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

by Stacey Owens

There are wins, and then there are dominant wins. Crew chief Paul Wolfe talked about Brad Keselowski's dominant win at Martinsville this weekend.

"Yeah, it was a great race obviously for the 2 team. It was tough. The 9 was strong all day, and for us it was really trying to find that right balance between being good on the shorter run versus the long run. 

"This is the first race back to Martinsville without the track bar adjusters, and I think some of the guys have gotten used to it over the last few years of using those as the track and cars take a swing throughout these long runs and being able to have that track bar adjuster there in the car.

"Not having that kind of -- you kind of had to find a nice compromise between the start of the run to the end of the run. We seemed pretty good at that at the start of the race. As the race went on, the track tightened up and we didn't seem to be quite fast enough on the short run, and as we got towards the closing couple runs, driver wanted me to free it up, he said he needed to be freer to be able to win this race, and you know, we made some small adjustments, but it's hard when you've run 300, 400 laps; you're afraid to go too big and get too far on the other side of it. So we made small adjustments.  It was enough to hold the 9 off on the short run, and then I think the longer run it kind of started to level out.

"Tough day. It's hard to be good here for 500 laps. Pit road was a big part of it. The guys on pit road were flawless all day, were able to keep the lead when we came in, and then able to come off strong there that one run where the 9 led us down," Wolfe explained.

How easy is it to keep your driver at the top of the leaderboard for the majority of the day? According to Wolfe, it doesn't make for an easy day at all.

"It feels good, but it was stressful. Going into today, we didn't have a great practice yesterday. We were fair but didn't know what we were going to have, and as the race started obviously we were pretty strong. And then from there, you're just -- you know you've got to adjust on the car, but you're afraid to do too much when you're that strong starting off.  We made some small adjustments, and like I said, the pit crew being able to keep us out front, that's key, as well," Wolfe said.
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The absence of the track bar adjustment means that the driver doesn't have as many opportunities other than his driving skills to tweak the car while on-track. It forces them to adjust as the runs go along and the fuel burns off. Wolfe discussed how that absence affects what happens in the driver's seat.

"At the 750 tracks as we look at those, where you still don't have a lot of on-throttle time and working on your balance from entry to exit, it makes a difference. You know, like I said before, we could crutch the car at the start of a run with the track bar, where now you can't do that. So now the drivers gotta carry the car a little more, if you will, whether it's the start of the run or the end of the run, to kind of keep your car decent throughout the run.

"I think it'll make a difference. It's not big, but as I looked back at history and what we've done the last few races when we've been good here, I mean, we have moved it some from the start of the run to the end and knew that was going to be a little different for us today, and some drivers use it more than others, and I think it'll change things a little bit as we go to these style racetracks," Wolfe explained.

Martinsville, with its slow race speed, isn't considered an aero track, but some drivers said after the race that the big spoiler creates a bit of a wake for the trailing car. Wolfe talked about that aspect of the track and what he thinks Bristol, as a similar short track, holds for teams in the next few weeks.

"Yeah, with it being one of the slower tracks, and like I said, we felt the effects of it when we unloaded yesterday in practice and Brad commented on it right away, how much more aggressive and harder he could drive the car than what he was used to last year. We had to work on our setup quite a bit from what had worked for us in the past. And we knew there would be a little difference, but it was probably more than I expected.  So for sure going to Bristol, I think we're going to notice the effects of it, and all the short tracks as we move forward. We noticed it at Phoenix, but that's a mile racetrack.

"It's changed things for sure and keeps you on your toes."

Keeps you on your toes. That's exactly what the No. 2 team is doing to the rest of the field.

  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; 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... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall. 

Right Sides Only: Notes from the STP 500 Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe Right Sides Only: Notes from the STP 500 Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, March 25, 2019 Rating: 5