Rodney Childers called Kenny Francis last week, and the longtime friends who worked together a decade ago at Evernham Motorsports had a typically pleasant conversation.
But there are limits now to what topics can be broached between Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, and Francis, the former crew chief for Kasey Kahne who was moved to Hendrick’s technical director in 2014.
Since Stewart-Haas Racing’s announcement nearly a year ago about switching to Ford this season, its dynamics have changed with Hendrick, which had supplied Chevrolet chassis and engines to SHR for several years. After the announcement in February 2016, Hendrick continued to supply chassis and engines to Stewart-Haas last season but stopped sharing setup data.
“One reason I came here (to Stewart-Haas) was the relationship with Hendrick and Kenny Francis,” Childers said during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “That led me to being here. All of that has always been good. Kenny and I are good friends and always will be. On the other hand, we don’t like to be outrun, (and) they don’t like to be outrun.”
It was Stewart-Haas that had been outrunning Hendrick more often the last few seasons since Childers and Harvick were paired as a championship duo in 2014.
Last fall, Jimmie Johnson said the formidable pairing of Childers and Harvick “changed the game” and made Hendrick question whether it still was sensible to share setup data with a rival.
During last week’s podcast, Childers said the teams’ successes inherently created an atmosphere of mistrust at times.
“There were times it worked good,” Childers said. “Other times, other (Hendrick) teams thought we were fibbing about our notes, and we thought they were fibbing about their notes.
“It ends up just being a headache. We tried to always focus on the team and car.”
But when it worked well, the partnership could be unstoppable for both sides. Childers recalled an instance in which he duplicated the No. 48 Chevrolet’s setup in Harvick’s car at Dover International Speedway (where Johnson has a record 10 victories).
“We had the splitter heights wrong, and (Johnson crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was nice enough to send a sim file,” Childers said. “Next thing, we were fastest in (final practice). Those things happen.”
In the 2014 Southern 500 won by Harvick, Johnson used the No. 4’s setup after qualifying 26th.
“Halfway through, we’re leading, and they came from the back to second,” Childers said with a laugh. “They’re getting ready to outrun us with our setup.
“I liked the relationship. I thought it was fine. Some didn’t like it. Those (Hendrick) guys were great to me. It didn’t matter if it was the engine, chassis or whatever. No one treated me bad.”
In its switch to Ford this year, SHR has started building its own chassis, which made for a difficult transition but should allow more long-term autonomy.
“We’ve got to stand on our own two feet,” Childers said. “If I want a different chassis built, it’s easier to do that. We’ve got designers to do that and get it made and not share it with the rest of the world. Hopefully, it all works out.”
You can listen to the NASCAR on NBC podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.
Knaus will be the featured guest on Wednesday’s episode of the podcast.