A NASCAR anomaly: The team that stayed together

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They’ve stood as first-hand witnesses to the dissolution of Dale Earnhardt Inc., the rise of Stewart-Haas Racing and the ballyhooed debut of Danica Patrick.

The 2015 Sprint Cup season, which began with a three-race suspension for their driver but later included two victories, might be the most memorable yet for crew chief Tony Gibson and his loyal support staff.

In a bond that has lasted for eight years, Gibson has managed to keep the key members of his crew intact while helming four teams across two organizations. Tuning this season on the No. 41 Chevrolet for Kurt Busch (who will start second Sunday at Sonoma Raceway), Gibson’s team might have its best chance at contending for a championship in NASCAR’s premier series.

In a story for NBC’s SportsWorld site, Nate Ryan examines its memorable ride and the ties that bind them through highs and lows.

Ryan writes:

The results are in part a testament to the perseverance at the core of the No. 41 Chevrolet team: Gibson, shock specialist Brian Holshouser, interior mechanic Jay Guarneri, engineer Johnny Klausmeier, car chief Kevin Pennell and underneath mechanic Shawn Warren. They’ve worked together at SHR since 2009, and all except Warren have been side by side since the waning days of Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007-08.

“We’re just like a pack of wolves, man,” Gibson told me. “It’s like being in the army and you’re with a platoon. Those guys are your family and you protect them and take care of them. Don’t leave anybody behind. That’s our deal.”

“It’s just crazy how long we’ve been able to stick together”

In a sport synonymous with turnover and teams poaching from others’ staffs, Gibson’s group is an anomaly. Consider that only three team members have been constant through Johnson’s reign of six championships since 2006 – the driver, crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.

Gibson has maintained the core of his team through the uncertainty of sponsorship upheaval (taking Ryan Newman to victory lane in 2012 when the U.S. Army pulled its backing) and oft-mediocre results the past two seasons.

Under Gibson’s tutelage during her first two full seasons in Sprint Cup, Patrick notched four top 10s in 72 starts. Though a stark contrast to making the Chase for the Sprint Cup twice in the previous four seasons with Ryan Newman, Gibson’s guys didn’t fray – in part because SHR management knew they wouldn’t.

“None of these guys had anything negative to say even one time,” Gibson said. “When they asked us to do that, we said, ‘Dude, whatever you do, we’re on board.’ It didn’t matter who was driving. We just had different goals. All we said is, ‘Dude, if we can run in the top 10 or 15 with her right away, that’s like a win.’ We changed our focus.”

“I think a lot of people look it and say, ‘Why? How’s it work?’” Guarneri said. “We’ve got each others’ backs. Gibson has our back. Anything he calls during a race, we’re not going to say, ‘Gibson, you shouldn’t have done that. If he says to pit with one lap to go, we’ll back him.

“We all have (had offers to leave for other teams). I’ve had one or two, but people watch you in the garage and see how hard we work. They always come, but they know this whole group is tight.”

Said Warren: “We have problems and spats like any siblings, but we are family. Our comrades on other teams, they can see it They pull for us as much as we pull for each other. We’ve been through a lot together as a team. I bet you could take a poll of 40 teams and none have been through as much together like we have.”

 

For more, check out the rest of Ryan’s story here.