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Doug Richert leaves BK Racing after seven seasons as crew chief, R&D director

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After seven seasons with BK Racing as a crew chief and Director of Research and Development, Doug Richert has left the organization.

Richert’s wife, Robin, made the announcement on Facebook. Neither Richert, 57, nor his wife said what he would do next.

Richert, was crew chief for 21 races in 2017 for a rotating group of drivers that included Joey Gase, Gray Gaulding, Corey LaJoie, Stephen Leicht, Brett Moffitt and Ryan Sieg.

Richert first came to NASCAR in 1977 as a then-17-year-old. Three years later in 1980, at 20 years old, he served as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt’s first of what would eventually become a record-tying (along with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson) seven NASCAR Cup championships.

Richert also led Greg Biffle to a runner-up crown to Tony Stewart in the 2005 NASCAR Cup championship.

On the NASCAR Cup level, Richert has served as crew chief for 560 races, being part of 13 wins, 66 top-5s, 119 top-10s and 5 poles. Three wins were with Earnhardt, while 10 were with Biffle.

Richert also spent 46 races as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series with one win (Biffle), six top-5s, 15 top-10s and 1 pole

He also spent 64 races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a crew chief, being part of 12 wins (8 with Ron Hornaday Jr., 3 with Carl Edwards and 1 with Mike Skinner), 35 top-5s, 45 top-10s and 7 poles.

During his NASCAR career, Richert worked for a number of team owners including Rod Osterlund, Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Dale Earnhardt, Robert Yates, Joe Gibbs and Junior Johnson.

Team Penske buys charter from Roush Fenway Racing for third Cup car

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Roush Fenway Racing has sold one of its charters to Team Penske, who will use it to field the No. 12 Ford driven by Ryan Blaney in 2018, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Sports Business Journal first reported the transaction.

The charter Roush sold had initially been used on the No. 16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle in 2016. The team scaled back to a two-car operation in 2017 with the No. 6 driven by Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 17.

The No. 16 charter was leased to JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017 for use on Chris Buescher‘s No. 37 Chevrolet.

There are 36 charters in the Cup Series that guarantee starting spots.

Penske will return to operating three full-time Cup cars in the Cup Series for the first time since 2010. That year Penkse fielded rides for Brad Keselowski, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kurt Busch.

Blaney’s No. 12 Ford will join Keselowski’s No. 2 and Joey Logano‘s No. 22.

Blaney joins Team Penske after driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing full-time the last two seasons. He has driven for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

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Greg Erwin ready for new challenge as Cup crew chief with Wood Brothers and Paul Menard

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Greg Erwin has had a good, productive tenure with Team Penske. He’s served in a number of roles since first joining the organization in 2012, including Xfinity program manager and Xfinity team crew chief.

But Erwin has always felt he left some things unfinished and unfulfilled from his previous tenure as a Cup crew chief with Greg Biffle at Roush Fenway Racing.

After five years of patiently waiting, Erwin is finally getting that chance, joining Wood Brothers Racing as crew chief for Paul Menard, who moves over after a seven-year stint with Richard Childress Racing.

“Just being at Penske under the system I’ve spent the last five years I’ve worked under is good for me and this is what I was looking to do,” Erwin told NBC Sports.

In a unique twist, Erwin remains part of the Team Penske family as part of their partnership with Wood Brothers Racing. That means he will have worked for two of the most legendary teams in motorsports: Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing.

“The winning combination for me is I get to do it still as part of the Penske umbrella, so to speak,” Erwin said. “Opportunities to be a Cup crew chief, they come and go, they come yearly, but it’s not always necessarily with the organization that you committed yourself to be a part of, like I did at the end of 2012.

“These folks at Team Penske have been very honest and very good to me and they run their company and shop and go about building their race cars and managing their people. There’s some very key players within the organization that have a big part to play in all of that. If I ever felt myself really going Cup racing again, I decided that this was the place I wanted to do it.

“It’s taken almost five years to get an opportunity to go back, but that’s what it’s taken. I’ve done my time here and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

It’ll be a fresh start for Paul Menard and crew chief Greg Erwin at Wood Brothers Racing in 2018. (Getty Images)

A native of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, Erwin began his career in NASCAR in 1995. Along the way, he worked in various roles for Felix Sabates’ Team Sabco, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Robby Gordon Racing and Robert Yates Racing before landing at Roush Fenway Racing.

A graduate of Clemson University with an engineering degree, Erwin was paired with Biffle from May 2007 through mid-2011 as crew chief, leading Biffle to five of his 19 career Cup wins.

