As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we will provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff throughout the 2017 season.
This week, we check in with Greg Erwin, who serves as crew chief of Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford entry in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and has already worked with three drivers this season – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.
Blaney will drive the No. 22 this weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Q: With a long track record in NASCAR, what has it been like working with the Team Penske organization?
Erwin: It’s so different, really, than anything I’ve experienced in all the other places that I’ve been to. They certainly make a push to be very engineering-driven, engineering-managed. They like to do testing the right way and have data to prove decisions. A lot of the way we build our cars, both on the XFINITY and Cup side, is very driven by structure, by scheduling. Manufacturing really decides what chassis we’re going to run and when we’re going to run them. Crew chiefs really don’t get into making a car schedule per se. You don’t get to pick your favorite car and run it every other week. At the end the day, you come to the race track with the best tool they can give you and you have to go win races with it. It has been eye-opening and I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Q: Over the last two years, you’ve worked with four or five drivers in a single season. How is that for a crew chief to manage the differences with each driver?
Erwin: We’re lucky enough to have that much talent, that when we do change drivers from week to week, we don’t really feel like we’re ever giving up any experience. Ryan is a little bit newer to the game then the other guys but I think he’s shown that anytime he gets in the car, he can make the lap times those other guys can generally make. His style is a bit different. Brad, Joey and Ryan all target a little bit something different in their cars at the end of practice but we as an XFINITY program, we really don’t have to change our baseline setups too much from driver to driver. The guys are not worlds apart in what they like. If there is speed in the car that we bring to the race track, all three of them will run well in it.
Q: Roger Penske on numerous occasions has talked about how important the XFINITY program is to everything they do in NASCAR, from developing drivers to developing team members. How have you seen that development yourself?
Erwin: When we hire people, we talk about whether they will be a good fit in XFINITY or Cup and we hire people for the XFINITY program, we talk about whether they have the potential to go Cup racing, whether it’s a crew member or engineering. We have clear path in the four years I have been here from the XFINITY side to the Cup program. The Wood Brothers pit crew is so good right now and those guys were pretty much our XFINITY crew from last year. That has been a direct migration. We’ve had engineering talent move up this year. Raymond Fox, car chief on the No. 22 Cup team, when I started at Penske he was lined up to be my car chief on the No. 12 XFINITY team. Truthfully, with the way the rules are aerodynamically and now that we’re on the same tire as the Cup teams, I think we’ve brought the two worlds even closer together. Brad and Joey have both commented that this year’s XFINITY cars now drive a little more like Cup cars. We can share a little more information now from a setup side.
Q: You spent several years working with various drivers at the Cup level as a crew chief …. do you miss being a MENCS crew chief?
Erwin: I would entertain the opportunity to do it again in the right situation. And the right situation is one that can compete, that has good equipment and the proper support that is required to be competitive. Do I miss it? It’s all racing, it may be one day a week longer on the road and a little bit longer of a race. I’d like the opportunity to get back at some point but if I’m going to be XFINITY racing, where I’m at right now is the best place to be.
Q: On occasion, you’ve filled in as a Cup crew chief at Team Penske – once with Brad, once with Joey. When you get called in to do that, is that like being thrown in the fire?
Erwin: Not really, because all they’re really asking for at our place is somebody who has a little Sunday race-calling savvy. The truth is the plan is so worked out ahead of time between the engineers and the crew chiefs, at the point we’re just trying to execute the plan. You can become a go-between between the crew chief and the team. It’s about finding someone comfortable on the (pit) box, talking to the spotter, talking to the driver, communicating with the pit crew, talking with NASCAR if you have to – a guy who has been there before who has experience in case something goes bad.