Transcript: Roger Penske and Jonathan Hassler – Press Conference Phoenix

NKP Roger Penske, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Shell Pennzoil

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our two champions, championship owner Roger Penske, and it is champion crew chief, Jonathan Hassler.

We’ll get right to questions. 

Q. Roger, I was listening to Ryan’s radio throughout the race. You would occasionally come on and give him a word of encouragement, help him calm down. Could you give us more on how you fulfill that role.

ROGER PENSKE: Other than the spotter, I have the right to give him a couple shots one way or the other.

He was running fine. He was concerned that he was being backed up by the 1 obviously to the 5, which he really wasn’t. Calming him down. He was doing a great job. The guys, Jonathan, the team, good pit stops, good strategy on getting their car right.

It’s more to say, Hey, you’re doing a good job. I told him before the race, Win, lose or draw, you’re a champion.

Q. Roger, to win back-to-back championships for this organization in this Next Gen era, how significant is this?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, we’ve had a lot of championships, but the level that we’re racing in NASCAR today, I’ve never seen it before. My great friend Rick Hendrick, I think he has 15 to 16. We’re excited to have four. Long way to go.

Back to back shows the strength of our organization. We really weren’t that strong in the middle part of the season. As Jonathan and the engineering team, along with Ford, helped us get better and better, you could see how well the Fords ran even here today, I think it was a combination of many things. 

For me, personally that is what we’re here for. We love the competition, we love the stress, but also we like a day to sit down here like this and say we’re champions.

Q. Jonathan, Team Penske is in different organizations. Different cars, different technology, different kind of races. When there is an engineering problem, are you also talking and trying to get advice from your colleagues from INDYCAR or IMSA? Secondly, I guess as a non-technician, when you rolled out the car in Daytona until the very last race, you made ongoing developments. Can you give brief information what kind of errors you improved in the car, aero package, engine, suspension.

JONATHAN HASSLER: To your first question on the collaboration across Team Penske, we try to certainly work together as much as we and share information and talk and communicate and share philosophies. There’s a lot of great people at Team Penske. It’s certainly those people that are able to kind of put cars in Victory Lane and win championships. I’m certainly honored to be a part of that.

Speaking to the development through the year, it’s really not one area. There’s a lot of little things you can do to these cars and you got to make the right decision on each one of those little things along the way.

I think the adage is pennies make nickels, nickels make dimes, dimes make dollars. You just kind of stack all those things up and try to put the best piece together you can at the end of the day.

Q. (No microphone.)

JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, we develop on the cars each and every week. 

Q. When it was about 20 to go, When was the last time the captain went back to back in INDYCAR? Between ’16, 2017. To be able to accomplish that not only in INDYCAR but here, that’s pretty remarkable.

ROGER PENSKE: Well, as you know, we’re racers. My dad took me to Indianapolis 1951 as a kid. I see a lot of kids out there with their parents. I think I was injected at that point about racing.

Obviously winning at Indy is something. You guys follow this sport. It is tough. You talk about 38 weekends or 38 races or competitions, and you got to be at your best. You could see it today. Here is the 20 car which could have been a winner today, had a mechanical problem. Six Sigma isn’t good enough on a day like this. 

We had some pit stops where guys maybe were a little bit quicker, ours weren’t bad. The good news is I think we learned how to win. Blaney learned how to win over the last couple months. You’ve seen that. I think he’s matured to be a champion. When you see guys like Kyle Larson and Elliott come up to him in the winner’s circle and congratulate him, he’s a key guy in that garage area and will set a lot of standards for other drivers coming up.

To me, he showed how good he is today to everybody, not just our team and Jonathan and myself. When you think about Jonathan coming with us here, really been with us a long time, having the chance to take that step up, Look, you and Blaney are going to get together. They didn’t know. They’ve been a tremendous combination. I think that’s what we have at Indy, too.

We have one thing, we got continuity and low turnover. Half the people at Team Penske have been there over 10 years. Hendricks organization, some of the other that have success…

Jonathan, I congratulate you and what you’ve been able to do with Ryan as an individual and a friend and obviously as our leader in the cockpit of the car.

INDYCAR championships, NASCAR championships, they just go down in the book. We got to get one next year.

Q. Can you describe Blaney’s star power. You’ve had Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, Helio. You look at the kind of guys that ascend beyond the sport. Blaney can be that guy. What do you think his limits are?

ROGER PENSKE: I think his limits are the sky, to be honest with you. He gets in that class with Mears. He’s a soft-spoken guy, really, but when he gets behind the wheel, like Joey, when he puts his hat on, don’t get in his way. I think he showed that today. 

