Monday, April 3, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the STP 500 Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe

by Stacey Owens

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. The grandfather clock ticked for more than 10 years as Brad Keselowski tried to win at Martinsville Speedway. As the oldest speedway on the circuit celebrated its 70th birthday, Keselowski finally won at the storied track.

"... for me, you know, of course you want to win everywhere you go. You wouldn't be a competitor if you didn't feel that way. But there is something extra that is added when you win at tracks that are tied to the legacy of the sport and tied to the legacy of NASCAR.
           
"Even the trophy itself has some special meaning. I know it's made back in my home state of Michigan, and that's something I'm going to take back and be real proud of. I don't like to keep trophies at my house. This one is going at my house. I can tell you, that's how special it is.
           
"I'm looking forward to bringing that one home and hoping I can add a few more clocks along the way," Keselowski said.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe was thrilled about the win, too.

"Yeah, absolutely. This is such a neat racetrack, and we've worked so hard here the last few years.  We've been so close, contended but haven't been able to break through, and gosh, the guys back at the shop continue every time we come here to build a little better race car, and we've worked really hard on this, and what a relief to finally be able to get that first one here in over 10 years. I don't know, I think at the drivers' meeting today, it was like this is the 70th anniversary or something for the speedway, so special day, and Brad just drove a great race.

           
"There was a little mistake early with speeding on pit road, but after that, he passed a lot of race cars.  We had good pit stops and just executed all day. Thought our strategy was pretty good, and at the end of the race, I was waiting for that caution to fall, and what were we going to do then. It was tough today. The tire that Goodyear brought seemed to hold on more than what we're accustomed to here at Martinsville, so it made those decisions on whether to pit for tires or not a little tougher today, and definitely a tough race to win, like I said, and proud of the effort," Wolfe explained.

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
For Wolfe, it was just a great way to return to the track. Awaiting appeal of his suspension for the No. 2 car's post-race measurement failure at Phoenix International Raceway, Wolfe was allowed to be atop the pit box during the STP 500. Wolfe didn't call the race at Fontana last week, but as Team Penske decided to appeal the penalties, which include a three-race suspension for Wolfe, the crew chief was allowed to return to call the race at "The Paperclip."

He talked about his return, "Well, I'd first I'd like to say that we have a great group of guys and a lot of support back at the shop, and when something does happen like did at Phoenix, it allows us to still be competitive. You saw how we ran last week at Fontana and overcame the adversity there. But it's tough. It's tough when you're not there. You try to communicate the best with the guys, but there's that little bit that you miss when you're just not sitting on the box and being able to communicate with Brad during the race.
           
"Yeah, it's tough not being there, and that's part of why -- that's the penalty they hand down because they know it is. Just proud of the effort today, like I said. It was a good way to come back after not being on the box last week," Wolfe explained.

Wolfe has spent considerable effort in putting together a winning car for Martinsville. Were there specific areas of focus?

"I think it's everything, really. We've done a lot just in our car setup. When you talk about shocks and springs and things that we can change at the racetrack, and then overall as a company when we build our cars from the chassis, the body, the whole process, the engine shop, it's everyone really putting a focus on it and trying to make their area a little bit better. That's kind of what we've done every time we've come here over the past two years, say we feel like we've brought a little better race car every time, and that's what it takes.
           
"We've been able to put ourselves in position, I guess, the last three or four times, saying we had a car fast enough to win the race, and we felt like if we just continued to run top 5s and put the pressure on that hopefully we'd get our opportunity here, and today it was," Wolfe said.

With their two wins, the No. 2 team is definitely putting pressure on the rest of the field. This second victory all but secures the team a spot in the playoffs, which puts them in a great place for a second 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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.

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