The NASCAR season is making it's annual trip to Watkins Glen this weekend, and for one of it's top Crew Chiefs, the stop is somewhat of a homecoming. Matt Puccia, who grew up in Watertown, leads the #16 3M team, with owner Jack Roush and driver Greg Biffle. The team with a very good shot at a championship this year. Puccia took some time Saturday to talk with our Brian Dwyer about his journey, including a very wet start.
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- "I think I was there for a week. Schrader asked me to do a parts run or something," said Matt Puccia, #16 3M Crew Chief.
Coming out of high school, Puccia got his first job in NASCAR, working for the Ken Schrader Team in North Carolina. The van he took for that parts run had bad brakes.
"So , I brought it up to the shop, went inside to work on it a little bit and get some parts and tools. I come back out, and the van wasn't there anymore," Puccia remembered.
He quickly realized there was a pond nearby, and said, "I turn around and all I see is air bubbles coming up from his pond."
Quite the welcome to NASCAR for the Watertown native. Even though he swears the parking brake was on, he went right into the pond after it, and got it out. That was the exact kind of fight and attitude that Schrader first saw. It was that fight and attitude that had taken Puccia from a mechanic, to the Truck Series, to research and development teams, to the Nationwide Series, and to where he is today as the Crew Chief for Greg Biffle's #16 3M team in NASCAR's big league.
"It's just hard work, and it's been a lot of work over the years. It's been a lot of ups and downs, and you work really hard to get those wins and when they come, you cherish them and take advantage of them when you can," said Puccia.
It was that hard work and success that caught the attention of Team Owner Jack Roush, who is the man that gave Puccia his big break last summer when he took over as Crew Chief for the struggling team.
"He's a role model for all aspiring car chiefs and mechanics. He's served his apprenticeship. He's worked his way up," said Jack Roush, Roush Fenway Racing Owner. "For everybody that's working at their spot for the time being, they can say, based on the fact Matt made it, there's hope for me too."
Not only has Puccia made it all the way to the Sprint Cup Series, his team is currently third in points, right in the middle of the hunt for the championship.
"I see a lot of myself in Matt, and a lot of the other guys. They're racers at heart, people are dedicated to their sport and their hobby, and passionate about what they do. Matt is one of those guys. Matt is very passionate about these race cars. He does not want to be beat and he wants to have the best, and that really shows," said Greg Biffle, #16 3M driver.
"Greg has been very great to work with. It's been a great opportunity, we kind of used last year to establish our relationship together, working together, and to figure out what we wanted from each other," Puccia said of Biffle.
Taking something that could have sunk, and bringing it back up seems to be the story of Matt Puccia's life.