Monday, July 4, 2016

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

by Stacey Owens

There's something special about winning at Daytona International Speedway.

Sure, most people will tell you that there's more prestige in winning the Daytona 500. Such a win solidifies careers and forever defines a driver as a Daytona 500 champion. That may be true, but just don't tell the No. 2 team that their win in the Coke Zero 400 doesn't mean something.

Brad Keselowski's win at the storied Florida track was the 100th win for Team Penske. For that historic win to come at Daytona means a lot to crew chief, Paul Wolfe.

"Seemed like it was never going to happen, and you keep getting the questions, how do you guys win at Talladega and not do it at Daytona. I got that question a lot this weekend," Wolfe said.
            
"Had an amazing car, a great effort all around. You know, the thing that's most special to me is we had the complete package. Typically there's always trade-offs you make, whether you want to go for handling or speed, and we had both tonight, and hats off to all the guys at Roush Yates. I know Doug and those guys have worked really hard to continue to bring more and more, and I think that showed this weekend because all the Fords were strong.
            
"And then on the chassis side and aero side, the guys have been working hard at the shop. To be able to not have to make sacrifices and have both, that's what it takes to put on a dominant performance like we did tonight, and Brad and the spotter obviously is a big part in that. And once you get the lead, kind of maintaining that control of the lanes, it was a lot of fun to watch, and just proud to be part of it.
            
"It's the 100th Cup win for Penske, and it's an honor to work for this guy and a privilege. We try to make the most of every opportunity, and I feel like we were able to do that tonight."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Wolfe has long considered restrictor-plate racing to be one of his driver's strengths, especially given Keselowski's success at Talladega. Wins at Daytona, however, have eluded the 2012 champion.

"Well, honestly, ever since I started working with him, I always thought it [plate racing] was one of his strengths for sure," Wolfe said. "Brad is a thinker, and he studies and he tries to understand, so I know he's put his time in to try to understand how the draft works and how to be better at it. I think we kind of had success, like I said, early on at Talladega, but it just seemed like we couldn't quite get it together here at Daytona.
            
"You know, and Daytona is a little bit more of a handling track, and I feel like we've been able to have cars fast enough to lead more laps, and I think running mid-pack to running in the lead and understanding how to manage the lead, and as you see these guys working one lane to the other, to manage that I think you've got to have cars good enough to get up front so you can learn that, and I think that communication between Brad and the spotter, just watching from Talladega in the spring to tonight, we've continued to get better at that. I feel really good about our performance tonight and as we move forward into Talladega and the Chase."

Their performance at Daytona hasn't always been great, and Wolfe would be the first to admit it.

"Well, I don't think we've been as good as we were tonight for sure," Wolfe said. "We've had some top-five runs.  We've had some decent cars. But it seems like overall we've just -- we haven't caught as many breaks here at Daytona as maybe we have at Talladega. But like I said, it's a little bit different style of racetrack, and we've learned a little bit this weekend and tried some different things.
            
"You know, I was a little disappointed and caught off guard a little bit with how our car drove in the 500 earlier this year, and coming back here I was going to make sure that that didn't happen again, and we got a short practice yesterday morning and thought we were pretty good but still weren't sure.  But I think as we saw qualifying and saw the speed in our car and then as we got into the race, it showed that we felt like we made some nice gains."

As special as the 100th win for Team Penske is for their program, Wolfe sees things from a different perspective.

"... every win is special to me, and I go to the racetrack every weekend trying to do the best I can and putting that effort in. To be honest with you, I got the question a little earlier of, does it mean more because you guys are the team that got the 100th win. Coming into the weekend, I don't even know that that was on my mind. I didn't know until they brought the hats out in victory lane.
            
"To be successful you can't think about those types of things. You just have the mindset of you're going to be the best and do the best you can every weekend, and then this is just icing on top. It's very special. Every win is special to me, and they have different meanings depending on where it is or why. You know, Daytona has been one we've wanted to win, and I think the 500 is definitely on our list of something that Brad and I haven't been able to do yet. Obviously we'll take this one and hopefully it makes us better when we come back in February," Wolfe explained.

The win does allow the team to focus its restrictor plate program on Talladega, which has been a make-it-or-break-it Chase race over the last couple of years.

"I think any time you have speed in your racecars, that gives you confidence. I think we've shown that over the last year and a half, two years, that at the plate tracks we have speed in our racecars.  That's important. You know, from there, there's a lot of things out of your control, and I try not to let those get to us too much," Wolfe said.
            
"... if there's a place we have to go and a must-win situation, absolutely I feel great about the cars we're putting on the racetrack now at these plate tracks."

With only nine races remaining before the green flag drops at Chicagoland Speedway to open the Chase, teams that don't feel good about the cars they're putting on the racetrack will be hard-pressed to make any headway toward a championship.

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     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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