Sunday, Feb 05

Transcripts: Team Penske Team Owner Walt Czarnecki

THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for spending some time with us. We really appreciate it. Before we jump to questions, I just wanted the opportunity to ask you an opening question. Obviously Joey locked the 22 team win fairly early in this last round. I'm sure for everyone at Team Penske, that was something that was enjoyable to do early. You guys were still trying to get Ryan obviously advanced. But just tell us a little bit about just what it means for Team Penske to be able to have Joey locked in early and ready to go this weekend in Phoenix, as well.

WALT CZARNECKI: Of course it means a lot, particularly to win that first race in the final round of the Round of Eight I should say, because it lets the team, at least the 22 car team, I won't say relax a little bit, but use the two following races, which they did at Homestead and last Sunday at Martinsville, to, I'll say, fine-tune the game, to rehearse, to a certain extent, for Joey to stay sharp.

He and I talked about it before the race. Believe me, he wasn't sitting back. He wasn't waiting. He wanted to stay sharp. He wanted to stay in the game, so to speak.

That's what it really allowed us to do. That's without having the tension of gosh, we've got to do something here at Homestead or something here at Martinsville to make the show.

Q. There's not much that Roger Penske has not ever accomplished in his career in racing, but he's never won an INDYCAR title and a Cup title in the same year. You guys are in a position to do that Sunday with Joey Logano. Talk about how important that would be not only to Roger but to the whole overall organization on both sides of your building.

WALT CZARNECKI: Yeah, thank you, that's a great question. I was actually looking at some statistics earlier in the week, and since 1967, we have been multiple champions in seven years, seven seasons, and in three of those seasons, we won three championships. So it was either an INDYCAR championship, NASCAR Xfinity owners' championship, Australian Supercars championship, NASCAR Cup Series, but never, to your point, INDYCAR and Cup. It really would be something that -- it would be one of our goals to do it, particularly this year, so you're absolutely right.

We've been blessed with good teams all those year, been able to accomplish a lot, but still a little bit more to do, and as I said, this will be one of our goals, to win the Cup and win the INDYCAR in the same year.

Q. Joey has matured from being the kid that entered the Cup Series as a teenager to now he's a leader, a team leader, and he's a leader in the garage area. What is it like to see him grow into that role and how important that is?

WALT CZARNECKI: It's interesting, someone made this observation the other day, in fact we were at Martinsville, and said, Joey is the senior person of the four drivers. He's the, so-called, grizzled veteran, to use that term.

But Joey has become a leader. He's become a leader off the racetrack, as well. I've seen him mature as a person. He's in his 11th year now with us. He started in 2013. Just the way he conducts himself both on and off the racetrack, but particularly off the racetrack, the way he deals with our sponsor partners, the way he deals with the media, the way he deals with the foundation work that he does, he's become a well-rounded individual.

Of course on the racetrack, we all know what he does. Then internally, he takes the lead in our meetings, as he should, as the most experienced of our three drivers. He's got a lot to share, a lot of information to impart on the others.

For sure he's assumed that role. He's assumed that mantle. He's assumed it very well.

Q. I was wondering, you look at the Championship 4, and you have two veterans that have won championships, and then you have two young new players. Do you feel, all your experience, that Joey and Chase have a leg up just because they've been through it, they're more experienced? Although it's one race, whoever finishes best out of four, it's the format, but on the other hand they are veterans, and it's only one weekend.

WALT CZARNECKI: Well, again, you make a good point. They've been there before. They know how to win. They know how to close the deal. They know how to deal in certain circumstances and get the best possible results.

Having said that, I think one of the unique things about this season has been the fact that as we approach this last race, this championship weekend, I don't see any clear-cut favorite. I think any one of these four drivers can win the race. I think we've seen that all season long. I don't have to give you the stats, but again, just 19 different winners, could be 20 different winners when we leave Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

I guess from a psychological standpoint, experiential standpoint, yeah, Joey and Chase probably have a little bit of an edge, but for one moment I don't count out C-Bell, the tremendous job he did just to get in, and Ross Chastain, the tremendous job that he did to get in.

