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Ford Performance NASCAR: Team Penske Media Day (Crew Chief Transcript)

TEAM PENSKE NASCAR CREW CHIEF TRANSCRIPT

PAUL WOLFE, Crew Chief, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang – WHAT DO YOU THINK ALLOWED YOU AND JOEY TO CLICK THE SECOND PART OF THE YEAR TO MAKE THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4? “I think just getting the opportunity to go to some tracks for a second time and starting to understand what Joey was looking for out of the car and giving us an opportunity to tune on it. The loss of practice once Covid hit definitely hurt us a little more than what I had hoped, but it was encouraging that we were able to make improvements as we went back to tracks for a second time and kind of learned as the year went on. By no means are we where we think we can get to, but we made some good gains throughout the year and hopefully we can continue to build on that as the season starts and continue to get stronger.”

TODD GORDON, Crew Chief, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang – WHAT AREA DID YOU SEE THE MOST DEVELOPMENT IN RYAN AS A DRIVER LAST YEAR? “I think about how he kept his poise and what he worked on internally within the races and how he put the races together. I thought he did a really good job of it. I thought he outperformed my expectations in that respect and really just the raw speed impressed me with what he had. I’d seen it from a sister team for years, but I thought he did a really good job. He could get a lot of speed out of the cars and we learned a lot about what we needed to do. I thought he handled his emotions well. It’s part of the growing up piece and he was competitive. I think we’ve got things that obviously we got to the playoffs and first round of the playoffs we had a couple failures there. Darlington put us in a hole and we couldn’t dig back out of it and unfortunately got eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, which isn’t what we planned on or expected or really saw coming forward. But I thought he showed it again because we recovered and we scored a ton of points in what was left of the seven races that were left in the playoffs and still continued to push forward and push towards 2021 and building a notebook as Paul talked about. It’s a challenge when you put these teams together. We’ve been around each other, but we don’t really have the notebook of the intricacies of what makes a driver and a team click, and the lack of practice this year made that a little challenging, but I thought as a whole Ryan did a really, really good job of it and I look forward to what we can do now that we have a notebook to work forward in 2021.”

JEREMY BULLINS, Crew Chief, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – WHAT WAS BRAD ABLE TO BRING TO YOUR GROUP IN 2020 AND WHAT AREAS OF GROWTH ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN 2021? “Brad’s just got a ton of experience. I think when we started out with Ryan we were obviously the youngest team at Team Penske and the least amount of Cup experience, and when you put Brad in the mix with us it just added a level of experience that a lot of us didn’t have. We were able to lean on that and leverage it as best we could and use his experience of how some of these races play out to our advantage. We always had fast cars. We always had speed, but the other thing that he’s really good at is helping you make the car better through the race and understanding the adjustments and things like that that just seemed to click with us as a group. I think we just have to try to build on last year. Obviously, we were really close – one spot short of winning it all – so we’ve just got to try to make gradual improvements. Our short track stuff was good, so we’ve got to make it better and try to get better at the places we weren’t as good as we wanted to be.”

BRIAN WILSON, Crew Chief, No. 22 Verizon Ford Mustang (NXS) – HOW MUCH STRONGER DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM CAN BE THIS YEAR AS YOU GO FOR A SECOND STRAIGHT TITLE? “I feel like it’s gonna be kind of a gradual progression throughout the year. I do think we can be stronger. I feel like there were several races we may have had the fastest car, we may have been in position to win and we didn’t necessarily capitalize on that, so I definitely feel like we can be stronger as far as the stats go, but you look at the end of the year and I feel like we had good speed at almost every type of track we went to, and I really think that the 54 car is kind of the group we’re looking at. Whenever they have Cup guys in that car, that’s the group that we want to measure ourselves against. The regular competition in the XFINITY Series is going to be tough. It always is. I think it’s a great place for Austin to be. The fact that he’s gonna be able to bounce between the two series a couple times throughout the year to get that experience, to know where he needs to grow, and then because of that he’s going to push us to get better as a team, to make sure that we’re executing the way that we need to. Really, that’s the area we’re focused on is making sure that we’re executing the races that we have race-winning speed.”

