Elledge Has Great Expectations

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Jarrett keys his in-car microphone to tell his crew how the car is handling. The voice he hears back puzzles Jarrett a bit. It’s not a familiar voice. It’s certainly not Todd Parrott’s.

But then Jarrett realizes the voice belongs to his crew chief. No, it’s not Parrott’s voice any more. This voice belongs to Jimmy Elledge, hired in December to replace the promoted Parrott.

The voice also belongs to a man under a lot of pressure as the 2002 season looms. Jarrett and Parrott formed a solid combination in their six seasons together, winning 24 races and the 1999 Winston Cup championship. They never finished lower than fifth in the points standings together, and that came last year.

Now comes the hard part. In a move designed to bring some new ideas to the No. 88 team, Parrott was moved to the team manager’s role, while Elledge was brought from Bobby Hamilton’s team to be crew chief. Elledge has been considered one of the brightest young minds in Winston Cup, and now he has a chance to prove it.

The three worked together this week during testing at Daytona International Speedway, but the trio won’t see results for some time.

“Hopefully, the biggest thing is just to add something to this race team,” Elledge said. “They’ve had great speedway cars and great speedway success, and I don’t want to come in and turn everything upside-down. I want to keep doing what they’ve done in the past and see if there’s anything I can add. I want to just kind of ease my way into the program and get to know everybody.”

But, they all say, it’s not like Elledge is an unknown, a complete outsider. Everyone in the Winston Cup garage area knows one another to some degree, so Jarrett was familiar with Elledge before he put on the No. 88 crew chief’s hat.

“Jimmy is very knowledgeable,” Jarrett said. “It’s not like it’s somebody I don’t know and haven’t watched for a while. I know Jimmy is going to be very good for this race team. He’s fun and he’s easy to work with, and he’s willing to try a lot of things. He and Todd are working well together, and I think it’s going to make a great combination.”

There is a transition period, though. A new crew chief just doesn’t come in and start making calls left and right. Jarrett and Parrott knew each other well enough that they had a sixth sense between them. When Jarrett complained about the car, Parrott knew exactly what was wrong.

Now, though, Elledge has to learn Jarrett’s in-car language.

“I’ve got to learn what he means when he says it’s loose,” Elledge said. “How loose is it? The beauty of this whole thing is that Todd is still here. Todd can say, ‘Hey, you need to do a lot, or, ‘You don’t have to do a lot.’ Like I said, hopefully I’m just here to add to it and take what Todd has done and try to make it a little better.”

Elledge didn’t get much of a chance to learn Jarrett’s language at Daytona because there’s not a lot of back-and-forth discussion.

“You’re not really going to do a lot of communicating because it’s basically just speed,” Elledge said. “Either the car drives good or it doesn’t based upon a change, so this is really just kind of a get-to-know everybody session. When we go to (Las) Vegas, that will be more of a test of the feedback and communication between Dale and I. You’re still learning to some degree here, but not as much as you will at other places.”

Elledge isn’t the only one who has to adjust.

“What I need to find out is how much information Jimmy wants,” Jarrett said. “I found out early on what Todd was after, so that’s the way we kind of kept things. I’ll just have to see how much information and what triggers Jimmy’s mind as far as what he’s thinking about. That will be the only thing we have to work through, but I don’t see that as being a problem at all.

“What probably is going to take place through our tests in January is that he’s going to get an idea of what I’m looking to feel in the car and what I’m talking about. Whenever we talk about communication, different drivers relay things in different ways, so we’re going to try to get that out of the way in January. Once we get to that level, then I’ll trust him to make the decisions from there just like I have with Todd for all of these years.”

Parrott has to make an adjustment, too. For six years, he was the boss, making the difficult decisions on pit road. But now, he has to share the burden with Elledge, or even hand it over completely, as the team manager for Robert Yates Racing. Yes, Parrott is serving as a translator for Elledge now, but at some point there might be too much information going between the three.

Parrott will still be going to all the races, will still be sitting atop the pit box on race days. It might get crowded up there, but Parrott said he knows his role will be different.

“I think this will give us a lot of fresh and different ideas,” Parrott said. “We’ve gotten so used to doing things one way for six years, but the sport is growing. Times are changing and the cars are changing, so it’s good to have some new ideas.

“Jimmy is somebody who doesn’t have a real big ego. He’s a racer. All he wants to do is win and do whatever it takes to win. He’s got a great attitude, and I’m really looking forward to working with him. All of the guys in the shop like him and it’s going to be a big positive for our team in 2002.”

Elledge realizes the pressures are different at Robert Yates Racing. Perhaps he’s stepping into the perfect situation.

“For three years I’ve worked on a team where the consequences weren’t so great if we ran bad. They are here,” Elledge said. “Over there, if we were running bad we would just try something. If we ran 30th, we learned something. Well, we don’t have that ability to make those mistakes here because when you’re running for a championship you’ve got to be perfect.

“Todd’s knowledge will help that because I’m probably more aggressive than he is, but his experience will help blend that in. He’ll be able to let me know when we need to back off and stay on course, so it should be pretty neat. It’s getting so hard to do this on your own as a crew chief. The teams are getting such large numbers of people and there are so many things going on with so many different programs that it’s hard for one person to keep up with it all.”

But when it comes down to a decision on the final pit stop, there is only one person. And it’s not Parrott anymore. It’s Elledge. And Jarrett will be there listening.

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