Bill Wilburn (left) and Earl Barban (right) have been instrumental team members at Penske Racing South for 10 years. Both men pledge that Miller Lite Team Penske, with driver Rusty Wallace, will be a threat for the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 5, 2001) - Bill Wilburn, a 20-year NASCAR Winston Cup veteran and a team member at Penske Racing South since 1992, has been named crew chief for Rusty Wallace's Miller Lite Team Penske effective immediately.
Wilburn, a 35-year-old native of Kernersville, N.C., assumes the position vacated by Robin Pemberton, who cited his desire to cut back on travel as the reason for leaving his position.
"Bill Wilburn is a team player who has definitely paid his dues over the years and we feel that he can be a great crew chief," said Wallace, team driver and partner at Penske Racing South with Roger Penske and Don Miller. "Bill has abundant knowledge of our sport and has gathered plenty of business savvy from running his own sprint car team the last several years. He has the reputation of being the best tire changer in the business for years now and he deserves the opportunity to be the crew chief."
"It has long been a Penske tradition to promote from within and this is definitely an example of that process in motion," said John Erickson, the team's general manager. "We're proud to have Bill on our team and feel that he will make a superb leader."
Wilburn began his career in the NASCAR Daytona Dash Series and his Winston Cup career dates back to the Cliff Stewart Racing Team in 1982. Wilburn was part of Stewart's 1984 effort that helped then rookie driver Rusty Wallace win the rookie-of-the-year title that season. He worked with Mike Curb Motorsports from 1985 through 1987 and was a member of the Hendrick Motorsports organization from 1988 until 1991. He worked part-time with Miller Team Penske in 1992 and joined the team full-time in September of that year. He returned to part-time status in recent years as he followed his dream as an aspiring sprint car owner/driver.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," said Wilburn, a multi-year pit crew All Pro Team nominee and winner. "I sincerely appreciate the confidence that Roger (Penske), Rusty, Don (Miller), Walt (Czarkecki) and everybody involved has in me and I plan on doing everything possible to make them proud of their choice for crew chief."
While Pemberton's move came as a surprise, Wallace, the 1989 series champion and 54-race winner, was quick to point out that he would miss his crew chief for the last seven years and 230 races. However, he has an incredible amount of confidence in Wilburn moving into his new leadership role.
"We have a great group of total team players with plenty of depth at Penske Racing South," Wallace said. "Jeff Thousand, who has been with me since my short track days back in the Midwest, will continue to be the team's chassis expert. As for the near future, we expect that Bill will remain as one of our over-the-wall members. We could have a few minor changes in our race day lineup before we get to Daytona in February, but we're committed to maintaining our status as one of the top teams on pit road."
"This is definitely as amicable a situation as possible," said Pemberton, crew chief for Wallace's team since 1995 who is expected to stay with the team until the end of the year. "I've been on the road for 22 straight years and I'm ready for a change. My boys are growing up so fast and I'm really missing that side of life so much. I'm looking forward to staying in the sport, but in a position where I'm in the shop most of the time and not a road warrior any more. I'll always be thankful to everyone involved here at Penske Racing for giving me some of the best years of my career. I may be changing jobs, but the friendships I've made here through the years will remain forever."
Robin Pemberton is expected to stay with the team until the end of the year.