NASCAR crew chief teleconference: Paul Wolfe
THE MODERATOR: We're going to ask you a very similar question that we've asked all the crew chiefs so far this morning. You've obviously been in this position before heading into Miami. Talk a little bit about how your team plans to approach this weekend.
PAUL WOLFE: Well, yeah, I mean, we've been in this position, but it's kind of a little different format. I mean, obviously as we won our first championship, we went to Homestead just having to really race the 48, and we had a points cushion on him. It has definitely a different feel to me and I think probably the team, as well, this time around. It's all or nothing. Everyone is equal.
I don't know that that changes a lot of how we prepare, though. Ultimately, we need to bring our best car down there and have our best effort with no mistakes. We feel like we've had a little catching up to do to be as good as the Toyotas have here on the mile-and-a-halfs the second half of the season. We've made some small gains there. I feel like we had a decent performance at Texas, and ultimately, we feel like we're bringing another step of hopefully a little more speed to Homestead. Seems like everyone does. That's part of it. It's just a matter of once we get down there of getting everything out of it and executing without mistakes.
Q. It's been quite a while since a Ford won the drivers' championship. I know you can't really try any harder, but is there any extra push to get that streak over, to finally get one across?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, like I said, we're working hard. The second half of the year has definitely been tough. We've been trying to find speed everywhere we can. It seems like we had our strength at the shorter tracks, obviously Martinsville, and the mile-and-a-halfs have just been a fifth to tenth place type of track for us here, even in the first -- Chicago, looking at the early part of the playoffs.
We knew there was a path to get to Homestead, and that was winning Talladega and winning Martinsville, which obviously we came up a little short on the win there, but fortunately we were able to win stages and gain us enough points to get through. And then from there it's just been everyone in the shop, every area, every department here at Team Penske, just trying to sharpen their pencils and find a little more speed.
Whether or not we feel the Toyotas have an advantage aero wise, it is what it is, and we've seen the 4 has been able to be really strong as of late, so we know the potential is there, and we've been putting in a lot of time and hours here the last week or so trying to bring our best piece we know possible. A lot can happen down there, and if we don't have the speed that we need, well, we'll continue to press forward and who knows how it plays out. There's a lot that can happen, and I wouldn't say there's a lot of strategy per se. I think it's pretty straightforward. It's a track where the tires are very important.
One thing I will say is that we have fewer sets of tires, I believe it's two this year. It's not a real long race, being 400 miles, but how you manage your tires early in the race, if there's a lot of cautions, I think that could be the piece maybe with the potential to see a little different strategy. But usually I think the guys that are racing for the championship are going to try to stay in sync with each other for the most part, so we'll just kind of have to see how that plays out.
Q. When you know you're going to have cautions with the stages, if there's a caution say five or six laps before a stage, would you consider changing tires then, too? Is it going to be that much of a different?
PAUL WOLFE: Like I said, I think early on if there's two or three cautions before we get to that point in a stage and you've already used a set or two of tires, I think # That's the one kind of unique part about it this year is, yes, you know there's those two set cautions. Obviously, stage points mean nothing anymore as far as down to this race. We wouldn't look at it from that standpoint, but you just use it and know that there is a caution. Yes, if there was a caution with five to go, you know, in the stage and you've already used two or three sets in that stage, yeah, it's easy -- it's an easier call to stay out knowing that you're going to have another caution within five laps. I think that's something definitely that you'll have to look at.
Q. I wanted to ask you, in reference to the speed issue, if regardless which of the four teams, if your team doesn't have the speed or doesn't have as much of the speed as one or two of the other cars in this race, how unconventional can you be in terms of strategy, and is that stuff that you're in essence game planning this week, or does that just become more of a gut call on top of the box as it happens?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I think kind of like I said, there's not -- I wouldn't say there's a great opportunity to get -- to do a lot of strategy. I think it'll come down to if we see some early cautions, your only opportunity to maybe catch a break is if you were to save a set of tires possibly. It seems to be those late cautions there where a set of tires would be very useful. I could see that type of a scenario where if you're not running up front with those guys early in the race, you don't have the speed, maybe you could -- maybe there's a situation where you save a set of tires. But aside from that, like I said, the strategy part to me seems fairly straightforward.