Again, I also want to congratulate Rick and Coach Gibbs for their great organizations, getting them in the show. But Justin Marks, what a great story that is. I mean, brand new, come here, win races, get into the Championship 4. Congratulations to those guys.

Again, whatever advantage Joey or Chase may have when the race starts, they'll take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves, but I'm not sure with the cars being as equal as they are -- in fact, it may take that for them to win. We'll see.

Q. Today on Sirius XM Steve O'Donnell was on, and he was answering questions, and he said that NASCAR has got their eye on looking at some of the stuff that's been going on. They like all the excitement. They don't want it to be the wild, wild west, and it's verging on that. What have you seen? You've been around racing a long time. It's changed a lot. Are we close to going over the line, or how do you look at where things are at after this season?

WALT CZARNECKI: First of all, I thought it was a great season. Again, 19 different winners. If we look at all the metrics, I was actually in the NASCAR team owner meeting, council meeting this morning, and we saw some of the metrics on how well the sport performed -- television, attendance, all those things.

I've been in the sport a long time, as you say, but I've seen some new things this year. I'm not sure we're ready to go over the line yet. One of the things Steve did say, and he may have said it on Sirius XM, and I didn't hear the interview, but he did tell the team owners this morning that for this last race as we go to Phoenix, rules are not going to be changed. We've come 35 races with this book of rules, and we're not going to change it now.

And I think that's absolutely a right decision. It is. Everybody is going to have an opportunity to weigh in after we leave Phoenix, and NASCAR I'm sure is going to listen to what everybody has to say.

But I've seen a few new things this year, particularly last Sunday. I thought I'd seen it all, but I guess not.

Q. Real quick, is it verging on the wild, wild west?

WALT CZARNECKI: I don't think so. I really don't. I think the competition is terrific. I think it's entertaining. It's intense. It's really a joy to participate and a joy to watch.

Q. Given that we've got three of the traditional powerhouse teams in the Championship 4, Trackhouse in there, too, a fresher, newer team, do you think that's really proven the Next-Gen car's impact this season, and has it truly leveled the playing field as NASCAR intended?

WALT CZARNECKI: I think it's been a step in that direction. You reminded me of something that happened in 2018, by the way, when you talked about the three veteran teams and then Trackhouse. I recall Joey being at a press conference at Miami when he said it was the big three and me. I had forgotten that.

Maybe it's the big three and Trackhouse, but I don't discount anybody right now.

But I do think the car has been a major factor in the competition this year, and again, as I just said to Claire, 19 different winners. It's really boiled down to, and we're going to have to do this on Sunday, boils down to preparation, execution, strategy, and a driver who wants to win.

The cars are relatively even. I've got to be careful what I say here because nothing is ever even. I realize that. But it's the closest I've ever seen.

I looked at the qualifying times at Martinsville last Sunday. What are they, from 1st to 36th it was two-tenths, three tenths of a second? It was unlike anything I've ever seen. I think that's a testament to what NASCAR has done.

Q. Do you expect that to change next year? Do you think the powerhouse teams will go away, look at all the resources they've got and put it into 2023, or will we still see the smaller teams have chances to get through to the final?

WALT CZARNECKI: I think we'll see the lesser teams still have the same chance. I really do. They're being given that opportunity. Again, I think the car has indicated that or has illustrated that.

It really boils down to the people. There are some darned good people, whether it's Penske or Hendrick or Gibbs, there are a lot of good, talented, smart people in this sport that know how to race and know how to win.

I think it could be just as open next year as it was this year.

Q. Obviously Joey got in with the win, but Ryan fell just short of making the Championship 4. How do you balance that emotion, especially knowing how strong and consistent of a season Ryan has had up until this point?

