With rain cancelling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., on Saturday, Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the No. 2 Penske Racing team with driver Brad Keselowski, stepped into the media center to talk about what his team needs to do to get back into contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With six races remaining, including Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono, until the cutoff to get into the Chase at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway, reigning series champion Keselowski finds himself 13th in points, six points behind 10th-place driver Jeff Gordon. Keselowski also has yet to find his way to victory lane in 2013. Here’s what Wolfe had to say:
ARE YOU AT A POINT NOW WHERE YOU HAVE TO START TAKING SOME BIG SWINGS?
“I think for us I don’t know that we have to change our strategy a whole lot yet. We just need to have some solid runs. If we continue to put ourselves in the top-10 and top-five for the next six weeks then we will surely have the points it takes to get in there. Obviously last week was a little bit of a hit for us and it was nice to go to New Hampshire after testing there and sit on the pole and have a really strong car with a shot to win and get a top-five out of it. We went to Indy and were hoping for a better finish than we got there and there are multiple reasons probably why we didn’t. Some of it was the speed in the car and we had pit road issues and things that need to be addressed. That set us back a little bit. Another top-five run here tomorrow could get us back up there so we are just right there on the edge. Obviously we can’t afford to continue to have any 20th or 30th-place finishes in the next six races. That would put us in a mode of having to win to get in the Chase. I wouldn’t say we are panicked but we are definitely not where we want to be and we know it is going to be tough. It seems like this year, I don’t know, it seems like there is a group of cars that are a lot closer from seventh or eighth all the way to 18th than I remember in the past. I don’t know if that is true or not but is sure seems like there is a big group of cars where it is very tight. It is going to be very interesting heading down to Richmond. We are still confident and know we are capable of getting there and being able to be in the Chase.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE IF YOU GET THAT ONE WIN, THEN THE SNOWBALL STARTS RUNNING DOWNHILL AND EVERYONE BREATHES A LITTLE EASIER?
“Absolutely. A win is big and if you look at our past two years, it seemed like once we got that first win it feels like you can breathe easier and things kind of just flow. The start of this season it looked like that was going to come pretty quick. We really started so strong and had those top-five finishes and were contending for wins right out of the gate. We thought it was going to happen soon but then we kind of went through that part of the season leading up to the summer here where we have just been so hit and miss and haven’t been where we need to be. It is frustrating. We know we need to get that win.”
HOW MUCH CAN YOU DO AS A CREW CHIEF IF YOU SEE YOUR GUYS, DRIVER OR CREW, STARTING TO PRESS A LITTLE BIT AND MAYBE TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH?
“I haven’t really seen it a whole lot with the driver. I feel like he has been pretty steady through it all. We have had a lot of issues with our pit road stuff and we have continued to make changes here over the last three or four races and we have made another change for tomorrow. That has been a big challenge for us, getting those guys where they need to be at. I feel like as a group our traveling mechanics have done a good job and our cars have been solid. I can’t look at anything here of late that has been an issue from that side of it. I think if you look at the Hendrick cars as a whole, they have been pretty strong it seems like the last month or month-and-a-half and I think sometimes we find ourselves, Brad and myself and the engineers, trying to get to where they are at and being able to compete with them. I don’t know what they have going on right now but they definitely have a lot of speed in their cars and the one conversation I have had with Brad of what we need to do the next six weeks is just to focus on our car and try to optimize our balance and speed in our car. We don’t want to get too far out on a limb trying to chase something that we might not have right now in our cars. I think we did that a little bit in Indy and got off from our path a little bit and it hurt us in the race. So we need to just stick to what we know for now. It might not be ultimate performance but we don’t have to win to make the Chase. We just need to have solid top-five to top-10 days and if we just kind of do our deal and pay attention and get our car where we need to be, we know we have enough speed to do that. That is kind of , from Brad and I, it is about getting the car tuned in a little better and that is our approach for the next few weeks.”
SOME OF YOUR OVER THE WALL CREW IS GOING TO IOWA TO PIT THE NATIONWIDE CAR TONIGHT, IS THAT A CHANCE FOR THEM TO WORK OUT SOME KINKS?
“A couple of the guys are heading there but not the whole crew. Basically we are back to the point with our crew where basically all the guys minus a rear carrier where we started the season and feel like we were our best. We moved guys around and brought in some different guys trying to make something happen and trying to find something and we just haven’t had any success at that so now we are going back to what our best lineup was early in the year. Is that exactly where we want it? No, but for the next six weeks that is what we need to do. Long term we might make more changes.”
DALE JARRETT CAME OUT ON ESPN THIS WEEK AND SAID HE THOUGHT THE ISSUE WITH YOUR TEAM THIS SEASON IS BRAD FOCUSING TOO MUCH ON THE 48. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT STATEMENT?
“Well, I think I kind of brought that up earlier. Whether or not that is a problem, I don’t know. I think the reason you look at them is because, let’s face it, over the last five or six years they have been the team to beat. So when you are trying to reach a goal, you need to pay attention to what is going on around you. We definitely have focused on them. Now obviously we were able to beat them fair and square in the Chase last year so that definitely gives us confidence and I think that is why we’ve set the bar higher for ourselves and we know that is the team we need to beat to be able to win another championship. I think that is where some of that focus was but as I said, now we are at a point where we need to get the best we can out of what we have to work with right now and that is what we are going to do for the next six weeks.”
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