Monday, March 7, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Kobalt 400 Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe

If there's a lesson to be learned from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it's never bet against the No. 2 team.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe looked forward to the opportunity to see what he and driver Brad Keselowski could accomplish with the lower downforce package, especially after seeing its potential after a couple of races during 2015. His first outing last weekend at Atlanta didn't go as well as he planned.

"When we unloaded at Atlanta, didn't have quite the speed we were hoping for. That was a little frustrating. We worked hard, didn't qualify where we needed to be. Got our cars better for the race, but still not where they needed to be to contend for wins.
"From there, I think there were a few late nights back at Team Penske where guys worked really hard. We felt like we needed more potential out of our cars," Wolfe said.
Wolfe credits the team in the shop for getting the car ready for qualifying and the race itself in Vegas.
"We worked very hard on some aero pieces, some different things. Felt like when we unloaded here at Vegas this week, we kind of showed that all that hard work paid off in qualifying, having both cars up front. As we translated into the race today, we showed the strength in race trim.              

"Really all I can say is hats off for all the hard work back at the shop. There was a lot put in. This West Coast swing is very hard on the teams early in the season. We were able to bring better racecars to the racetrack and we got the results because of it," Wolfe explained.

For much of the race, drivers were chasing Jimmie Johnson. Wolfe paid close attention to the strategy implemented by Chad Knaus when it came time to pit on Lap 199.

"I think the two-tire strategy works well if you can get the clean air, get out in the lead. Obviously the 48 was able to do that early in the race when he did that.
"The way I look at it, if you're going to do two tires, you got to get that clean air, otherwise we'll take four all day long. It gives you opportunities at the end to do some different strategies to get that track position back.
"Obviously we knew when the caution fell there, we were still short on fuel. At that point it was worth the risk to take the gamble and hope for the cautions. Obviously we got those and were able to get to Victory Lane," Wolfe said.

Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images
The win broke a 33-race winless streak for the team. What do the lack of wins, especially when a teammate wins five times during that stretch, do for a team?

"I think it talks about the whole team and how strong we are, how we continue to push. We had to overcome adversity today, obviously. I think Brad and this team showed in the past there's no one I think that's any better at that. Getting that speeding penalty early on, you know, obviously wasn't ideal. No one gave up. Brad obviously continued to push hard and show the strength of the car," Wolfe explained.

Now that the team has a win and is Chase-eligible, how much will they open their notebook and try new strategies?

"It's huge. Last year we were able to get the win in Fontana, and now here we are even earlier than that. It just allows us the opportunity to continue to maybe try new things and develop our cars to be as strong as we can when the Chase starts.
"Whether it's, you know, some different things we do on race day as well, obviously the strategy piece with not having to worry about points anymore, we may try some different things there as well as, like I said, try different setups or explore a little bit, that if you didn't have the win you would have to focus a little more on being consistent and having those good finishes to make sure you take care of the points side of it," Wolfe said.

Good finishes. The No. 2 definitely had one in Las Vegas. Odds are they'll continue to have great finishes and will attempt another win as the West Coast Swing rolls into Phoenix International Raceway next week.


   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.


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