Captain's Corner: Greg Erwin talks about big Pocono win
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Last Saturday, Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway with a last-lap pass which snapped a 46-race winless streak by Team Penske’s No. 22 team.
This week, we talked to the team’s crew chief, Greg Erwin, about that victory and the team’s goal of winning the series’ owner’s championship this season.
Q: How big of a monkey was the win off you or your team’s back?
Erwin: I think it was much bigger for the guys on the team who had not been to Victory Lane yet. We have a bunch of those guys on our team, guys who were there all year last year that never got to see Victory Lane. For them, they work really hard, they spend long hours working on this thing, and having not been to Victory Lane yet it was kind of discouraging. Honestly, for me, I don’t want to say it wasn’t important, but obviously what Mr. Penske and this group cares about is bringing home trophies. The fact we had an 80-point lead in the owner’s standings and all these second-place finishes, by any other measure it’s been a pretty successful start to the year, especially if we were working under the old points system. I think we’ve been in contention to win every race this year. For the people who have been around a long time, with statistics like that, they know we were going to be just fine and the wins will come. The guys who didn’t have much experience were probably starting to wonder why we weren’t winning. You run up front enough and you’ll see things start to swing your way. It just took a little longer than any of us were comfortable with.
Q: Brad won the first two Stages and then won the race on a dramatic last-lap pass. Could it have happened any better?
Erwin: From a nerves standpoint, it would have been better if we had a 12-second lead or something. I didn’t need the exciting finish. Those last couple of laps, I was a bit worked up. There always seemed to have been a scenario recently on late-race restarts that took away whatever opportunity we had to win races this year. I love that Brad didn’t lay down and call it quits when he got shuffled back (in the field). I love that he roughed some fenders up driving back up through there. I love that he had the confidence in the car to do some of the things that he did and I love the way he passed cleanly for the win. He didn’t have to do anything to move Kyle (Larson) out of the way.
Q: Could you describe Brad’s commitment to the Xfinity program?
Erwin: Brad has a commitment to winning above all and then I also think – I was listening to some of his comments after the win and he mentioned Discount Tire and went as far as to say without Discount Tire and the Xfinity program, he may not be a Cup driver today. I think he is real appreciative of the opportunity he had in that series and the wins and championship he has had at Penske. Even now, Brad and Kyle Busch and even Dale Earnhardt Jr. are fielding teams with their respective manufacturers and bringing young people into NASCAR and helping develop them and move up. I think that it’s great that Brad does that and it’s great that he takes his time and runs 10 or however many races he can. When he’s gotten in the car, we’ve been fast and we’ve had the chance to win a lot of races. I know it was hard on him last year not going to Victory Lane – it broke an eight-year streak of him winning races in the Xfinity Series. I could tell on pit road before the race on Saturday that he was very confident.
Q: With the addition of Stage racing, have you gotten a grasp on how that will change your efforts to win the owner’s title this season?
Erwin: I think the Stage racing itself is just now really starting to play out and we’re just now to the point we can build enough statistics on what other teams are inclined to do in certain situations. I’m talking about things like a caution coming up just short of a Stage break, the “Dash 4 Cash” races – we’re just building our notebook and statistics on things like how many drivers stay out, how many pit during Stage breaks, how hard people run in certain situations. Everyone is going to get better at calling these races. I believe we’ve already seen a bit of a pattern develop on how these races go. I think it’s done exactly what NASCAR hoped.
Q: As someone who you have worked with extensively on the Xfinity side at Team Penske, what was it like to see Ryan Blaney capture his first Cup series win at Pocono?
Erwin: I knew Ryan was really, really talented. I’ve watched him over the last couple of years win Xfinity races for Jeremy Bullins, for me and for Brian Wilson – all the crew chiefs. He’s a terrific little restarter. He’s very, very aggressive and I think he did a masterful job battling one of the sport’s best (Kevin Harvick) to win on Sunday. I think it says a lot about our Xfinity program, the experience he was able to gain with us in the Xfinity cars. What the Wood Brothers have been able to do with him in the No. 21 car has been great. I was just as impressed with Brad’s demeanor and composure in interviewing Ryan in Victory Lane. It was a terrific Victory Lane interview.
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