CONCORD Jeremy Bullins is having a career of a season.
A crew chief in NASCAR can go an entire career without earning a victory with a driver. This season, Bullins hasn’t gone longer than three races.
Entering Friday night’s Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bullins and his No. 22 Penske Racing Nationwide Series team have won 11 times with four different drivers.
He’s won with a newcomer (19-year-old Ryan Blaney), a reigning Sprint Cup Series champion (Brad Keselowski), a former open-wheel standout (A.J. Allmendinger) and upstart just now coming into his own (Joey Logano).
He’s guided his drivers to wins on short tracks, road courses and 1.5-mile speedways.
“I don’t think everyone realizes how big of a challenge that is – to work with a bunch of different drivers,” said Logano, who has three wins in the No. 22 this season.
“That’s really, really hard to get a hold of what each driver wants and when they say things, what that means.”
It helps to have a motivating tool all can share. This season, the team has had two – winning races on a regular basis and attempting to give owner Roger Penske his first owner’s championship in the Nationwide series.
The No. 22 team has a five-point lead in the owner’s standings over the No. 54 team of Joe Gibbs Racing with four races remaining this season.
The margin between the teams shrunk considerably last weekend at Kansas when Kyle Busch, driving the No. 54, got into a wreck with Keselowski, who was driving the No. 22.
The two drivers exchanged verbal barbs after race, offering a good indication both teams take this championship very seriously.
“I keep telling everybody when you think about Roger Penske and his history, it’s pretty amazing to think that there’s something he hasn’t won,” Bullins said.
“So, for me, it’s a privilege and an honor to be part of the team that’s tasked with that goal. So far, so good.”
Bullins was named crew chief of Penske’s No. 22 Nationwide team in December 2011 after serving as race engineer for Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29 Cup series team.
Bullins replaced Todd Gordon, who now serves as Logano’s crew chief in the Cup series.
The No. 22 has been one of the most successful teams in Nationwide in recent seasons and this year it’s been able to exceed its own standards with one common denominator – Bullins.
“It takes a good team and a good driver and this year I’ve had four of them,” Bullins said. “To me the challenge is having to adapt to what each driver likes and dislikes in a very short period of time.
“I try to spend some time with all of the drivers and learn their personality, try to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
Prior to working with Blaney at Kentucky in September, Bullins played a round of golf with his driver. He did the same before his first race with Allmendinger.
“Just wanted to get away from the race track and spend a little time with them. I think the more you familiarize yourself with your driver, the better your relationship with them will be.
“You have to understand all the people in a group to get the most out of all of them.”
Besides being able to give Penske a championship he’s not yet won, Bullins covets the owner’s title for the recognition it will provide to all of the people who make up the No. 22 team.
“It takes a lot of very talented people to get this team to perform at a very high level week after week,” he said. “I think it shows that no matter who drivers our cars or where we race, we have been able to sustain that very high level of performance.”
Bullins has obviously put in a great deal of homework – on the track and off – to get the No. 22 team to the level at which it’s performing this season, so how about a quiz?
Who is the best driver Bullins has had in his car this season?
“They all think they’re the best,” he said.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.
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