He’s only getting better and better. He’s got the confidence. He’s a leader. He’s a winner and a champion. Once you have that — it’s so hard to get there. I don’t think any of us realize him personally the last 20 or 30 laps when he had to pass a couple guys to get the championship, that shows his true mettle. He’s got a long way to go, a long way.

Q. Blaney came in yesterday after qualifying. He seemed down. We asked him about it. He’s like, This is how I always am. We who don’t race kind of thought he was foolishly racing Chastain too hard. Larson and Byron come in and they’re like, No way, Blaney loses his cool all the time out there on the track. He ran into Truex at the end of stage two. We expected all that. What kind of racer is Ryan Blaney? Is he this hot-tempered, aggressive racer? Is he fooling us all?

ROGER PENSKE: I don’t think he’s hot-tempered. You can say his frustration level gets above the boiling point I’d have to say.

Look, I talked to him after qualifying. He was disappointed. He said to me, I started 14th in the last stage a week ago and I won. He said, I’m fine.

That’s all I had to hear. 

Q. Your take on him?

JONATHAN HASSLER: I think came into this race with a lot of confidence, wanted to make a statement. I think he raced that way, as well.

Racing with the 1 there at the end, I think it was 100% the right thing to do. I think the more cars that we can get between us and those other guys, in the event we have another pit stop later in the race, is going to be a huge help for us obviously with the 24 and the 5 having those really good pit stalls. 

Q. (No microphone.)

JONATHAN HASSLER: I’m definitely fine with that. I think that was what we needed to do. There definitely came a point where the 1 and the 19 were up there, we kind of needed to lay down for a minute and just hold our own. He finally did that when the time was right for that. 

Q. Jonathan, most of the race, first half was run in the green, then there were cautions 40 laps to go. Did you feel you had to make any changes to the car, or did you feel like your car was good enough on the long and medium long run?

JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, we made a really small change there at the end. The track was definitely changing as the race went on. We tried to leave it alone for a run, we took a step backwards. We had to kind of double down and catch back up with it.

I think the sun setting a little bit definitely turned the corner on the track. I think we did a decent job of keeping up with that.

Q. Roger, you’re talking about continuity. You’ve been at this table before. Speak to the leadership that you’ve seen out of Ryan compared to previous years, the outlook on the future.

ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think when you think about Ryan, you got to think about the Mike Nelsons, Travis Geislers. Unsung heroes. Following me? They’re part of this team. I think it was a team effort from my perspective. Ryan was the guy that capped it off today. It’s about all of Team Penske. 

Q. Jonathan, you’re Ryan’s third crew chief since he’s been at Team Penske. Can you reflect on what this journey has been like coming in, trying to be the guy to get him to this point. You’re a relatively young crew chief statistic-wise. What has this been like for you?

JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, I think I had — I’ve been at Team Penske obviously a long time. Ryan and I kind of had a little bit of a relationship on the side while I was working with some of the other teams, kind of became a friend of mine with some shared interests. 

When Todd retired and we had some other people moving around, it was certainly the best opportunity available. He’s got tons of speed and tons of talent. I kind of wanted to get onboard.

We kind of spent last year kind of learning each other. We figured out that we could go really fast, we had a lot of speed through a lot of different races. I thought we could have won six or seven races last year if we executed, but we didn’t. We really went to work in the off-season kind of finishing the two-thirds point of the race both on my and his end.

I probably needed to make some better adjustments as the races went on. He needed to stay a little bit more composed as things didn’t work out the way he expected them to or they weren’t perfect. We definitely addressed that in the off-season. Obviously I think we’ve made a lot of progress. 

Q. Roger, when you look at Ryan’s place at Team Penske, when he was teammates with Brad and Joey, some would say he was the third guy. Now he has a championship. What do you think that does for his confidence and feeling like what his place is at Team Penske, he’s not just the other Penske driver?

ROGER PENSKE: I think when you go back, came onboard, he came up running in Xfinity for some races, won championships. He was the third driver. When you look at Brad and you look at Joey, they were very complimentary to him and supported him. The fact Brad came up here on the podium this afternoon and gave him a big hug with the job he’s done.

They’re all champions. We try to run our business very flat. You follow me? Might be number three coming through the door, but on race day we’re all the same. I think that’s where he is today.

Joey has taken over when Brad moved on as the senior guy. I think you’ve seen that. We’re working with Harrison, working with Cindric. I think this is all part of it.

I don’t want to have a 1-2-3-4, quite honestly. I want to have all 1s. I think he’s one of those.

Q. Roger, for all the success you’ve had in INDYCAR, in the NASCAR side, didn’t get a championship for a number of years. This is now your third in the last six seasons. For somebody who is so used to having success, so driven, what maybe were the frustrations from a personal standpoint in not being able to get a championship early on, how your organization has been able to turn it around?

