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Jan 30, 2014 - 06:31 PM
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Will Change In Pit Crew Philosophy Fuel A Brad Keselowski Comeback?
Posted by: ASkyler on Jan 30, 2014 - 06:25 PM
Feature Articles
Will Change In Pit Crew Philosophy Fuel A Brad Keselowski Comeback?


By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Brad Keselowski hopes a change in the culture of his pit crew will help propel his No. 2 Team Penske Ford back into championship contention.

After winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in 2012, Keselowski missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year, for a variety of reasons.

Mechanical problems were a factor, particularly overheating problems that led to engine failures. A blown engine in the 25th race of the season, at Atlanta, all but doomed Keselowski's Chase chances.

A 25-point penalty for an unapproved rear end housing at Texas sapped the team's momentum in April. Keselowski also acknowledged there were times he overdrove the car to try to compensate for a lack of speed.

But the most readily identifiable weakness of the No. 2 team showed up during pit stops. During the offseason, Team Penske took measures to correct the deficiency.

 

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Keselowski's Ford will have two new tire changers and a new tire carrier this year. In addition, owner Roger Penske has hired former University at Buffalo wrestling coach Jim Beichner to oversee the training and conditioning of the pit crews.

"We brought in a whole new approach and almost essentially gutted the culture of our pit department in the last month," Keselowski said Wednesday during the Team Penske stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's been a rapid turnaround. I feel like we're going to go from being an average pit crew to the best on pit road; that's our goal.

"Hopefully, that will happen in a year's time. Maybe it'll take a little bit longer, but we know the effort's there and the approach is there."

Crew chief Paul Wolfe, who teamed with Keselowski to win the 2012 championship, believes the change in approach will have a major effect.

"We sat down and looked at ‘What were our weakness last year? Where could we have been better? What kept us from making the Chase and competing for a championship, like we feel like we should have?'" Wolfe said. "It was no secret that we had our fair share of mistakes [on pit road], lost a lot of positions and potentially put us in situations whether it's to get caught up in a wreck or to not have the potential to win a race.

"The way racing is right now, pit road is just as important as some of the setup things I might do to the race car. It's hard sometimes to get in that mentality to focus that much on the pit crew, but the pit crew can change the outcome of a race as much as anything we can change on the race car right now."

NEW DIRECTION

With newly created engineering and research-and-development departments, Richard Petty Motorsports finally has the freedom to explore new directions in the preparation of its race cars.

"It's an important step for Richard Petty Motorsports to make," said Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 RPM Ford. "Instead of just being a customer (of Roush Fenway Racing), we're starting to think for ourselves, and hopefully we'll give ourselves a competitive advantage.

"That's what we aspire to be. We want to be the very best team we can be, and we're sure not going to beat anybody by copying them. We've got to come up with our own ideas to some degree."

RPM will continue to purchase their engines and chassis from Roush Fenway, but Drew Blickensderfer, Ambrose's crew chief, likened the organizations new capability to the sort of vendor/client relationship that exists between Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row Racing, where the flow of information and innovation goes both ways.

"We're a customer of Roush, and we've always been a customer who's always had to do what Roush has done," Blickensderfer said. "We didn't have our own two feet to stand on. We have that now. So we can be a customer like Furniture is to RCR.

"We can be a customer, but take that customer product and make it better - or try to make it better. We've never been able to do that. Now we can take what they have and work on it ourselves."

A critical mass of resources has allowed RPM to spread its wings. Smithfield Foods has expanded its sponsorship of the No. 43 Ford driven by Aric Almirola. The Air Force has returned for a two-race deal, announced Wednesday, as Almirola's sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

"We're probably in the best shape we've been in the last three or four years," team co-owner Richard Petty said. "Now we've been able to go into more of an engineering department and do a little bit more R&D on our own from where we've been at. We used to do it all. We used to build the motors and the cars and took them to the race track and did [everything].

"Now, with the way NASCAR has the rules, everything is kind of cut-and-dried, so there's not as much of that going. You have to have the engineers then to really tweak stuff. It used to be that we got close and it worked, so we feel like that we're way better off than we've been on that part of the deal. I guess we'll have to have a little talk with the drivers and get them to step up a little, too."

CONTRACT YEARS

Both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle qualified for the Chase last year, and both are in the final years of their current contracts with Roush Fenway Racing.

RFR president Steve Newmark said discussions about contract extensions with both drivers already have begun, but the organization prefers not to give status updates until there's something concrete to announce.

"We're in the discussions with Carl and Greg on renewals, and so we're in process," Newmark said. "It's our intent and goal to re-sign both of them. They've spent their careers with Roush, and we hope they retire [with Roush].

"We've had these discussions, and they've been actively involved in a lot of the changes that have been going on. So I think they're pretty optimistic about the future, but I don't have any concrete news to report on it."


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