Of the four crew chiefs who will compete for the NASCAR Cup Series championship this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, one is experiencing it all for the first time.
Jeremy Bullins will make his first Championship 4 appearance with Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team. After four and a half seasons guiding Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, Bullins and what was the No. 12 team were paired with veteran Keselowski coming into the year. It has been a successful partnership with four wins and 23 top-10 finishes – second-most in the series.
“I’m enjoying it for the team,” said Bullins of being in the final four. “We’ve put a lot of work in as a team. We’ve had the same core group for the last several years; it’s fun for them to get some payoff, to get to the final four and have a real shot at winning the thing. That’s the most fun part for me.”
While Bullins is new to the experience of a one-race showdown for the title, his counterparts have been here before: Chris Gabehart was in the Championship 4 last season with Denny Hamlin, giving him the nod for the most recent appearance. Paul Wolfe is making his second appearance, first since 2017 when he was with Keselowski. And Alan Gustafson is back for the first time since 2015, now with Chase Elliott.
Experience aside, this year, things will be different for every team. The one-mile “jewel in the desert,” Phoenix, is the championship weekend host, not Homestead-Miami Speedway. Teams won’t have a weekend full of nerves working through their to-do list because there is no practice or qualifying. A champion is going to be crowned without previous on-track activity.
Bullins, however, is unfazed by navigating championship weekend for the first time.
“It’s different, but, fortunately, we’ve been through this a couple of times with the Xfinity car,” he said. “We won the 2013 owners’ championship by one point. We’ve had some close battles; we’ve had to scratch and claw a little bit.
“It is a first opportunity at the Cup level (but) I think that experience from the Xfinity side will help. We’re just trying to make it no more than what it is, no bigger than what it is. Obviously, there’s a lot on the line. We still (have) to go about our business, do things the way we’ve done all year to be in this position. As long as everyone goes into it with that mentality, we’ll have the mindset and keep ourselves where we need to be.”
Keselowski led 82 laps at Phoenix in the spring and finished 11th. The car Bullins is bringing this weekend for the championship race dominated and won at Loudon and Richmond earlier this year, leading a combined 376 laps in those races.