HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — A new season means the same old thing for crew chief Dave Rogers.
He has a new driver.
With Carl Edwards deciding no longer to race, Daniel Suarez will become the fourth different driver Rogers has worked with in the past four years at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Rogers has made it to the Chase each of the past three years with Kyle Busch (2014), Denny Hamlin (2015) and Edwards (2016).
Rogers understands this challenge will be unlike the last three years. In each case, he was with a premier driver. Suarez may become that, but the rookie’s Daytona 500 start next month will be his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
“I’ve learned from the very best,’’ Rogers said of working with those Gibbs drivers. “Now I’m working with a rookie, so he’s going to bring in an entirely different perspective that is going to teach me even more. I think this is a really neat opportunity. Everything happens for a reason. I worked with three drivers to help Daniel get where he needs to be.’’
Rogers was with Busch from 2010-14 when a change was made to improve performance. Rogers went to Hamlin’s team and was content to stay there until car owner Joe Gibbs asked him to move him to Edwards’ team for the betterment of the organization.
Now, Rogers finds himself with another change after Edwards decided to step away from racing.
Rogers said among the things he needs to do in the coming weeks is to get to know Suarez and understand what type of coaxing will get the most out of the young driver.
Rogers also wants to ease Suarez about any concerns he has with joining a veteran team that nearly won the title last year.
“I would think that maybe there’s a concern of ‘Gosh, is this team going to accept me? I’m a rookie,’ ‘’ Rogers said. “We’ve got to get him over that immediately and let him know that he’s our driver. We’ve got to get the trust going both ways. If we can do that, that’s going to create an environment for Daniel where he can grow. He can make mistakes and know that it’s OK. He can push the limit and know that it’s OK.
“That’s what the first third of the season is really going to be about, that growth. Then, as we move into the season, we’re going to put more emphasis on performing, ‘Let’s go get those top fives, let’s take a shot at a win to buy our way into the Chase.’ Once we get into the Chase, ‘Let’s show them what we’re made of.’ ‘’
Rogers embraces the opportunity to work with a young driver and joked with Edwards about the change.
“I said, don’t be sad, if you had won the championship, the entire state of Missouri would have cheered,’’ Rogers said. “When Daniel wins it, the entire county of Mexico is going to cheer us. This is going to be way cooler than doing it with you. That’s a joke to lighten the spirit of Carl.
“You know how exciting it would be to put Daniel in victory lane at Daytona? That is an opportunity. We have that in front of us.’’
One challenge is Suarez’s lack of Cup experience. It’s easy to view this move as being similar to when Joey Logano rose to Cup at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Logano moved up a year earlier than planned to take Tony Stewart’s spot after he left to join Haas-CNC Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. While Logano won in his rookie season, he struggled and his four years in Cup with the organization were characterized by ups and downs. He flourished after joining Team Penske in 2013.
Suarez is moving up a year earlier than expected because of Edwards’ departure.
Rogers was Logano’s Xfinity crew chief. One difference, Rogers notes, in the two scenarios is that Logano was 18 when he entered his first Cup season. Suarez is 25. That’s significant. Rogers also can take what Logano went through that first year and help Suarez through such matters this year.
“I watched him struggle,’’ said Rogers, who guided Logano to five Xfinity wins in 2009. “I got to learn a lot from Joey, why he thought he was struggling, what he thought he was lacking. I can learn from those lessons and maybe avoid some of the pitfalls that Joey went through.’’