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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: Jimmie Johnson’s patience propels him to victory lane in Food City 500

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Jimmie Johnson is known for his patience behind the wheel. Where other drivers may get too hot under the collar and over-react, Johnson is typically cool as a cucumber — and that’s helped lead him to many of his 82 career NASCAR Cup wins.

That patience once again played out in Johnson’s win Monday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, only his second career triumph (and first in seven years) at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”

On Monday’s NASCAR America, Greg Biffle and Kyle Petty discussed Johnson’s patience throughout Monday’s race.

 

 

Heavy foot on pit road foils Kyle Larson once again at Bristol

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Kyle Larson did everything he could to win Monday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He led a race-high 203 laps in the 500-lap event, including dominating Stage 1, leading all 125 laps, as well as the first 77 laps in Stage 2.

But Larson, known for the heavy foot he has, saw that need for speed at the wrong time likely cost him the win.

When Erik Jones wrecked on Lap 422, Larson came to pit road and was too fast across two consecutive timing zones on the front straightaway en route to his pit stall.

“I was just pushing on pit road and messed up there,” Larson said after the race. “To start the race, I was the leader, I would run all my greens down pit road, and then once I fell back … down the straightaway I was running one red and flashed the second red real quick, and I guess that was all she wrote.”

NASCAR penalized Larson for speeding on pit road, dropping him to the back of the longest line, restarting in 20th place with 72 laps left in the race.

“Yeah, I knew I gave the race away there,” Larson said. “(I’m) disappointed in myself. I think I speed on pit road every single time I come to Bristol. So, I’ve got to clean that up.”

There’s that heavy foot admission once again.

Ironically, it was Larson’s first speeding penalty this season.

To his credit, Larson was able to quickly climb back up the grid, but couldn’t finish higher than sixth.

Still, Larson tried to a positive spin on things as he began to leave the track.

“I don’t know what more you could ask out of this place,” Larson said. “This is the best track we go to, most exciting place, and I love coming here.”

But he doesn’t like the way he came out of it once again, thanks to that darn heavy foot.

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NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett, Kelli Stavast recap Bristol driver performances

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After waiting out 28 straight hours of rain, Monday’s rescheduled Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway produced a rather exciting race.

The addition of adhesive to the lower grove at the track gave drivers additional grip that led to side-by-side and even three-wide racing.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kelli Stavast discussed the top driver performances in Monday’s race.

 

 

NASCAR America: My Home Track: Maine’s Oxford Plains, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway

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NASCAR America’s My Home Track series continued Monday as we visited Maine, otherwise known as the Pine Tree State.

Not only is it a great state for racing, including places like Oxford Plains and Beach Ridge Motor Speedway, Maine also lays claim to NBCSN’s own Steve Letarte, who paid homage to his home state in Monday’s edition of NASCAR America.