PAUL WOLFE CONTINUED — WHAT AFFECTED YOUR RACE DAY AS FAR AS YOUR ACTUAL PERFORMANCE THE MOST NOT HAVING PRACTICE THROUGHOUT THE SEASON? “For us, it took us a while to understand the level of adjustment we needed during the race. When Joey would say ‘loose’ or ‘tight’ just really trying to understand how big of an adjustment. With practice time you run through a lot of changes and start to understand the magnitude of what he’s feeling and what he’s not, so, for us, it was really just not having that practice time and having the ability to try some things so we were closer, not only to start the race but then as we were trying to adjust on the car. Like I said, as the season went on obviously we were able to make gains on that and we were much closer, but that was the struggle for us early on without practice.”

JEREMY BULLINS CONTINUED — WHAT AFFECTED YOUR RACE DAY AS FAR AS YOUR ACTUAL PERFORMANCE THE MOST NOT HAVING PRACTICE THROUGHOUT THE SEASON? “I think that’s a good answer. I think understanding how to make changes differently than before. I thought the whole thing, it’s just a whole different mindset going into the day. Like, when you have practice and you have opportunities to work on your car, you kind of know what you’re getting into on Sunday. It’s a different mindset when you’re showing up and you don’t know what you’re gonna have and you’re leaning on history more than anything and trying to make good decisions, so it’s just a completely different mindset of how to race, but, personally, I enjoyed it. I thought it was a good challenge.”

TODD GORDON CONTINUED — HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR BRISTOL? “I speak for myself and I have zero dirt experience, but fortunately the lineage of my driver seems to have a little bit of that knowledge in his background. Dave has been involved with Ryan and myself talking about what we can do and how we can make what we need to think about for that program. Ryan gets it just from family experience and he saws on the wheel pretty hard on an asphalt track, so when we get to those places it’ll be interesting to see what it does. I’ve watched the races from back in 2000, 2001 when they had dirt on the place just to kind of understand it because I don’t. Part of it, Jeremy is a dirt racer. He’s owned cars. He’s played around with that a lot. That’s his golf game, I think, at times when it’s not the golf game and just trying to lean on him for what our program needs to do and work off the talents of him and others that we have within the building that have great dirt backgrounds.”

JEREMY BULLINS CONTINUED – CAN YOU GO INTO HOW YOU’RE PREPARING FOR THAT RACE? “Fortunately for me I grew up around dirt racing. I still play around with dirt racing. I have a lot of buddies that race on different tours, so I’m able to stay in the loop of what those guys are working on and kind of understand, but I think the biggest challenge is they’re racing cars that are specifically built to be on dirt and our challenge is to try to take a Cup car and make it as good as you can make it on dirt and, frankly, that’s quite a bit different than what those guys are racing every week. It’s just a matter of trying to think through what you would do if you were making it the best you can and trying to implement that. The guys that have dirt experience will understand the swings that the racetrack will go through as it dries out and things like that. You watch the Chili Bowl and how they prep the track and how it changes throughout the feature. The guys with dirt experience that’s where they’ll have a leg up. On the car side it’s just trying to implement the experience and knowledge that you have from the dirt side and trying to make good decisions and make a Cup car as good as it can be on dirt even though it’s not designed to be.”

PAUL WOLFE CONTINUED – IT SOUNDS LIKE NASCAR IS BRINGING BACK THE WHEEL WELL TEMPLATE OR GAUGE THAT THEY USE TO CHECK THAT. HOW MUCH WORK IS THAT TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE IN COMPLIANCE AND CAN YOU COMPARE THAT POINT OF EMPHASIS TO SOMETHING IN THE PAST? “It could be different for everyone. We’ve all been working around the Hawk-Eye and working within those constraints, but as they continue to bring different templates out there are obviously areas that they that teams are able to still get aggressive on that the Hawk-Eye is not picking up on, so I don’t think it’s a huge deal for us. We’ve got the templates now and all of our cars have been adjusted to it, but we’ve seen bigger changes in the past. I wouldn’t call this big for us and it’s all the same for everyone now. I think it’s just there are ways and it’s our job to try to find ways to manipulate the system and that’s what everyone had been doing and they just wanted to rein it in a little bit and this template will bring that back in.”

