Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, said today that Sunday’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has changed the way he will approach the rest of the season.
“It was a huge win for us for a lot of different reasons,” said Wolfe. “It pretty much locked (us) into the Chase. It's not a guarantee if multiple cars get a bunch of wins, but we feel good about it. I think it was a good momentum-builder for this team and what we needed to get the season started off right.”
Wolfe said visiting Victory Lane early in the season will allow him to be more aggressive in the weeks to come, much as he was in Keselowski’s 2011 championship season.
“In 2011… some of those (wins) weren't necessarily all-out speed. (Some of them came from) different strategies and things we did on pit road that were maybe not the norm. We were able to have a lot of success that way, so coming into this season, Brad and I sat down and talked through different strategies. One of the things we told each other was, `let's get back to being aggressive, don't be afraid to take chances, and try to get back to where we've been in the past.’
“I feel that was some of what we showed over the first couple weeks,” he said. “And now that we've got a win, (it) maybe opens the door a little bit more.
“An example of that was the 88 car last week,” said Wolfe. “They knew they were short on fuel, but the risk versus reward for them at that point… was worth the chance. You could see (us) in similar situations in some of the races coming up, and yeah, we're definitely not afraid to be aggressive. Brad (and I are) on the same page when it comes to that.”
Wolfe also admitted that his team may “explore some things” on the technological front in coming weeks, as well. “There's been a lot of change this year with the new rules package, and we've put a lot of work into trying to understand what that meant. Until the last few weeks, we didn't really know how we were going to stack up. So far, we're pleased with where we're at, but we know there's still a lot of evolving to do with this new package.
“Our goal now is to continue to push hard, stay on top of it and continue to build as we get toward the end of the season and Chase time.”
Team Penske has experienced early success with NASCAR’s new Sprint Cup Series qualifying format, despite lingering questions about how NASCAR will address the question of cars running a series of slow, post-qualifying laps in an effort to cool their engines.
“I think those things are hard to police,” said Wolfe. “Guys are concerned about the safety aspect of the cars running around slow… while others are at speed. At this point -- from what I've heard -- that's probably the biggest concern. I know guys would like to see cool-down machines used. (But) that introduces a whole other (issue) when you start bringing cool-down machines out to pit road.
“As far as the #2 car over the last two weeks, there's only one instance where we needed to go out and cool down,” Wolfe said. “I think it's those guys who are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs. I think as we go to different tracks with different tires, it's going to continue to evolve. The first two weeks, we've been at tracks where… a scuffed tire potentially has more speed than a sticker. 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. That'll change the dynamics, as well.”
Wolfe gave much of the credit for his team’s fast start to the Team Penske engineering staff, test team crew chief Kevin Buskirk and his crew.
“I don't think any of us really knew what the rules were going to be until December,” he said. “We didn't have parts and pieces and know what the final rules were going to be until… some of them until January.
“It's just doing the best job we can, trying to use the resources and tools we have. As a group, we've done a decent job at it. But the challenge now is continuing to evolve from what we've started here… (trying) to make gains and stay ahead because of the way it works in our garage.
“Everyone sees what other teams are doing, and some of the components that were on our car when we won last week will be on display at Bristol this weekend. Everyone in the Cup garage is smart enough to pay attention to what's going on around you.
“If you're not continuing to move forward, if you continue to sit on (what you have), you'll surely fall behind in a hurry.”