Being a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief is one of the most demanding and stressful jobs in sports. A long 36-race schedule, endless travel, and the constant pressure of trying to get ahead of the competition can be exhausting both mentally and physically. Almost certainly, each of those who hold that title have to find some sort of release from the grind of leading a team in the most high-profile form of American motorsports.
Team Penske crew chief Jeremy Bullins has indeed found a way to leave the day-to-day worries of having to prepare cars capable of competing for race wins and championships behind. He does that by, believe it or not, working on another type of race car.
Bullins, who has won eight Cup Series races as a crew chief with drivers Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, spent this past Sunday at the Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina working on a Dirt Late Model machine he recently purchased and prepared. The Walnut Cove, North Carolina native called on star dirt racer Devin Moran to pilot the new Longhorn Chassis in the historic Blue-Gray 100 event co-sanctioned by the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series and the Carolina Clash Series.
The desire to get involved as a car owner in dirt racing is rooted in Bullins’ youth. Growing up only a short distance away from 311 Speedway, he began working on race cars early in life. That early training would eventually lead him to his current standing as a crew chief for one of NASCAR’s top organizations.
“I actually grew up working on Dirt Late Models,” Bullins explained to InsideCircleTrack.com. “I grew up about ten minutes from 311 Speedway so my dad worked on a guy’s Late Model then I wound up working on it. That’s kind of what got me into racing. I’ve had a couple of cars over the years and done some crate racing before but this is my first venture into the Super Late Model deal. Devin and I got to be buddies a few years back and talked about trying to race together in the off-season when he wasn’t racing for Tye Twarog. We’re just out here to have some fun and see what we can do.”
Serving as the boss of the crew that prepared and maintained Ford Mustangs for Keselowski was a time consuming task for Bullins throughout the season. Those demands continued all the way through the 2021 campaign as the No. 2 car remained alive in NASCAR Playoffs contention until the final cutoff was made after the penultimate race at Martinsville Speedway.
With that being the case, Bullins had little time to dedicate to the Late Model. Initial plans had been for Moran to enter the $52,052-to-win Peach State Classic at Georgia’s Senoia Raceway one week ago but the car was not as ready as its owner and driver wanted it to be.
“It is tough,” the pit boss explained in the Cherokee Speedway pit area. “We were actually supposed to go to Senoia last week but this is a brand new car, and since we were in the Playoffs, we had a hard time getting it ready to go last week. We didn’t want to show up if we weren’t 100% so we decided to wait and come here this weekend.”
At the end of the day on Sunday, the pre-race preparation paid off as Moran placed third in the final Blue-Gray 100 rundown.
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Moran explained that the relationship with Bullins actually began through the young Late Model driver’s brother. And once the equipment was in place, the newly formed team was ready to hit the track.
“Him and Wylie have actually been friends for a long time and it just got me and him talking a little bit,” Moran said. “He’s been wanting to race and he just never has. He’s got an Andy Durham engine in it and he ended up getting a brand new Longhorn car. We just kind of talked about it and we just decided to go race in it.”
Moran plans to continue doing the bulk of his racing for Tye Twarog Racing but hopes to handle the driving chores for Bullins when his schedule will allow.
The release for the man who graduated from North Carolina State University with an engineering degree comes from actually getting to work on the Late Model as opposed to the Cup car. His day job with Team Penske calls for more management and less hands-on activity with those machines.
“I do as much as they’ll let me, but unfortunately, the way the job has evolved I don’t get to work on the car as much as I’d like to,” he pointed out of his crew chief role. “I do when I can but this certainly gives me a creative outlet to work on a race car and tinker on some things at home.”
Every NASCAR crew chief faces a significant challenge going into the 2022 season with the arrival of the NextGen car. But more than that for Bullins, he will also be working with a new driver. Keselowski departed Team Penske at the end of the season to not only drive for but also assume an ownership stake with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. As a result, 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric will move into the driver’s seat of the No. 2 car in 2022.
The team leader who has won at least one race every year since 2017 believes his young pilot will be up to the task.
“It’s going great,” he declared. “Austin is a really hard worker and he’s going to put the effort in to be successful. He studies really hard and he does a good job of taking advantage of his surroundings and all the people he has to lean on. He’s going to do a good job.”
In some respects, having a rookie driver could have its advantages. While the veteran stars will have to unlearn the skillset that made them successful in their Generation 6 rides, newcomers such as Cindric will be starting with a clean slate.
“Everybody is certainly starting out at zero and we’re all trying to learn together at the same time,” Bullins remarked. “The car is quite a bit different and it’s probably going to race quite a bit different. We’re continuing to work on it and it’s continuing to evolve so I’m sure it will be a little bit different by the time we finally get to race with it.”
With so little track time for the new car in the books, there just isn’t enough data to say how the car is behaving so far.
“I don’t know that we’ve really had enough time with it yet to make a statement on that since we’re all learning about it, how it drives and how it’s going to be. Even with the couple of tests now, I don’t know that we have enough experience with it to really speak on it.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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