BRIAN WILSON CONTINUED – HOW MUCH MORE OF A CHALLENGE DO YOU SEE GETTING TO PHOENIX THIS YEAR? THE COMPETITION SEEMS PRETTY STACKED. “I feel like the field is definitely gonna be stacked. I feel like a lot of the companies have taken steps forward. You look at Kaulig Racing and I feel like they’ve got a great lineup. I feel like they’ve been making gains over the past few years. You know Gibbs is gonna be tough. You know Jr. Motorsports is gonna be tough. I feel like our group is up to the challenge. I really like the fact that we don’t have a lot of rule changes, so we’re really working on refining the notebook that we already have, that we’ve been working off of, so I feel like we’re in a good position to stay competitive, but it definitely is gonna be a tough year. We’re gonna have to focus on the playoff points all year long to make sure we can make it to Phoenix. I feel like the way that the playoffs went for us this past year was really a bit of a struggle to where we had to rely on some of the points that we had, so we’ve been through a little bit of that mindset where you’ve got to fight for points every week just to make sure you’re advancing, so I think that probably set us up pretty well for what we’re gonna face next year all season long.”

TODD GORDON CONTINUED – WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE GETTING READY FOR THIS SEASON KNOWING RYAN BETTER AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU’VE MADE HEADING INTO THE SEASON? “Having a notebook. That’s a big part of it and the relationship and building that relationship with Ryan and myself where you can kind of help each other. I think it was good to get a season through and to be able to sit down in the offseason and say, ‘How can we handle this better? How can we communicate better during the race? How can we communicate better as we build into the race? How do we share our notebook so that we’re hitting it coming off the truck with the speed we need to have?’ Because the environment we’re in now with no practice your work on making speed is the two weeks prior to the event, it’s not the day of the event. So how we communicate through that, I think that’s a building relationship and one we’ve gotten to. For the 12 team explicitly, I had a rear changer get injured at Indy, got hit when they stacked up on pit road and we lost him for the rest of the season. That hurt us from a pit crew standpoint and took a fair amount of our speed away. Zack has made a full recovery and was out with pit practice today and he looks like the old Zack, so I feel like our pit crew will be a fair amount better than what we were in the second half of the season last year and I think those guys are so instrumental in being successful. Keeping your track position, gaining track position, those are the things that motivate drivers when it happens and having him back and the group that we’ve got going into ’21 I feel really strong about our opportunities of what we can do when the caution comes out or the stage breaks. I think putting Ryan in a better position and now understanding how to communicate back and forth, what I can do to help Ryan during the race and what he can do to help us.”

THE IMPACT OF HAVING A LOT MORE ROAD COURSES THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT CHANGE SETUP-WISE AND GETTING READY FOR THAT? “That’s one that I feel like we’ve always used the simulator for it at the places we’ve been and I think with Joey in the past we’ve had success with that. I think with Ryan we’ve seen a little bit and I think we’ve made vast improvements. We were not that good at the Daytona road course event and we came back and worked on our program and found some things that were off at the simulator and worked with that and had speed when we got to the Roval, so I think there’s a bigger emphasis on road course racing. I wouldn’t call it our strength. Even as an organization I would say we’re decent, but the 9 car was really, really strong and the 19 has been really strong, so we still have some work to go there, but another facet that when you come to new racetracks it becomes a challenge of how to we put all the data together and formulate the best setups to unload with for the little bit of practice that we will get at those places. It’s good that like Road America, I’ve been to as an XFINITY crew chief and Ryan has been there as an XFINITY driver. COTA is gonna be an unknown for all of us and something we’ll have to figure out how to get there, but the Indy road course, it’s a place that at least the XFINITY cars have run on and we’ll lean on Austin for some input there. I already have and will continue on Austin and Brian for that. We use what we can of the resources we have in the house to make sure we take advantage of every bit of the road course racing we can.”

