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Keselowski crew chief to miss Phoenix Cup race

March 01, 2014, David Caraviello,

Paul Wolfe, wife welcome first child

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The polesitter for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway will be without his crew chief, who has returned home for the birth of his first child.

Brad Keselowski tweeted Saturday morning that Paul Wolfe would miss Sunday's event on the 1-mile oval. Brian Wilson, lead engineer for Penske Racing's No. 2 team, will now handle car adjustments at Phoenix while veteran crew chief Greg Erwin -- who oversaw Sam Hornish Jr.'s NASCAR Nationwide Series program last season -- will make strategy calls.

After finishing third in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Phoenix, Keselowski said Wolfe told him he was heading home in between opening Sprint Cup practice and Nationwide qualifying. The No. 2 team knew Wolfe's departure was a possibility entering the weekend.

"We were definitely prepared, but that doesn’t mean we're not concerned," Keselowski said. "There's always concern. There's a reason why Paul is the crew chief on the No. 2 car, it's because he's a great guy and he knows what he's doing, and he's our best guy from that perspective. So there's always a concern there, but you try to prepare as best you can and try to understand the personal significance of what it is to go through what he's going through. Hopefully, it all goes great."

Wolfe flew home to North Carolina on Keselowski's jet. Wolfe and Keselowski have worked together since 2011, and all but one of Keselowski's 10 career victories at the Sprint Cup level have come with Wolfe on the pit box. The 2012 series champion competed in two races last season without Wolfe due to a penalty, with former crew chief and Penske testing coordinator Kevin Buskirk filling in. Keselowski finished 32nd at Darlington and 36th at Charlotte in those races.

Erwin, now director of Nationwide operations at Penske, won five Sprint Cup races with Greg Biffle during his days at Roush Fenway, and last season helped Hornish to one victory and a second-place finish in Nationwide points before that program was shut down. Erwin also worked with Penske driver Joey Logano (though not as the crew chief) when No. 22 crew chief Todd Gordon served a brief suspension last season under a NASCAR penalty, and Wilson and Keselowski have worked together for several years.

"We'll get through it," Keselowski said. "We've got Greg Erwin here. It was disappointing to have to shut down the 12 Nationwide team last year, but one of the benefits of that is a pretty significant gain in depth. And in this instance, it's having Greg Erwin here to fill in. He filled for Joey's team last year when we went through all of our stuff, and he’ll be filling tomorrow along with our team engineer, Brian Wilson. These are always great opportunities to see individuals that can step up and are ready for the next opportunity. So from that perspective, it's a little bit exciting."

Keselowski won the pole at Phoenix with a track-record speed in the first group qualifying session employed at the Sprint Cup level. Keselowski finished third last weekend in the Daytona 500.

"We have a great car which we were able to showcase on Friday," Keselowski said. "We've got our work cut out for us trying to keep up with Kevin (Harvick) -- he looks to be a lot faster than everybody else. … But it is what it is, and we'll make the most of it and try to appreciate the seriousness of the situation for Paul and the significance for his family."

UPDATE: A Wolfe family member tweeted at 3:26 a.m. ET on Sunday that Paul Wolfe welcomed the newest member of the "Wolfe Pack." Keselowski offers a congrats to the new father. 


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