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Alliance brought success and mistrust: ‘There were times teams thought we were fibbing’

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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.

NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones get a feel of how Olympians train (video)

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NASCAR drivers talk almost continuously about how they have to be in top physical condition to endure sometimes often very difficult conditions while on a racetrack and behind the wheel.

One only needs to look at seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to see the rewards of being fit.

But going to one of the Olympic training centers in the U.S. is a whole other thing, something that separates folks who think they’re fit from those that really are.

Ask Toyota drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who recently participated in a two-day training session at an Olympic training facility.

We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still nursing sore muscles, given the workouts they endured – and which gave them new appreciation for what many Olympians must go through to be the best.

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NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch ready for Daytona fireworks (video)

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NASCAR’s summer classic, the Coke Zero 400, celebrates this country’s independence, its military heroes and concludes with a great fireworks show.

But as Clint Bowyer and this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, will vouch for, there’s also a lot of fireworks during the race, as the 2.5-mile, high-banked tri-oval can be one of the most difficult and intimidating places to race upon.

If a driver isn’t dodging fellow drivers, he or she is trying to stay in the draft to gain forward movement and momentum. Unfortunately, a lot of times when dodging and draft collide, so too do a lot of cars and drivers, as well.

It may not be the Daytona 500, but winning at Daytona in July is still a big prize that everyone wants to win. And don’t forget, because it’s Daytona, it’s also a place to be careful at because of the danger that can pop up at any moment.

Find out why by clicking on the above video.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte kicks off weekly feature honoring pit crews (video)

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They’re the unsung heroes of NASCAR, the guys who typically don’t get enough praise when things go right, and then oftentimes have the finger of blame pointed at them when things go wrong.

We’re talking about one of the most important jobs in NASCAR: pit crew member.

Starting with Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, a guy who knows a lot about pit crews – former crew chief turned NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte – kicked off a feature that will run each week for the 20 remaining weeks of the season.

Letarte’s series will spotlight the importance of pit crews, and he’ll also choose pit crew all-stars to recognize their contributions to the sport and their perseverance on pit road.

This week’s first bunch of pit crew all-stars are Caleb Hurd, gasman for Denny Hamlin; Jeff Zarella, tire specialist for Kurt Busch and Frank Mathalia, engine tuner for Austin Dillon.

Give them and their peers some love and check out the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants one final Daytona win for himself and his father (video)

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Daytona International Speedway has been a bittersweet place for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s been the place of his biggest NASCAR Cup career wins, including the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014.

But it’s also the same place where he lost his father  in a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now, Earnhardt returns to the “World Center of Speed” for what will be the final time in his 18-year NASCAR Cup career.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Earnhardt reflected upon all the good and bad Daytona has meant to him and his family.

On his first time back to Daytona after his father’s death nearly five months earlier: “Once we got to Daytona, we drove by the racetrack, pulled in, parked in Turn 3, got out and walked around. The track was empty, quiet and I’d never been to the crash site. That’s where dad, in my mind, lost his life. That was where we all remember him last.”

Returning to Daytona for the first time after his father’s death there: “I felt like that was a place I wanted to visit. And every time I go to Daytona, even today, I go around that racetrack, I look at that spot, I look at that knoll of grass before the exit of Turn 4. I wanted to go there and see how I felt and see what kind of emotions happened so that I could get whatever was going to be out of the way.

“I told myself what I was going through is the same sadness that some guy somewhere in the Midwest is dealing with right now. Who am I to go on and on about how hard it was, because somebody, somewhere right now is dealing with a loss.”

How he wishes his father was still here to see the man and driver he’s become: “I’d have loved it if he’d stuck around a lot longer, but that’s not the way it was supposed to be. And we figured out how to make it (when he won the 2001 Coke Zero 400 in his father’s honor).”

On wanting to win one last time at Daytona in a Cup car this Saturday night: “I’d love to win at Daytona and add another win to the Earnhardt column. Every time I win there, I think it’s another win for me and dad because his success there stretches far beyond the Daytona 400 and July 400. But any time I win there, that’s one more stake in the ground that we claim this track as a place we dominate.”

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