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Watertown native Puccia acknowledges NASCAR crew chief award

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Matt Puccia is back in familiar surroundings this week at his home base near Charlotte, N.C. Puccia, named NASCAR Sprint Cup’s crew chief of the year last weekend, was in Las Vegas during the nearly weeklong celebration of NASCAR’s recently concluded season.

The Watertown native said he had some inkling before the official announcement that he was in the running for the honor. Puccia is crew chief for driver Greg Biffle on the tour.

“I knew it was a close race between me and Darian Grubb, the crew chief for Denny Hamlin,’’ Puccia said from his North Carolina home.

Puccia was quick to point out that the award would not have been possible if it wasn’t for his fellow crewmen.

“The award is performance-based and everybody on the crew did an outstanding job this season,’’ Puccia added.

The 1995 Immaculate Heart Central graduate said that about 18 crew members traveled to the various tracks every week during the season. On race day, there are seven crewmen that go over the wall during pit stops.

While at IHC, Matt took courses at BOCES Jefferson Technical Center. He credits much of his mechanical success to his teachers at the time, Steve Riddell and Bill Nygard.

After his high school graduation, he headed to North Carolina with letters of recommendations from his BOCES teachers. He eventually hooked up with the Petty Driving Experience, a race-car driving school, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He worked on several cars that were used at the school.

In 1996, he joined Ken Schrader Racing. He later worked for Ultra Motorsports with driver Mike Wallace and crew chief Tim Kohuth.

In 2005, he went with Roush Racing and, in 2006, he was named crew chief for the Craftsman Truck Team.

Puccia has been around cars since he can remember. At 13, he started tinkering with a 1952 panel truck that his family owned. He also started fixing snowmobiles and lawn mowers.

His expertise helped Biffle to finish fifth overall in the final point standings for the 2012 season.

“We were leading the points for several weeks late in the regular season,’’ Puccia said. “I was a little disappointed with the fifth-place finish in the Championship Chase. We are assessing what we did well, and what we didn’t do good late in the season.’’

The Roush-Fenway Team is currently working on race cars for the upcoming season, which officially gets under way in February at Daytona.

“We will be still racing the Ford Fusion, but this year race fans will see several models of race cars that look like the ones they are driving on the highways,’’ Puccia said. “We are pretty busy right now and we will soon be testing the cars at Charlotte and Daytona.”

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