WALT CZARNECKI: First of all, I thought Ryan handled it very well. I had a chance to talk to him after the race, his post-race interviews. I think he realizes that it's a season-long effort. And by the way, it was a great team effort. All three cars performed well this year.

Someone showed me something earlier today that for the fifth -- I guess the fifth straight year, all three of our cars made it into the playoffs, which was really, again, evidence of how we work as a team.

But I think that Ryan and we all realize that we can't get to the last race and have to throw that 99-yard Hail Mary to get in. We have to be consistent through the course of the year.

I think Ryan indicated that in his post-race interview. He recognizes it, and as he said, it's something he's going to work on in the off-season. We're going to help him do that. He's a great race car driver. He was close, won the All-Star Race, was competitive at other races, had three poles. He's not going to forget how to drive a race car. We're going to help him get to that next level.

But disappointed for sure. Disappointed for him and for our sponsor partners that support Ryan.

Q. Obviously with Austin making it to the Round of 12, are you surprised how well he's adapted to the Cup level so quickly?

WALT CZARNECKI: Not really. You would say, well, he won the Daytona 500, but having watched him after winning that race come through the following 34 races after that, coming into Phoenix, I saw him make mistakes, I saw him compete well, I saw him run hard, I saw him learn, I listened to what he has to say in the team debrief meetings. He listens, he knows, he contributes.

And on the racetrack, I think he's engendered the respect of his competitors. He knows what his position is. He understands that. He'll just build on that going into the future. He's going to be a great champion; I'm convinced of it.

Q. You guys chose not to run an Xfinity program this season and said before the season that would kind of be a sponsorship-based decision. I'm curious if you think that could potentially fit back into the team's model next season or in future seasons or if you feel like that's something that might not ever return for you guys?

WALT CZARNECKI: We never say never. I assure you it's something we will examine in the off-season as we leave Phoenix, as we make our plans for 2023.

Q. I'm curious with your experience in racing and all that you've seen and done, how do you compare or what did you think of Ross Chastain's move? Is there anything that you've ever seen in all your years of racing that can even compare to something like that?

WALT CZARNECKI: No. Simply put, no.

I didn't know what I was watching at Martinsville. From my vantage point, I saw a red car collect the wall in Turn 3 and 4, and then I saw it continue to go, and I thought, my heavens, the throttle is stuck open. I've seen that, and that reminded me of that, and then the car kept going.

So frankly, I'm still trying to process it. I really am. I'll give Ross an A for creativity, that's for sure, but I've never seen anything like it before. I've looked at the video, and I still haven't been able to digest it. I'd love to talk to him at some point.

Q. You've talked about Justin Marks a number of times today, and obviously in your years in the sport you've seen a lot of new teams come through, different sports, INDYCAR, NASCAR, what have you. I know obviously this era in NASCAR with the Next-Gen car was supposed to be a little bit more easier, a little bit more inviting for new ownership. What do you feel, from looking from your point of view, that Trackhouse group has done? And for an organization that's run as well as Team Penske, are there lessons for you guys to learn at maybe how things are being done at Trackhouse or how they approach things or look at things differently?

WALT CZARNECKI: I've never seen a team come into the sport as well prepared as Trackhouse. Right from the beginning, just the way they presented themselves, as individuals, the way the team presented itself, the way Justin presented himself. I really don't know Justin. I may have said hello to him once or twice, and that's one thing I need to do is get to know him a little bit better.

But when I listen to him, he's all about business. I think he's not unlike us in that respect. He knows it's a sport. He loves it. But he's also a businessperson, and he understands all the constituent parts, all the entities that have to come together to compete and compete successfully.

Having said that, I've never seen a team that well prepared coming into the sport as Trackhouse was this year.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you again for your time. We really appreciate it. We wish Team Penske and Joey the best of luck this weekend in Phoenix.

WALT CZARNECKI: Thank you very much. My best to everybody. Look forward to seeing you this weekend in Phoenix.

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