Saturday, November 25, 2017
Sports

Quiet crew chief has Keselowski's back

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Paul Wolfe is, in fact, a lone Wolfe.

Driver Brad Keselowski is young, brash — his competitors may say arrogant and unrepentant — loves social media and has no qualms drawing attention to himself.

Wolfe, his Sprint Cup crew chief, is the opposite.

"I don't know what most people in the garage's perception of me is now but I can probably come across as a jerk, just because I'm quiet," said Wolfe, his voice barely audible over the roar of practice at Phoenix International Raceway.

"I'm quiet. I keep to myself. … I feel like when I come to the racetrack, I'm here to do my job and I try to do it the best way I know how."

Keselowski, who enters today's AdvoCare 500 well within striking distance of his first championship, shares the objective even if his path is different.

Keselowski isn't afraid to engage fans or fellow competitors on hot topics. NASCAR fined him for criticizing its move to fuel-injection technology last season. And he has drawn the ire of many drivers, including public run-ins with Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and others.

Those actions might seem to run counter to the well-ordered, nose-to-the-grindstone operation Wolfe runs with Penske Racing's No. 2 Dodge team.

But here's a little secret.

"I don't really tell Brad this but probably 90 percent of the time the stuff he puts out there, I — me and the team — believe is true," Wolfe said.

"We've gotten to the point now where if Brad is running his mouth, he usually goes out there the next day and backs it up. You have to respect that about him."

Keselowski, 28, and Wolfe won the 2010 Nationwide series championship together. Since they joined forces in Cup in 2011, they have risen quickly, with three victories last year and five in 2012.

After finishing second last week at Texas, losing the lead late to Johnson, Keselowski asked Wolfe to keep his team "pumped up" and to remind them he wasn't giving up. None of that was necessary, Wolfe said.

"The guys on my race team are not the type of guys that need people to be patting them on the back. They're all racers, they work hard," he said.

For Wolfe, that comes from his background. He began as a driver, often working on his own cars. He made 16 starts in the Nationwide series and more than 40 starts in lower series. Wolfe, 35, first moved into the role of crew chief when he drove for Fitz-Bradshaw Racing.

There are so many ways Keselowski and Wolfe are different. Yet, they remain the same in one big way — performance.

"I think that he and I have a very special dynamic that's hard to quantify," Keselowski said. "It's a relationship where over time it's built on trust and every step you take, every day that you work together or live around each other, you go through those moments where you're challenged and you're looking at each other to react. … And each instance I feel like he and I have done a really good job of taking adversity and fighting through it, becoming stronger from it and making better decisions."

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