JEREMY BULLINS CONTINUED – FROM WHAT YOU’VE SEEN AND HEARD HOW IS THE NEXT GEN CAR GOING FOR 2022? “I haven’t worked directly with the car yet, just been trying to follow along with the testing and what-not that’s been done. Obviously, we work in probably one of, if not the most competitive forms of motorsports on the planet and I don’t expect that to change a whole lot. It’s probably gonna get more competitive when we go to that car, so I feel like it’s just gonna be a new challenge for all of us and trying to understand what the tools are to work on it with and what affects it the most. We kind of all have a notebook of changes that we go to in certain situations or at certain racetracks and there’s gonna be a huge learning curve there to figure out what makes that thing go, for sure.”

PAUL WOLFE CONTINUED — FROM WHAT YOU’VE SEEN AND HEARD HOW IS THE NEXT GEN CAR GOING FOR 2022? “I haven’t even seen the car, to be honest. To Jeremy’s point, we don’t have a whole lot of hands-on experience with it. We’ve seen a little bit of what’s happening with the testing and what-not, and Joey had the opportunity to drive the car in Phoenix a couple years ago now and Todd may have been a part of that as well. Maybe he could speak a little more on it, but it’s a big change. It will probably be one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in our sport with just how you work on the cars and what it takes to go racing with them. We’ll be ready to adapt as we go and learn and understand it, but there will be a lot of opportunity early on as there is when any big changes in our sport with big learning curves. Like I said, it’s a new challenge and kind of exciting from that point. We’ll have to see where we go with practice and all that because without track time with that new car, that will really slow that learning curve down. Until we really get it in our hands and start playing with it a whole lot, I don’t really have a lot to say about it.”

TODD GORDON CONTINUED – “To build off of that, Paul brought it up. I didn’t run the test, but Joey and I went and got an opportunity to go to Phoenix in December of ’19 just to work on that car a little bit with the RCR guys who had built it at that point. It’s a completely different creature and the things that you would think, it opened my eyes because you’re gonna have to work on it completely different than what we do now with independent rear suspension and it’s just a different car. The underbody, undertray and how you protect that. It’s obviously evolved since that time and we’re 13 months since I’ve seen the car and it’ll be a learning curve when we get it in our hands and hopefully some time near the end of the season we get that opportunity to get to the racetrack and start working through this car and find the directions of it. I think anytime there’s change there is a ton of opportunity and one of the things I think as a group here we’ve done pretty well with exploiting the opportunity that comes with change and I look forward to what the brings for opportunities and hopefully by that point we’ll be back to some sort of normalcy of having practice at the events and being able to work on our race cars and go through some of the learning curve and push that forward. I would say the biggest change that we’ll see in how we work on race cars and how they race on the racetrack probably comparable to what happened when we went from the old steel-bodies cars to the Car of Tomorrow back when in ’06 or ’07, I guess. It’ll be that big of a change and one that brings opportunity.”

PAUL WOLFE CONTINUED – WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT FOR THE 22 TEAM LAST YEAR THAT ALLOWED YOU TO MAKE THE MOST OUT OF AN UNUSUAL AND DIFFICULT SEASON? “I think it’s really the communication and the leadership, that’s one thing that Joey is very good at is keeping his team on the same page, really rallying the guys and knowing that that’s a big part of our sport is keeping everyone in the right state of mind and mentally strong. We talked through a lot of that and really it’s just communication. That’s something Joey spends as much time on with myself and the guys, just really trying to understand everyone keep everyone’s confidence up, not only in each other but in himself as the driver and make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction. I think the time he put in to make sure that was happening was important and, aside from that, it’s time together as a team and continuing to build and learn from the mistakes. When things go well everything is easy. It’s the time when you struggle is when you really see what you’re made of and everyone kept pushing forward and we were able to get ourselves back to where we want to be and winning a race and competing for a championship.”



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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