The pressure continues to mount.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is rapidly approaching the second season and Watertown native Matt Puccia is right in the thick of the action.
Greg Biffle, who drives for Roush-Fenway Racing, is leading in the points race with only two races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which features the series top 12 drivers.
Puccia is the pit crew chief for Biffle and he said this week that the real season doesnt start until next months chase. Biffle has his race team in first place, but there isnt a lot of breathing room. Biffle holds an 11-point lead over Jimmie Johnson (849-838) with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in third place (834) just 15 points behind Biffle.
We havent been any lower than third place in the points this season, Puccia said from his North Carolina home this week. These next two races are crucial for all the drivers. Weve won two races this season (Michigan and Texas).
Four drivers, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, each have three wins in the series.
Puccia said drivers and their pit crews are trying as hard as they can to win the final two races before the top 10-ranked drivers, plus two drivers with the most race wins, vie for the title in the 10 races that make up The Chase.
Puccia said the win in Michigan two weeks ago was a result of a lot of hard work by everyone involved.
Our first practice session was not that good, Puccia said. We qualified 13th and worked hard to get a new set-up for the track. In last weekends race at Bristol, (Tenn.), our strategy for the race was off, and we finished 19th.
Puccia was honored earlier this month when he received the Federal-Moguls MOOG Problem Solver of the Race Award. The award was given to Puccia after Biffle scored his 13th top-10 finish of the season in the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International.
The award mentioned how Puccia, who took over the No. 16 team at mid-season last year, has helped Biffle to improve his average finish by seven positions this season.
Puccia was lauded for his hard work and dedication to the sport.
Matt has done an unbelievable job since taking over the No. 16 car last summer, Federal-Mogul Motorsports director Tim Nelson said in a wire service report. Heres a guy who worked his way up from parts runner, and now that hes in the No. 1 chair. Hes consistently giving his driver one of the fastest and best-handling cars on the track.
Puccia has been with Roush-Fenway Racing since 2005.
As the 2011 season began, Puccia was assigned to the research and development program for the race teams that drive the Roush-Fenway banner before he promoted to crew chief in July 2011.