Crew Chief Shuffle Gives Some New Opportunities
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on December 10, 2013 | 1:57 P.M. EST
Chad Johnston is one of three new crew cheifs at Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo: Getty Images)
A number of Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs will step into new roles in 2014 hoping for success.
The off-season has already produced several personnel changes among high-profile teams. As soon as NASCAR finalizes next year’s rule package after this week’s test takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, work will begin in earnest preparing for 2014.
Here’s a look at five crew chiefs in new roles and the challenges ahead in their new positions:
Johnston comes to Stewart-Haas from Michael Waltrip Racing and will work with Tony Stewart. Johnston becomes Stewart’s third crew chief in the last four seasons. Stewart, a three-time champion, searches for the missing ingredient that has disappeared since his magical run to the 2011 championship with the outgoing Darian Grubb. Johnston’s engineering background mirrors what Grubb brought to the No. 14 team, which should be beneficial in understanding the evolving Gen-6 Sprint Cup car. But Johnston will have to deal with both Stewart returning from a physical injury and finding a comfort level with yet another new voice on the pit box.
Childers enjoyed great success with Michael Waltrip Racing working primarily with Mark Martin before the two departed the organization late this past season. Childers will be paired with Kevin Harvick as the two move to Stewart-Haas Racing. Both are proven winners but finding the right chemistry early will be a key to the No. 4 team getting off to a good start. While Harvick and former crew chief Gil Martin won races and challenged for championships during their tenure at Richard Childress Racing, it’s no secret their relationship was strained at times. It will be interesting to see how this pair clicks at SHR.
SHR’s third new crew chief might have the most difficult task of all. Knost also brings an engineering background to the table but has no previous crew chief experience. Added to that learning curve will be the challenge of taking on the role of working with Kurt Busch, who has a track record of being more than a little bit excited in terms of radio communication during a race. The No. 41 team is being built from the ground up and the Busch-Knost combo figures to have a lot of work ahead to get competitive quickly.
Continuing the parade of engineers into crew chief roles comes Rodden, who leaves Hendrick Motorsports to take the helm of Jamie McMurray’s squad at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Although Rodden does not have crew chief experience, he inherits a team that showed signs of finally coming out of its doldrums last season, including an October win in Talladega. Rodden will no doubt lean heavily on working with Chris Heroy and the No. 42 EGR team, but, with rookie Kyle Larson taking over the driving duties that team, it will no doubt have to deal with growing pains of its own.
Team owner Jack Roush decided to get the successful Nationwide Series championship team from a couple years ago back together by reuniting Kelley with Ricky Stenhouse and the No. 17 team. The duo formed a two-time title winning powerhouse in Nationwide and their familiarity working together should pay immediate benefits at the Cup level. But there’s some work for the Ford stable in whole to step up its game and become more consistently competitively in 2014.