Overall, Erwin has five overall wins, as well as 39 top-5 and 79 top-10 finishes and 4 poles as a crew chief in 250 Cup starts. In the Xfinity Series, he has an impressive record: In 119 starts, he has 12 wins, 77 top-5 and 100 top-10 finishes, along with 13 poles.

Being paired with Menard will not exactly be a brand new situation for Erwin.

“There’s a brief relationship with Paul that existed when I was at Robby Gordon’s,” he said. “We had Menard’s sponsorship on many of our race cars and there was a handful of times that Robby would tap Paul for testing or when (Gordon) was stuck in Baja.

“I remember one year very vividly when we were a go or go home car at Homestead, where we had to qualify in on time. Paul was able to get us in the race on time and we waited for Robby to come back and race the thing.

“So I’ve known Paul and obviously we’ve worked side-by-side a little bit when I was at Roush (Fenway Racing) and he was running those Roush Yates Fords for Doug (Yates) across the street (2009 in Cup and 2009-2010 in Xfinity). So there’s a known there.”

Erwin and Menard succeed Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who have moved together to the No. 12 car with Team Penske.

“We’d kind of known all along that Blaney was going to be good enough to do a good job over there with the 21 and Jeremy and the group he’s been working with have developed a very good working relationship,” Erwin said. “It was obvious when it was announced that Ryan was going to drive the 12 in 2018, that Jeremy was going to follow him.

“I’ve been in the Xfinity series for a long time now, so when the opportunity came up to backfill (Bullins’) spot, I was the next one in line. Management here at Penske asked me if I still wanted the opportunity to go Cup racing, and when I told them yes but under the right situation, it was in a couple of weeks (that it happened).

“They’ve (Wood Brothers Racing) known me for a long time, ever since my affiliation with the 16 car. There’s just a bunch of knowns. They know me, I kind of know them, I know Paul and I know the system here, so it all just fit really well.”

Greg Biffle and Greg Erwin (right) worked together for more than 5 years.

Erwin, 47, knows he has some early challenges in his new role, but he’s up for them.

“I’ve been out of the Cup game now for five years, so I know there’s a lot of learning to be had,” Erwin said. “I felt when I was doing it last back in 2012, I was very current with rules, officiating, how races were run, the cars I had been working on. I had been with the 16 car for over five years (including before he became Biffle’s crew chief). I was very comfortable in understanding the game I was playing.

“Right now, it’s going to take me some time to learn (Cup). They’ve had some rules packages that have come into play in the last couple of years that I’m not used to working with on a daily basis, so I think there’s a learning curve for me, certainly, to get back to the comfort level of where I’ve been or where I am with the Xfinity car and the Xfinity program.

“The segment length of the races changed, the Cup segments don’t quite play out like the Xfinity segments, the ride heights of the car have changed.

“Now you tell me I’m going to get to go to Daytona and run under a rules package that I’m not even going to get a chance to test first. … Now we’re going to go down and within two hours of being on the racetrack, we’re going to have to effectively qualify this thing and run the 150s.”

But Erwin has a strong support system behind him with Ford, the Wood Brothers and, of course, Team Penske.

“It’s not intimidating because I’m not standing on an island, I’m not a single-car program,” he said. “I’ve got the 22 (Joey Logano), 2 (Brad Keselowski) and 12 (Ryan Blaney) to fall in line with, but nonetheless, the rules of the game are different and I’ve come to understand that the last few years.

“I think this is somewhat of a feel-good story hopefully also for Paul. He’s going to be in cars that are identical in every way, shape and form to the 22, 2 and 12. We all hope we’re gong to be able to provide him a better opportunity than he’s had in the last several years to be competitive in what we hope is better equipment.”

Greg Erwin, left, along with Ryan Blaney in the Xfinity race at Indianapolis in 2015.

And potentially lead Menard to his second career Cup win and arguably what would be one of the most significant wins in Wood Brothers Racing history: their 100th Cup triumph. Blaney came close, giving the Wood Brothers their 99th Cup win in June at Pocono, and now Erwin and Menard stand ready to take the torch from Blaney and go out and win No. 100 for the Wood Brothers.

“I think about all the guys I know in the garage area and all the drivers that have driven the cars for those guys at the 21 and I think it’s going to be pretty cool to have an opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger, I realize that.

“This continues to be gearing towards a younger guys’ sport, so to get the opportunity to do that while still under the Penske technical alliance and then get to work real close with Len and Eddie (Wood), the guys they have on staff are going to continue be a big part of our program and stay in the spots they’re in.

“Getting that 100th win for them would be pretty neat, for sure.”

With Matt Kenseth retirement, Jamie McMurray knows his time in NASCAR is limited

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Jamie McMurray knows his time is coming.

At some point in the not too distant future, the book will close on his NASCAR career.

