know he’s right there. It was just circumstances at times, and we’ve been really close a lot of times. Tonight everything worked out well.

JONATHAN HASSLER: From my seat on that question, we kind of looked at it in the off-season, and there was a little bit of a problem. We were able to run well and win a lot of stages, but we weren’t able to kind of finish the races off.

So we kind of did a few things different in the off-season. I think Ryan’s been working really hard on just kind of staying calm and composed. He’s been working out really hard in the weight room to make sure he’s mentally and physically as prepared as he can be for the end of these races.

I think it showed today. He was calm from start to finish. So I’m really proud of the improvement he’s made there.

THE MODERATOR: Before we go to our next question, I did fail to mention Michael’s title, which is president of NASCAR operations.

Q. You obviously had the best car, but you had to go through several restarts. You had to come back from fourth place. What was critical there in the last 50 miles or so that made all that work?

JONATHAN HASSLER: Honestly, I think my focus probably the last third of the race really was just kind of keeping up with the racetrack. This track changes from day to night probably more than any other track that we go to. I wanted to make sure that we kind of stayed the best car.

We had to make some decent sized adjustments towards the end to keep the balance of the car. Fortunately we were able to do that and maintain our speed.

Q. Jonathan, there’s been a lot of talk of course this season with Ford maybe perhaps being at some disadvantage at downforce tracks. I just wondered did you have concerns about your competitiveness coming into this race, and do you think a lot of your fellow competitors will be looking at you after Ryan’s performance tonight?

JONATHAN HASSLER: I think starting the year on the mile-and-a-halfs at Las Vegas, we felt like last fall at Las Vegas we were probably capable of winning in the 12 and Joey was able to win in the 22. We went there with some changes to all the manufacturers earlier this year, and we weren’t nearly as competitive.

So we’ve had to go to work. I think, if you look at all the different tracks, we’ve had tracks that were our strengths last year, we have been a little bit weaker. Tracks that we were not as strong as last year, we’ve been a little bit better.

We’re just kind of focused on continuing to make our stuff better week in and week out and kind of let the results kind of take care of themselves. I’m certainly proud of the progress we’ve made at the mile-and-a-halfs over the last few months.

Q. Jonathan, obviously a huge relief for Ryan, as we saw, to get back to victory lane. What about for you? Your first Cup Series win, and it comes in a crown jewel event.

JONATHAN HASSLER: It’s a huge relief. I tell people a lot, we talk about the pressure of the playoffs, and I tell people, try to explain that our playoffs last year started eight, ten weeks before the playoffs actually started because we were the highest car on points, but we knew there was going to be a lot of different winners.

So our focus, our kind of — you kind of have to play things a little bit more conservative when you’re in that position. Now we’re in a really good spot with the win that we can go out and try maybe some different concepts we have at some tracks coming up and certainly branch out and try to be a little bit better. So certainly relieved.

Q. Jonathan, are you relieved or excited after what’s, I imagine, been kind of a long about 50 races?

JONATHAN HASSLER: Probably relieved more than excited at this point. I think the excitement will maybe come in the next few days, but certainly glad to get a win and get ourselves locked into the playoffs and give ourselves an opportunity to go out and kind of stretch our legs a little bit and continue to make this race team better.

Q. Over the final few laps, you guys have been in this position with Ryan close. Were you guys waiting for the bottom to fall out, for something to go wrong just because that’s the way it’s been over the last year and change?

MICHAEL NELSON: Look, any race when you’re ten to go, you’re worried about the bottom falling out. Obviously when you have a bit of a streak there where you’re trying to break that losing streak, you’re always worried about anything that can happen all the way until crossing the checkered — taking the checkered flag.

Yeah, we wouldn’t be human if we weren’t nervous about getting through that last ten.

JONATHAN HASSLER: I was certainly nervous. I kind of thought about it a couple different times. I think we had restarts at 35 to go and 20 or — sorry, 25 or 30 to go. I think in a lot of positions, a lot of other crew chiefs probably would have been talking to their drivers and pumping them up.

I don’t feel like I have to worry about that with Ryan. I was certainly kind of just thinking about, like you said, the bottom falling out. What was going to happen next, if we were going to get a caution, what the scenario was where we might have to come pit again.

Certainly just focused on what would happen next and how we’d react.

THE MODERATOR: Jonathan and Michael, congratulations to you both. I think it will be a big week at Team Penske this week.