BRISTOL, Tenn. – Richard Childress Racing didn’t learn until late Thursday afternoon that crew chief Luke Lambert wouldn’t be working with Ryan Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.
The replacement, though, already was 48 hours ahead of the game.
Todd Parrott, who is filling in as Lambert begins serving a six-race suspension after NASCAR discovered the team’s tires were manipulated during the March 23 race at Auto Club Speedway, worked with Newman during a three-day test at Kentucky Speedway. During a brief rain delay Wednesday, Parrott gathered the road crew for a pep talk.
“I sat them down up in the lounge of the truck and I said, ‘I’m not sure what is going to happen, but if it does happen and I do get the call to go to Bristol and work with you guys, is there anything you need from me? What do you want? What do you like?’ ” Parrott said Friday morning before practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I got a good feel for that group and what they want, what they need. It’s a great bunch of guys. I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing. I’m excited for the chance.”
It’s uncertain how long Parrott will remain in the interim role. RCR has maintained the team’s innocence and is mulling whether to take the case to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss after the National Motorsports Appeal Panel reduced Newman’s penalty to 50 points but upheld Lambert’s suspension after a Thursday hearing.
Parrott certainly has the experience to fill in capably, having worked full time as a Sprint Cup crew chief for most of 1996-2014. He made the strategy calls on 31 victories in NASCAR’s premier series, guiding Dale Jarrett to the ‘99 championship.
But he has no desire to return atop the box after moving into a management role as RCR’s director of competition for its Xfinity Series teams.
“I will do it for six or seven races, yeah,” he said. “Ryan is an awesome talent in this sport and one heck of a race car driver. I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m just proud and honored and blessed in many ways to be here. I’m not out to get Luke Lambert’s job or any of these guys. I’m just here to fill in and do the job they have asked me to do.”
Parrott, who already had planned to take a leisurely drive Friday morning to Bristol to observe Xfinity practice for Saturday’s race, got the call he’d be replacing Lambert at around 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“I was ready to do that,” he said. “I kind of prepared myself all week long for being here. It’s not like it was a shock.”
Parrott said he planned to focus on mostly managing the team and leave many of the setup details to Newman and the crew, which finished second in the points standings last season.
His toughest challenges likely will crop up while calling the 500-lap race Sunday.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks,” Parrott said. “The race is fast, (and) a lot of things happen (with) race strategy, so those are thing I’m going to have to brush up on in the next couple of days and watch some videos and races.”
He also will be in constant contact with Lambert, who can’t be at the track but isn’t prohibited from communicating with the team.
“My phone is vibrating right now, (and) it’s probably (Lambert),” Parrott said with a smile. “We have been communicating ever since the announcement yesterday. We will communicate throughout the weekend.”