WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – When Paul Wolfe decided to give NASCAR a try, he made sure he had a backup plan.
“I became a certified welder,” Wolfe said. “I never really thought driving would ever provide me a chance. The opportunity to work on cars was more realistic. I wasn’t really thinking about driving when I got into it.”
It’s good to be a realist.
Since moving from upstate New York to North Carolina in 1996 to give stock car racing a try, Wolfe has put in long hours working for Joe Gibbs, Tommy Baldwin, and Ray Evernham, among others, gaining hands-on experience.
Now, he’s crew chief of the No. 2 Dodge driven by Brad Keselowski for Penske Racing in the Sprint Cup series, and a force in the NASCAR garage.
“I tried to learn from everybody,” said Wolfe, who drove in the Camping World East and Nationwide Series from 2000-05, notching eight top-fives but no wins before concentrating on becoming a crew chief. “You can never stop learning in this sport. It’s always changing.”
After also working for Fitz Racing and CJM Racing, Wolfe signed in November 2009 with Penske, which was starting a new Nationwide team for Keselowski.
“Paul was taking less and doing a lot more with it at other race teams before he got the opportunity to go to a team like Penske Racing, where they’ve got good equipment,” said Steve Addington, crew chief for reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart and a close friend of Wolfe’s. “I think he was showing everybody that he kind of knew what he was doing.”
During the 2010 Nationwide season, Keselowski scored six wins, five poles and a series-record 26 top-five finishes on the way to a 445-point victory in the final point standings behind the wheel of Wolfe-prepared cars, giving Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship.
Wolfe moved up to the Sprint Cup series last year and Keselowski, despite a broken foot suffered in testing at midseason, posted three victories to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, NASCAR’s version of a postseason.
“We had success right away,” said Wolfe, now 35. “From there we continued to build our relationship and understand each other more and more. We’re still learning. Brad pushes me to be better.”