Monday, March 23, 2015

Right Sides Only: Auto Club Speedway Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe

There may have been another team in the Auto Club Speedway garage with a broom, but the No. 2 team led by crew chief Paul Wolfe and driver Brad Keselowski were the ones who swept their way into Victory Circle by winning the Auto Club 400.

Many race fans thought that either polesitter, Kurt Busch, or current Sprint Cup champion, Kevin Harvick, were the ones to watch as the field arrived in California. After all, Busch won the pole, was the fastest in every practice and led a race-high 65 laps. Keselowski may have only led a single lap, but it was the last one — the only one that counted.

The win punches the team's ticket into The Chase. What does this victory mean for Wolfe?

"Obviously it was a big win for us today. I think as you look at the new format, how you win, you're into the Chase, that was partly on my mind when I made the call today. 

"It's a great day. Means a lot to us. We've been off a little bit on speed this year. We know we need to be better. To get this win this early is huge for us.
"Now it gives us a little opportunity to maybe do some things out of our comfort zone and see if we can find a little more speed, you know, be able to lead more laps and run up front like we want to do."

The final laps of the race may have fans, pundits and conspiracy theorists talking until the green flag drops at Martinsville next week. At Lap 200, NASCAR called a caution for debris. When asked about the debris, Keselowski talked about his thought process at the time.

"When the yellow comes out in these races, as a driver, you can't sit and fret about what the yellow's for. You got to make a real-time decision that's going to really dictate your fate to win or lose a race.  So, I'm sorry, I don't waste brain space on trying to figure that out because it kind of is what it is. I honestly don't remember."

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
Did Wolfe know anything about the debris?

"We heard them talking about it on the radio. But I personally didn't see it. Don't know. They call it on the scanners. We can hear guys looking for debris. I didn't see it." 

Debris aside, Wolfe says that the No. 2 team can begin to strategize a bit differently going forward, knowing that they're a lock for The Chase.

"As you look at history, we always keep a good log of different setups or things we've done in the past at different tracks. That's kind of how we base how we unload each weekend and work from there from a setup standpoint.
"There's times when you feel like you may have tried something in practice that may be faster. But you know you need to have just a good, solid day. So you're afraid sometimes to maybe veer off from your comfort zone to try a setup or something like that that may be, you know, different for you.
"So with that being said, there's less risk, I guess, with trying something like that from a setup standpoint. Then even from the engine side, I know Roush-Yates is working very hard to continue to push to find us more power and things like that.
"Obviously we don't want to have engine troubles or drop out of a race because of it. If that happens because we're trying to be better and make our stuff better so when it gets down to the Chase, where it really counts, we're willing to take that risk.
"We'll continue to push. Like I said, getting this win early will allow us to do some of those things maybe we wouldn't have done if we didn't get that today." 

One of the things Wolfe is glad he did was call for four tires on the final caution.

"The surface here I think was repaved in '97 or something is what I saw. So it's one of the oldest surfaces on the circuit right now.
"Once you get one heat cycle on the tires, one lap, new tires are worth quite a bit.  I knew at that point, had like 10 laps on the tires, which is quite a ways, a quarter of a way through a run here at this track.
"The other part that goes into the decision to take four is just knowing how many lanes and how much of the racetrack you can use. It's one thing if it's a narrow track and there's not multiple lanes to move from 18th or wherever we were to sixth in one lap shows that.
"All those things went into, you know, the decision that was made to do four, as well as not being afraid to do something different than what the rest of the field is.
"Tires are worth a lot here. Once you've put one lap or one heat cycle on them, you're pretty much looking to put new tires on and pick up quite a bit of grip."

Thanks to his quick thinking from the atop the war wagon, Wolfe has a tight grip on a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Championship.


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