Tech Talk · Mike Neff · Monday May 21, 2012
Paul Wolfe guided Brad Keselowski to a segment win and a second place finish in the All-Star Race Saturday night. He’s also been responsible for five of Keselowski’s Cup Series wins and six of his Nationwide Series wins. As the Cup teams head back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the second weekend in a row, Wolfe talks about the preparation for the longest race on the schedule, strategy calls based on tire hardness, driver fatigue and also just how much fuel can be picked up with the new EFI system.
Mike Neff: We often hear about teams setting their race cars up for short runs or long runs. What can you do to make a car faster on the short run vs. a long run?
Paul Wolfe: It all comes down to how aggressive you want to be with your front end settings and trying to make the car turn really well but also have stability is what you would do for a short run. Typically, I don’t look at the 600 as a race that you’d want to set up for a short run. Obviously it is our longest race of the year and you know there is going to be a lot of green flag running. You need to be able to hold track position on those long runs to stay on the lead lap so you can be there to race at the end. Typically, I have not seen short run cars be real successful in the Cup series.
Mike Neff: People talk about building adjustability into their cars, which I’ve always found ironic because I would think you would want your car to have the most adjustability possible. What do you have available to you that makes a car adjustable?
Paul Wolfe: I think making a car adjustable, like you say you’re exactly right, we try to do that every week. I think it is more about having a thought out plan of such a long race, you know the temperature is going to change and over history you know the conditions of the track. So maybe having more of a plan of the steps you’re going to go through to keep up with the track would probably be a better saying. You always have to have adjustability. Obviously there are ways to do it, with the ways you rubber up springs, to different kinds of air pressures, to maybe just how you run your practice sessions—trying some of those things to understand what they’re going to do is probably a better approach to what you want to do for the 600 weekend.
Mike Neff: Tires at Charlotte, ever since the levigating fiasco they’ve been pretty much Fred Flintstone hard. Are we still looking at that hard of a tire compound or have they started to back off of that a little bit?
Paul Wolfe: We have not seen much of a change there. As far as I know, things will be pretty similar to what we’ve had and it seems like the tire we’ve had there the last few races has been a harder tire without as much falloff as some of the other places we see. So you have to look at track position on some of the stops. I think you’ll see guys do two tires vs. four to get that clean air. I know the race last fall it was tough to pass so that will make some of that strategy come into play of being able to take two tires instead of four and vice versa.
Mike Neff: With the tire being that hard and not falling off that much, does that allow you to be more aggressive with your setup because you know the tire will stay under you?
Paul Wolfe: I don’t know if it necessarily changes from that standpoint. Like I’ve said, if anything, my approach is sometimes if you don’t feel like you’re going to come down pit road every time the caution comes out, maybe you want to make sure your car will go on a longer run because you’re going to keep the tires on your car longer.
Mike Neff: Lack of cautions has been a big discussion this year. In the 600 we know that we usually get that long run around the midway point that is a 150 to 200 lap run. Is that something that you guys plan on, going into the weekend, making sure your driver is focused on being has hydrated as he can be and having your game plan laid out expecting to make a couple of long runs in the middle of the race?
Paul Wolfe: Absolutely, I think that is a good point. Driver fatigue in a race that long is something you have to deal with. You’ll definitely see guys that are prepared and you’ll also see guys who have done it so long that they’re just immune to it and they know the deal. As for Brad, I feel like he’s done a great job of preparing himself for these races and I feel like he’s usually pretty fresh at the end of these races and I don’t expect anything different this year.
Mike Neff: We’ve had some issues at Talladega and a couple of other races where fuel pressure has been an issue as the tanks are getting near empty. With this new system, is it possible to run the tank completely dry or when you get down to the last gallon or so, and the pressure starts fluctuating, does that cause the system to not fully function properly?
Paul Wolfe: From what we’ve seen from the testing we’ve done, and we did a good bit of testing because we had some issues early in the season, so we’ve definitely done a lot of testing. We’ve actually seen that we were able to pick up more than with the old system.
Wolfe led the No. 2 race team to a pole position start in the 600 last season but Charlotte Motor Speedway has not been kind to his driver Brad Keselowski. In five starts at the mile and a half track, Keselowski’s best finish is a 12th, and that was when he made a spot start for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. His best finish for Penske Racing was last fall when he came home in 16th position. One thing is for sure, his finish will be a direct result of the efforts of Paul Wolfe and his race team.
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