Greg Erwin

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Friday 5: Questions about the upcoming Cup season

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Many places often celebrate Friday at 5 where the weekend begins. Although there’s no NASCAR Cup action this weekend, fans can still enjoy Friday 5 with a (fun) look at the upcoming season with these five questions.

1. What is the new driver/crew chief combination that is most intriguing?

Among the new driver/crew chief combinations this year:

Billy Scott with Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing

John Klausmeier with Aric Almirola at SHR

Matt Borland with Ty Dillon at Germain Racing

Greg Erwin with Paul Menard at the Wood Brothers

Travis Mack with Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing

Greg Ives with Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports

Darian Grubb with William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports

The one that intrigues the most is the Grubb/Byron pairing. Grubb won a championship with Tony Stewart in 2011, led Denny Hamlin to the title race in Homestead in 2014, worked with Carl Edwards in 2015 and won the 2006 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson while serving as interim crew chief with Chad Knaus suspended.

Grubb has never worked with a rookie.

Byron is more than a rookie. The 20-year-old is viewed by many to be the future of Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb will play a key role in molding Byron and that’s an important responsibility. How Byron handles the highs and lows of the season will rest with Grubb. This will be worth watching closely.

2. How will Fords compete with the other manufacturers this season?

Chevrolet brings out the Camaro ZL1 this season. Toyota won 16 races with the updated Toyota Camry last year. Ford will have the oldest model among the three.

Brad Keselowski raised issues about Toyota’s success last year and NASCAR not keeping the manufactures closer. He sounded a warning about the 2018 season moments after the 2017 season finished in Homestead

“When that (Toyota) car rolled out at Daytona, and I think we all got to see it for the first time, I think there (were) two reactions: One, we couldn’t believe NASCAR approved it; and two, we were impressed by the design team over there,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think anyone ever had a shot this year the second that thing got put on the racetrack and approved. It kind of felt like Formula 1, where you had one car that made it through the gates heads and tails above everyone, and your hands are tied because you’re not allowed to do anything to the cars in those categories that NASCAR approves to really catch up.

“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know. I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”

That’s the challenge Fords could face this season. Ford won 10 races last year, but only two of the final 19 races last year. Will that trend continue this season?

3. There were three first-time Cup winners in 2017. Will that number be equaled this season?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon each scored their first career Cup victory last season.

Among the drivers seeking their first career Cup win this season: Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr. Those drivers represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Germain Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.

It would seem a good bet that Elliott and at least one other driver on that list scores their first career Cup win this year. It’s possible there could be three first-time winners again.

4. For fun, who is your way-too-early final four picks at Homestead?

Let’s go with Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

5. For fun, in the way-too-early category, how many drivers who didn’t make the playoffs last year make it this year?

Let’s go with three. Thinking Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

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Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

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A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

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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.”

Two Xfinity teams penalized for lug nut violations at Phoenix

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Two Xfinity Series teams were fined for violations from this past weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

Both teams and their respective crew chiefs were penalized for the same Safety level violation: Sections 10.9.10.4: Tires and Wheels, lug nut(s) not properly installed.

The crew chiefs that were fined were:

* Greg Erwin, crew chief of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang (driven by Ryan Blaney), was fined $5,000.

* Eric Phillips, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry (driven by Christopher Bell), was fined $5,000.

There were no penalties issued in either the NASCAR Cup or Camping World Truck series.

Two Xfinity Series crew chiefs fined for lug nut violations at Kansas

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There were no penalties assessed to NASCAR Cup teams from Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

However, NASCAR assessed monetary fines to two Xfinity Series crew chiefs for unsecured lug nut violations in last Saturday’s race at Kansas.

The No. 22 and No. 19 teams were penalized for violating: Sections 10.9.10.4: Tires and Wheels Note: Lug nut(s) not properly installed.

Greg Erwin, crew chief of the Team Penske No. 22 Ford of third-place finishing driver Ryan Blaney, was fined $5,000.

Also fined $5,000 was Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of eighth-place finisher Matt Tifft.