Paul Wolfe noticeably stood out in the sea of No. 22 team and Team Penske personnel celebrating as Joey Logano crossed the finish line at Phoenix Raceway.
As the high fives, hugs, cheers, and congratulations happened in the pit stall below him and in the space atop the pit box around him, Wolfe did nothing. He sat in his chair and barely reacted. For a minute or two, he seemed to be looking out into space.
Wolfe, a new two-time Cup Series champion, was glad it was over.
“Probably a bit of relief, to be honest,” Wolfe said of what he was feeling. “Gosh, it’s so hard to win these things. I told a few people this before the weekend, we knew we were prepared the best we could be.
“We had the speed when we unloaded, and it was just – you get into this race, and you just don’t want to screw it up.
“There’s so much work by a lot of people back at the shop and the guys on this team and our teammates. So much goes into it, and you just don’t want to have a mistake during that race.”
Wolfe and Logano didn’t screw it up. In fact, they were nearly perfect. Logano won the first stage and finished second in the second stage, to which, at that point, he’d led 155 of 185 laps.
Logano also started from the pole and came into the weekend with the attitude of being unstoppable. Plus, he was also driven by revenge for losing the 2020 championship.
But for as easy as Wolfe and Logano made it look by controlling the championship all afternoon, it was far from pressure-free. There was a fuel mileage stretch in Stage 2 and the final restart with 33 laps to go, in which Logano, running third, could see Ross Chastain, running seventh, in his mirror.
“(You’re just) trying to go through all of the scenarios with the strategy as the race is playing out, as we’ve seen that affect how some of these races play out at the end,” continued Wolfe. “My engineers do a great job of trying to give me the best information we can, and when we had the lead there at the end with 30 to go, you’re kind of playing those scenarios: What are we going to do if the caution comes out? How many laps to go? Two tires, four tires, stay out?
“It’s pretty stressful at the end. When we finally got the checkered flag there, I just took a minute. It was a bit of relief and just a great feeling.
“I’m obviously not a super emotional guy, as many of you that have followed me over the last 10 years (know), but it does mean a lot to me. Might not show it as much as others, but it’s a pretty special day.”
Wolfe’s first championship was 10 years with Brad Keselowski, which was the first Cup Series title for team owner Roger Penske. At the time, Wolfe was just two years into his tenure as a crew chief and would be paired with Keselowski for nine seasons before Penske felt it was time to reset all three of his teams by shuffling their personnel.
In the three years that Wolfe has been paired with Logano, they’ve won eight races and made the Championship 4 twice. Sunday’s triumph was the second title for both driver and crew chief.
“I’m just happy for him,” Logano said of his team leader. “Paul wants it bad. The way he was preparing, what he was doing, he put a lot on himself over the last few weeks.
“I don’t know how he handles his pressure, everyone kind of has their own way of what they do, and I’m able to shut off when I go home. Paul is a lot quieter person than I am. If I get him to smile or cheer a little bit, I feel like I’ve really done something. I feel like he holds a lot of things inside, where I vent everything.
“It’s been a tough few weeks for Paul and his family. It’s hard. And the commitment that he put in the last couple of weeks, I know his family sacrificed dad time and husband time to do this. And so obviously, I greatly appreciate that. And that’s why I’m so happy for him, because it takes a lot to do it, and hey, here we are.
“I know how bad he wanted it. Once you win one of these things, you just want to win another one even worse. And he’s been close a few times since he won with Brad, so to bring that home with him is special.”