I think it just comes down to risk versus reward. I think with multiple lines and the wall seems to have speed, but I think you tend to see the guys race for a championship probably err to the caution side a little bit as far as when they use the wall and how early in the race to make speed because the risk versus reward there if you knock the side off it, it's not going to do you any good. Maybe you find yourself being a little more aggressive with how you drive the car and use the wall and things like that.
We've just got to go down there and make speed. That's kind of as simple as it is. I feel good about what we're bringing down there. I don't know if it'll be enough, but I'm proud of the effort that we've put in and feel good with the car we're taking down there.
Q. Has your stomach been turning more this week or last week?
PAUL WOLFE: Definitely this week. As I rolled out of bed at 4:30 this morning, I'm like, I couldn't do this every week, so good things there's only one championship race a year. It's a lot of fun, though, too. We've been putting in a lot of hours and a lot of time thinking and racking your brain. It's definitely somewhat of a stressful time, but it's also an exciting time, as well. Like I said, we've been in a lot of pressure situations before. Can't say that part of its bothering me a whole lot at the moment. It just seems like there's not enough hours in the day right now to really go through all the details and things you need to do to feel good and prepared when we get down there on Friday.
Q. Even if you had three weeks, would you ever feel good and prepared for something like this?
PAUL WOLFE: Probably not. You know, I mean, with this much on the line and what this could mean to our season and our career -- like I said, you couldn't possibly work this way every week. You wouldn't be able to do it. But when there's this much on the line and what it means, it seems like you're able to just find another level to be able to work and do things, and even as far as the scheduling and the shop and all that goes on. You can kind of throw out all that this week. Guys are doing whatever it takes and working hours, whatever we need, to just go over this car and make sure we've got every little detail covered and maximized every little part and piece. Like I said, it's a lot of work, a lot of time, but there's a lot of excitement around it, too. You see a lot of guys stepping up here at the shop and really excited about our opportunity to go down there and have a shot at it.
Q. I wanted to ask you about 2012. What's the memory that comes out that is the strongest memory that you have, and is there a special memento from that day that you have that has an extra special meaning that you keep with you?
PAUL WOLFE: Well, I mean, obviously that was an exciting part about that day was it was not only the first championship, Cup championship for myself, for Brad, for the team, but probably for our owner, RP, and being able to get that first championship for him was just special in a lot of ways. Probably just remembering the look on his face and the excitement from him and being able to -- he's worked with so many talented drivers and crew chiefs and team members in what he's accomplished in his career; to be able to be part of -- and the first team to be able to bring that to him, I'll never forget that. I think that was probably the part that I'll remember the most.
You know, it definitely has a different feel this time around. You know, like I said, it'll be a lot different when we get down there and -- I can remember the days leading up to going down there in 2012 and just preparing the car and that. It seems like going down there this weekend, I would kind of look at us as a little more of the underdog. We've kind of been a little behind, I guess, if you will, the second part of the year at this style of racetrack, and I think we all know the 78 has just kind of been the class of the field and the 18 is very fast, as well.
You know, when we went there in 2012, it was kind of ours to lose, so it has a little different feel from that standpoint, and like I said, so there's a lot more -- I feel like there's even a bigger effort and push on making this car the best as possible from what I can remember in 2012.
Aside from that, I'll kind of see what it feels like when we get down there Friday. There's a lot of guys on the team that were part of that championship team in '12, but there's a few new guys, as well, that have never experienced it, and it's hard to explain the feeling and all that of what you deal with when you get down there racing for a championship.
For me, it always seemed business as usual until Sunday morning, and that's kind of how it was for me in 2012, and I'm sure I'll have that feeling again this Sunday, as well.
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