On Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski had the fuel while Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t as he made his way by on the final lap to take the victory.
For crew chief Paul Wolfe, the win means a lot to the No. 2 Miller Lite team for a bunch of reasons, one of those being that they’re virtually now locked into the Chase for the Championship.
“Obviously it’s not a guarantee if multiple cars get a bunch of wins, but we feel good about that, and I think it was a good momentum builder for this team and kind of what we needed to get this season started off right,” he commented.
Last year didn’t go as Keselowski and Wolfe planned as they missed the Chase for the Championship after struggling during the middle part of last season, including a big penalty at Texas Motor Speedway. For that reason, Wolfe says showing the team that this year they’re going to have a shot at the title gets them excited and shows that they’re back on track with the rules package this year.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of change this year with the new rules package, and we’ve put a lot of work into that and trying to understand what that meant, and until here over the last few weeks we didn’t really know how we were going to stack up,” he commented. “So far we’re pleased with where we’re at but know there’s still a lot of evolving to do with this new package, and our goal now is to continue to push hard and try to stay on top of it and continue to build as we get towards the end of the season and Chase time.”
Team Penske has demonstrated – along with Hendrick Motorsports – that they’ve got their hands wrapped around the new rule changes with regards to the ‘no minimum ride height rule’. Wolfe says that shows the depth of the Penske organization to be able to come out strong near the beginning of the season with how they’ve optimized their resources. He adds that now the challenge is to keep evolving and continue to make gains so that way they stay on top.
Wolfe and Team Penske have also took charge of one of the other key rules changes this year – the new knockout qualifying format. In both times that it has been used in Sprint Cup, Team Penske has swept the front row with drivers Keselowski and Joey Logano. Wolfe feels that Penske has stood up to the challenge due to their ways of knowing how to handle strategic situations.
“It’s not necessarily all about just putting together that one-lap speed, it’s putting together multiple runs and understanding how to make changes as you go from one round to the next round,” he commented. “We like the challenge of that, and that’s been something that is different than what qualifying has been in the past.”
However, that doesn’t mean it has been perfect as there are still room for improvements – such as the cooling of the motors. Teams are not allowed to use the cool down units that they’re a custom to as a result of NASCAR not waiting the hoods to be opened. As a result, teams are removing tape and sending out drivers to run slow laps to cool down the cars.
There have been suggestions that possibly NASCAR may try to limit teams going out to do that – due to the danger factor of a slower car on the track when someone is trying to make a quick lap. Paul Wolfe says either way, it’s going to be tough for NASCAR to police and control if they change it up.
“I guess for myself and for our team at this point, we’re just trying to be able to react to any type of change that there is and do the best job, and that’s kind of where we’re at at this point,” he added. “As far as the 2 car over the last two weeks, there’s only one instance really where we needed to go out and cool down. I think it’s those guys that are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs.”
Wolfe added that the system will continue to evolve as they go to different tracks, espically where tires tend to lose speed with each run made on a set.
“Obviously as we get to tracks like a Texas or an Atlanta, I don’t even think running a second time is an option to pick up speed. So that’ll change the dynamics, as well,” he continued. “From the 2 car team, we’re just trying to continue to understand all those dynamics, and as we get to different tracks with different characteristics, just trying to stay on top of it and continue to have strong efforts like we have had the last two weeks.”
This week brings forth Bristol – a tight half-mile bull ring where its tough to get out of the way even under normal race conditions. Wolfe says that it’s going to be tough this weekend an it could really be a potential issue. However, he’s ready with his team to tackle the challenge, and doesn’t feel engine temps will be a big issue due to the laps only being 15 seconds in lengt