It took the somewhat-forced retirement of Matt Kenseth, who McMurray raced against beginning in Late Models in 1994, for him to come to terms with that.

Kenseth’s career ended after 18 full-time seasons in the Cup Series, the first coming in 2000. His last start, in the 2017 finale, came at the age of 45 and with him as the oldest full-time driver on the circuit.

Paired with the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., it was the latest in long line of departures from the sport in the last three years, including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick and the surprise retirement of Carl Edwards last January.

“With Matt this year, it probably hit home the most, just because I’m such good friends with Matt,” McMurray said last month during Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. “I know how much he loved racing. It was awesome he was able to win at Phoenix this year in his last year. It’s kind of sad, honestly. I came in not long after those guys, so your days are somewhat numbered.”

The driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet has a rough target date he has in mind for exiting the spotlight he stepped into in 2002. That year he won his second Cup start while driving for an injured Sterling Marlin.

“My goal is to be able to race for maybe four more years, maybe a little bit more,” McMurray said.

If McMurray get his wish, that would have him exiting the Cup Series by at least the end of 2021, 19 years after his first start. Having turned 41 last June, he would be 45 at the end of that season.

Of the recently retired, Biffle came into the Cup Series full-time in 2003 with McMurray. Edwards made 13 starts in 2004 before his full rookie season in 2005. Like Kenseth, Earnhardt’s rookie year came in 2000.

McMurray, who has seven Cup wins, is one of five drivers remaining in Cup who competed full-time in 2003.

Joining him are Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

Newman and Johnson enter their 17th full-time Cup seasons.

Busch and Harvick enter their 18th full-time seasons.

Elliott Sadler also raced full-time in 2003. He will again be driving for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

Four years may seem a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. How does McMurray anticipate dealing with having to make the decision on when to walk away? He’ll be taking notes from the recently retired.

“I will watch them for the next few years,” McMurray said. “I watched Biffle this year with it being his first year out of the sport. You watch that transition, because there’s some unknowns there of, we are so busy. Everybody in our industry is so busy every single weekend. You hear everyone talk about how hard it is to step away because of how much time you all of a sudden have. You have time for things you didn’t used to. It’s sad in a way.”

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With Las Vegas parties over, NASCAR turns the page to 2018

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The party is over, well it likely ended not long ago in Las Vegas, and the 2017 NASCAR season is over.

While the sport celebrated Martin Truex Jr.’s Cup title Thursday, it also reflected upon those who will be moving on to other things.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retired from racing in the Cup Series, although he is expected to make two Xfinity Series race starts in 2018 for JR Motorsports. Matt Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for next year. Danica Patrick will drive the Daytona 500 before focusing on racing in the Indianapolis 500 and ending her driving career.

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They follow in the recent departures of Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle. With the exit of Stewart and Gordon, Jimmie Johnson is the sport’s only active multi-time Cup champion.

Only five drivers who finished in the top 15 in points in 2005 will be back to compete in 2018 — Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick.

Each is closing in on when they’ll leave the sport. Johnson is 42. Harvick turns 42 on Dec. 8. McMurray is 41. Newman turns 40 on Dec. 8. Busch is 39.

“It’s kind of sad, honestly,’’ McMurray said this week in Las Vegas of the sport’s transition. “I came in not long after those guys, so you know that your days are somewhat numbered.

“My goal is to be able to race for maybe four more years, maybe a little bit more. I watched Biffle this year with (this) being his first year out of the sport. I’ve watched the transitions because there are some unknowns there. We are so busy, everybody in our industry is so busy every single weekend.

“You hear everyone talk about how hard it is step away because of how much time you all of a sudden have, and you have time for things that you didn’t used to.’’

That’s what Kenseth will face, but he will be busier with his wife due this month to deliver the couple’s fourth child.

“I think it will take a few days, few weeks to get home and get wound down and get in the swing of things,’’ Kenseth said after Thursday night’s NASCAR Cup Awards in Las Vegas. “Got a lot going on at home right now. Looking forward to this month. Looking forward to the holidays this year. Kind of turn the calendar over to another year and get settled in. Everything is going really great. Got a lot to look forward to. Got a lot to be thankful for.’’

As drivers leave, others enter. Cup drivers age 25 and under with rides for next season include William Byron (20), Erik Jones (21), Chase Elliott (22), Ryan Blaney (turns 24 on Dec. 31), Alex Bowman (24), Darrell Wallace Jr. (24), Chris Buescher (25), Ty Dillon (25), Kyle Larson (25) and Daniel Suarez (25).

“It’s true, we’re in a transition,’’ NASCAR Chairman Brian France said at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But that happens from time to time. Not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we’re excited.’’

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