The bittersweet feeling of finishing second in the NASCAR Cup Series championship has become a driving force for Jeremy Bullins and the No. 2 team from Team Penske.
Bullins explained the feeling of being “so close, yet so far away” to a title on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio early this week. Brad Keselowski was the runner-up to Chase Elliott in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway and in the championship fight. A slow final pit stop under the green flag hindered Keselowski’s chances to chase down and give Elliott a battle to the finish.
“You work hard all year to put yourself in that position, and I’m proud of the effort that put us into the position to have an opportunity to win the championship,” said Bullins.
“When you have a day like that, you just have to step back and reassess what you’re doing and what got you to that point and try to figure out how to be better moving forward. It’s not a situation of throwing anybody under the bus. To be that close and not pull it off, that’s a feeling nobody wants to have — it sticks with you, and it’s a feeling that is very motivating.
“I don’t even have the words to describe how bad it makes you want to be back in that position again. For the whole team, it’s a situation where to be that close makes you want to win even more, so everyone has put their heads down this winter. I had a great conversation (Tuesday) with Brad and our engineers, and we spent a lot on, how can we be better? How can we, first off, get back to Phoenix, and then when we get there, how can we win the whole thing? To be that close, it stings but at the same time, we’re so close we just need to do this, this, and this, and we’ll be right back where we were.”
Bullins admitted there is not a lot of downtime for teams during the winter, and before he takes a short break for the holidays, there has been plenty of brainstorming going on within the group. Those sessions have been focused on taking advantage of the team’s strengths and working on their weaknesses.
The latter was road courses, where Keselowski has never won in the Cup Series. Next season, Cup Series teams will run seven road course races with six in the regular-season.
Short tracks were Keselowski and company’s strength last season. Keselowski won at Bristol, then dominated and won at Loudon and Richmond. At Phoenix, a one-mile oval and site of the championship race, Keselowski led a combined 98 laps.
Keselowski finished the year with four wins, 952 laps led, and 24 top-10 finishes, which was the second-most in the series. It was a successful first season for the Keselowski-Bullins pairing, and after coming so close to hoisting the big prize, the work continues.
“Late November, early December, there’s a lot of work on pit equipment, revamping the hauler, cleaning everything out, making sure everything is good to go for next season ad fully stocked,” said Bullins. “We’re cleaning up our pit box and toolbox and repainting – a lot of that kind of equipment upgrades in the offseason.
“Then we try to have it to where when we come back from Christmas and New Years’ that we’re working on race cars. The fab shop has been working on speedway cars for a while now and working on the cars that are the first four or five races into the schedule. A little bit of a change there with the road course car (for Daytona) we need to get put together, but (we’ll) have some cars sitting on the floor when we come back in January to start working on.”