ROGER PENSKE: I’d say as we were gaining momentum in NASCAR, NASCAR was changing. Technically I think it moved our direction where we had the cross-pollenization, the previous question whether it’s sports car or INDYCAR.

As we got into this, we built this solid team. You think about it, over 10 years we’ve had some really strong cars. I think it’s all about the people, them staying with us.

Obviously the Ford Motor Company has supported us tremendously during the switch, if you look at where we’ve been. To me, it’s continuity with our people, it’s the sponsors. You look at John Menard who has been at Indy as long as I have. To see him win this today, these are the things you can’t buy. It’s all about performance. 

I think that’s what we’re all about as a company. I certainly feel that way. We’re just fortunate to be on a playground where we all can race like we did today. I see this young group of guys coming up, the average age is 27 or 28, it might be the new breed, but you could see racing Truex, racing these guys out there, there’s a lot of respect for all four of ’em.

To me, we’re just glad to be in the bunch. 

Q. When you’re watching Ryan and how tight competition it was, are you nervous? Are you jumping up and down? You’re the captain, but sometimes the captain gets a little bit unnerved.

ROGER PENSKE: I think the captain had to stay cool. He was the coolest guy on the ship (smiling).

I would say I probably was cool. Inside I was turning over, counting the laps. Seven to go. Finally our man said, Seven to go. He had a nice lead at that point.

I was waiting for the yellow. How about you (laughter)? 

Q. Thinking about Ryan’s success over the last year, how much of a turning point do you think the Charlotte win was for him?

ROGER PENSKE: I think, as Jonathan said, last year we could have won some races. It was some bad luck. It was poor execution. It was speeding in the pits. We have a red list you could put on the wall of things that cost us races last year.

I had the confidence last year that we get going this year… We had a different car. Ford didn’t maybe have the downforce we wanted. On the big tracks, we were right there, weren’t we, all season long on the big tracks.

As Jonathan and the team, Travis, Michael, the whole engineering group start started to understand the car better, stacking pennies and dimes to get where we are, it’s just progression.

We’re not going to stop. The car doesn’t get fixed by sitting it in the garage. The driver got better. The crew got better. I think the outcome is what we see here today, they’re champions.

Q. Six of the last seven races he has finished in the top six. What do you think that says about him?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, you could put the words in my mouth really: amazing, consistency. When was the bubble going to burst? It didn’t burst today, did it?

To me, he carried that win at the superspeedway, then you saw the run he had with Hamlin in Florida, and of course to run 500 laps with these guys last week, not make a mistake, stay cool, to me he broke the bank. He was there and he understood what he had to do. 

Someone said earlier, Jonathan said the last third of the race he raced himself too hard early on. He said on the radio he just had to cool it down and get ready to go. He was more worried about what was coming up in the back.

I think he had some left when he went back up to try to get the 1. You saw that. He started to pick it back up again. He had a little bit in the bank.

Q. When Austin Cindric was in here yesterday, he told us that when Joey Logano got eliminated from the Playoffs, everybody at Team Penske mobilized to make sure Ryan Blaney was going to make the championship. How did you mobilize Team Penske to get him to this position?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think, number one, we knew what we had to do. He’s in the Championship Final 4. When we came to the racetrack the last several weeks, everybody came the same way. We had an opportunity. Then they had a certain element that they had to test on their car. There’s very little testing, very little practice. I think that went into the notebook. Then Jonathan could take the pluses, minuses, tire pressure, aero, springs or shocks. We had that ability to get that from really the three drivers plus what Harrison was doing. 

To me, I think that was key for you, wasn’t it? 

JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, I agree entirely with Roger’s assessment there. It was just making sure we show up the same, picking the highlights really from my list of kind of the things that I think we need to work on, get answers to, try to answer those questions, put our best foot forward for the race. 

Q. Jonathan, early in the Playoffs, I heard y’all found something. I don’t think you’re going to tell me what you found. Was it true that y’all had found something that you all were putting together for the final few races in the Playoffs?

ROGER PENSKE: Go ahead. You want me to do it? 


ROGER PENSKE: Look, I think we found a lot of things, this car, to get it where it really needed to operate because aerodynamic it was so important. I think we learned how to get that car lower and faster. I think it was that plus the spring and shock setup. I think the support we talked about a minute ago from the other cars where we could try things.

Today you can’t practice. You can’t test. But I think the things that we were able to get through, the Ford simulation, what we did ourselves, was powerful to get us to where we are.

THE MODERATOR: Roger, Jonathan, thank you so much. Congratulations on an amazing season and championship.

ROGER PENSKE: Thank you. See you next year (smiling). 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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