Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Silly season not just for drivers anymore
Apparently, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series “silly season” isn’t just for drivers anymore. Silly season is the NASCAR nickname given to a time period during which drivers and other team personnel, notably crew chiefs, change teams. The most recent installment of silly season has seen more than its fair share of driver changes -- Kurt Busch’s recent firing at Penske Racing, Clint Bowyer leaving Richard Childress Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing and Kasey Kahne’s departure from Red Bull Racing for Hendrick Motorsports, just to name a few.
Tony (Stewart) and I are a lot alike, and we’re able to push each other.
This silly season though, the names of crew chiefs seem to be popping up even more than drivers. Even championship-winning crew chiefs are not immune to pink slips. Fresh off being the 2011 Sprint Cup Series champion crew chief, Darian Grubb was relieved of his duties on the No. 14 team of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Steve Addington announced a few days after the conclusion of the 2011 season that he was leaving the No. 22 team at Penske Racing. It was revealed a few days after that that he was going to be Stewart’s crew chief, replacing Grubb, in 2012.
“Tony (Stewart) and I are a lot alike, and we’re able to push each other,” Addington said. “I saw how he worked when we were at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) together, and I’m not surprised at all the success he’s created at Stewart-Haas Racing. He expects a lot, and he knows a lot. His talent behind the wheel is obvious, but his ability to motivate and get everyone to believe that whatever goal they set is attainable is something every crew chief wants, and I plan to make the most of it.”
Brian Pattie, who was fired from the No. 42 team at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing just before the Brickyard 400 in July, was recently announced as the crew chief for Bowyer at Michael Waltrip Racing. After finishing out 2011 with an interim crew chief, Juan Montoya’s 2012 crew chief on the No. 42 team will be former Nationwide Series part-time crew chief Chris Heroy.
“Michael Waltrip Racing is an up-and-coming team, making improvements every day,” Pattie said. “I know how close it is to joining the upper echelon of the Sprint Cup Series. When I started talking with Michael about opportunities at MWR, I really did my research and was impressed by their commitment to getting to the top of the sport. I feel like this is a great opportunity to join a new team with a new driver and start building something.”
Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer left Roush Fenway Racing to become part of another round of crew chief musical chairs at Richard Childress Racing. RCR is scaling back from four Sprint Cup Series entries to three for 2012, but team owner Richard Childress still felt the need to bring in a fresh face.
“Drew is a strong leader and will be a great complement to the Caterpillar/Wheaties Fuel racing team,” car owner Richard Childress said. “He’s won some big races, including the 2009 Daytona 500, his first race as a Sprint Cup crew chief. There’s every reason to believe the combination of Jeff (Burton) and Drew will be a successful one.”
Blickensderfer will replace Luke Lambert atop the No. 31 pit box to call the shots for Jeff Burton. Also out of a crew chief position at RCR will be Gil Martin, former crew chief for Kevin Harvick on the No. 29 team. Shane Wilson will be moved from RCR’s dissolved No. 33 team to call the shots on the No. 29, replacing Martin. According to statements from Richard Childress Racing, both Lambert and Martin will remain with the organization, just in different capacities.
Crew chief Kenny Francis will leave Red Bull Racing, the organization still with an unknown status for 2012, to join his driver, Kahne, at Hendrick Motorsports. The odd crew chief out at Hendrick will be Lance McGrew, who called the shots for Mark Martin and the No. 5 team in 2011. According to team owner Rick Hendrick, McGrew will fulfill other duties at HMS in 2012.
The most recent crew chief-related announcement to come out of the Sprint Cup garage was Tuesday’s announcement of the firing of Mike Ford from the No. 11 team at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing appreciates what Mike has done for our organization over the past six seasons as crew chief on our No. 11 team,” owner Joe Gibbs said. “We’ve decided it was best to make a change with the team now to allow Mike the opportunity to pursue other opportunities.”
With Ford’s firing still fresh, there has been no announcement yet pertaining to his employment in 2012. As of now, he joins Grubb in crew chief limbo, so to speak. The only notable job unspoken for right now is the job of being crew chief on Penske’s No. 22 team that is also driverless since the firing of Busch. The No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team that Blickensderfer left to head to RCR isn’t expected to be around in 2012.
Silly seasons since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to join Hendrick Motorsports a few years back just haven’t been as thrilling as silly seasons of old. That may be because there hasn’t been as much driver movement until now. But even with several drivers getting fired, their teams being dissolved or just heading to what seems to be greener pastures, this silly season seems to be one that’s mostly about the crew chief.