Richard Petty and Dale Inman. David Pearson and Leonard Wood. Herb Nab and Cale Yarborough. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Kirk Shelmerdine. Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond. Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Champions. Legacies. Victories.
Each of those combinations has won several NASCAR Sanctioned Series championships. Whether it was during the time of the NASCAR Strictly Stocked Series, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, or what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, each of the above driver-crew chief combinations have found the ability to win races and championships, creating dynasties during the time they worked together. But, it is time for the next era of the sport.
Crew chiefs are rarely staying with the same driver, let alone the same team. Heck, last year when Tony Stewart won the championship, he announced that he would be letting his crew chief, Darian Grubb leave at the end of the season. The rest is history. The pair ended up winning the championship and Stewart had a sub-par season with a new crew chief in Steve Addington.
Now that the Johnson-Knaus era is slowly coming to a close after two straight years of not being able to win a championship, there is a new combination at the top of the rankings for the first time in roughly half of a decade.
Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe. A driver that went from driving family owned equipment with a former driver who couldn’t make it as a driver, becoming a championship winning crew chief in the Nationwide Series in 2010 with Keselowski, to now a championship winning crew chief in the elite level of motorsports.
With the success the two have had together, can they be considered to be a dynasty in the near future? The answer is most certainly, yes.
Wolfe started out as a development driver for Tommy Baldwin when Baldwin was Kasey Kahne’s crew chief for Evernham Motorsports. After not having the success which he was believed to have, Wolfe was hired to crew chief a car for Fitz/Bradshaw Motorsports, a team that is now defunct. He led Mike Skinner to a top-10 finish in 2006 at Charlotte with the team in just his 10th race as a crew chief.
In 2007, Wolfe enjoyed some success with Mike Bliss in the No. 22 Dodge including three top-fives and seven top-10 finishes within his time working with Bliss. He was also the crew chief for Patrick Carpentier, Carlos Contreras, Robby Gordon, David Stremme, and Josh Wise throughout that year as well, having an additional two top-fives and three top-10 finishes with those drivers including a pole award at Montreal.
After having numerous drivers to work with in 2008, Wolfe ended up working for the same amount of drivers in 2009 with more success as he continued to brace his way with a competitive team. After a shot with Joe Gibbs Racing, working with Denny Hamlin in 2009, Roger Penske eventually hired the former crew chief to be on the pit box for the same driver for every race in 2010.
The driver was Brad Keselowski and the rest, well that’s in the history books now. In 2010, the pair had six wins along with 26 top-fives and 29 top-10 finishes which led them to Penske’s first championship as a car owner in NASCAR.
Working together seemed to be good for the two as Keselowski wasn’t finding much success in the Sprint Cup Series with Penske’s team after working with Jay Guy in 2010. Through the first 20 races in 2011, the pair had a fuel-mileage win at Kansas along with four other top-10 finishes, struggling outside of the top-20 in the standings. But, at Pocono, a few days after Keselowski hurt his ankle during a testing crash, the pair seemed to click. They only finished outside of the top-20 once in the final 16 races as Wolfe led Keselowski’s resurgence to a fifth place finish in the final standings in his first year as a crew chief in the Cup Series.
This year, Keselowski and Wolfe have dominated the sport. The pair is a few hours away from locking up a championship, the first Sprint Cup Series championship for Roger Penske which he has been searching for since 1972, coming close only once with Rusty Wallace in 1993 by a mere 80 points behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. Wallace drove the same No. 2 car that Keselowski has driven for the past two years and will continue to do so as Keselowski and Wolfe should work together for several years to come, locking up what could be one of the greatest dynasties that the sport has ever seen.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.