Bullins riding high as No. 22 crew chief
Jeremy Bullins has guided his driver to 10 wins this Nationwide Series season, including a sweep of the road-course schedule, both races at Richmond and Kentucky and sundry other short and intermediate tracks.
The crew chief's No. 22 Ford, therefore, leads the owner's points standing. The driver? Not in contention. Mainly because he's actually four drivers: Brad Keselowski (five wins), Joey Logano (two), AJ Allmendinger (two) and with his first series victory in the series last weekend at Kentucky, Ryan Blaney.
This nimbleness and high-level success has painted Bullins as some sort of master of diversification, a calm center in what could be a chaotic juggle of driver needs, wants and personalities. Bullins rebuffs that notion, even though every driver to take the wheel of the No. 22 has won at least once this season.
"Everybody seems to want to try to give me the credit, but I try to divert it to the team, because that's the group of people we have working on this deal," he told ESPN.com. "We don't get caught up in it being a bunch of different drivers. We look at it as an opportunity."
The No. 22 program has exploited the opportunity to potentially historic effect. Though NASCAR record-keeping on the statistic is incomplete, Penske Racing believes the only other instance of one crew chief winning races with four drivers in one car in a single Nationwide season was when Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Dave Rogers won eight times with Tony Stewart (five), Denny Hamlin (two), Kyle Busch (one) and, coincidentally enough, Logano (one) in a No. 20 Toyota in 2008.
"The team is great," said Blaney, who won in just his second Nationwide start in the car. "They've been great everywhere they've gone this year. Everyone on that team and Jeremy Bullins has done an awesome job to where they are in contention to win every weekend."
Bullins said fielding multiple drivers has been as much benefit for the crew and engineering staff that stays with the car as a challenge. Having worked full seasons with one driver as a race engineer at Richard Childress Racing, Bullins feels environments can stagnate.
"You keep it fresh because you have different personalities," said Bullins, who is in his first full campaign as a crew chief in the series. "There's always the situation where you are dealing with different guys week-to-week at different times. You get to hang out with different guys and the different personality it injects and adds some life to the team sometimes.
Bullins' Strike Four-ce
What does crew chief Jeremy Bullins have to say about the four drivers he has guided to victories in the No. 22 Ford Mustang this season?
Ryan Blaney: "When we first got Ryan last year, everything he had driven, Late Models, K&N cars, all that kind of stuff, he was able to drive a car and is able to drive a car looser than it needs to be to race, so we had to kind of dial that out of him. I think we've gotten to where he understands what he needs to be good in the race, and that is something you learn with experience. That's something that he's way better at this year than he was last year."
Brad Keselowski: "When you look at it, I know he's not that old, but he is kind of the veteran of the program. This 22 Nationwide program was started for him in 2010, so it was kind of built around him. I look at him as the veteran driver of the program. Brad's a thinker. Brad is always pretty aware of what's going on in the race. He's usually already thinking about how the race is going to play out, very similar and there's really not a lot of we're usually on the same page as far as how it's going to play out in terms of pit strategy. It's usually not as much conversation."
Joey Logano: "I think Joey has been a refreshing addition to the team. Coming from a Nationwide team like the one he was driving, that had a lot of success, he's come in with an outlook on where our program stands and things we can do to be better. He has a passion for making things better, so he has a lot of good information and has been a good resource to see where we stand."
AJ Allmendinger: "A great talent. I think it speaks volumes that in one year he's run a 24 Hours of Daytona, led the Indy 500, won a Nationwide race and run all the Cup races he has. The guy can get in anything and can be fast. He's a lot of fun to be around. He's got a great personality. Super good guy. Great team guy. Very upbeat around the team and very motivating."
-- Brant James
"It's refreshing to have a new guy come in sometimes for a week or two and, evaluate where you're at. I think for us, that's been the cool thing because we might start working on something with one driver and start working on a setup package with one guy, with maybe Joey or Brad, and get two or three different opinions on what we're working on and where we're at. For us, we're trying to use it to our advantage to learn more."
The drivers used in the No. 22 this season have been similar enough in their preferences and styles that great swings have not been necessary in weekly adaptations, Bullins said. Blaney's tenure working with Keselowski's truck series program has made his transition to Penske more seamless for the 19-year-old.
"AJ, we had him at just road courses, so that was a testament to Penske and our road course package from last year," Bullins said. "We thought we had good road-course cars from last year and made them better this year. Outside of that, I would categorize what we do with Brad and Ryan as very similar.
"I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Ryan has worked with Brad so much in the truck program. He's learned to adapt, if you will, to what Brad likes and his style has kind of followed suit with what Brad does. So I think those carry over a lot. I would say Joey is very close, but there are some subtle things we do differently with Joey that apply only to him."
Logano's arrival has had an ancillary benefit in that not only is he a successful Nationwide Series driver -- with 18 wins before this season -- but he was able to bring a wealth of insight and opinions, Bullins said, from the ultra-successful JGR program.
The culmination of the collaborative effort could bring team owner Roger Penske one of the few remaining NASCAR laurels left on his list: a Nationwide owner's championship. Keselowski collected a Nationwide driver's title in 2010 driving a full season but a multidriver effort, paced by Busch's record 13 wins, gave JGR its third straight owner's title. Keselowski provided Penske's first Sprint Cup championship last season.
"We've definitely put a lot more emphasis on that this year than we did last year when I was on this program," Bullins admitted. "We talked about it last year, but this year we've been 'let's make this happen.' And I think a lot of that revolves around, having won the Cup championship last year, it's really amazingly enough, the last thing on the mantel piece for RP.
"It's crazy to sit down and think about everything he has done, that there's a championship he doesn't have. … It's certainly something he would like to have to kind of check that last box."
Bullins has a personal box to check also. He wants to be a Sprint Cup crew chief. With 13 wins in 60 career races as a crew chief in the Nationwide Series, he is weekly burnishing a résumé and reputation that leads to inquiries from other teams. Penske already has Greg Erwin -- a three-time Chase-qualifying Cup crew chief -- in his Nationwide program working with points leader Sam Hornish Jr.
So Bullins' progress to NASCAR's top series, at least with his current organization, would not be without competition. But Bullins said he's willing to wait.
"People ask you what your plans are and that sort of thing. But I've had a really great time working at Penske Racing and I hope to be here for a long time," Bullins said. "Obviously, my goal is to be a Cup crew chief. I'm in a great situation now where I'm going to college, if you will, to prepare myself for that. And hopefully when the day comes that RP wants me to do that, I will be ready."
The 22 program is certainly ready, and the boys around the shop think they're ready to get in on the fun, too.
"It's funny," Bullins quipped to the Cincinnati Enquirer after the win at Kentucky. "I've got guys at the shop texting me wanting to drive next week. They say anybody can do it."
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