Elliott Sadler’s substitute crew chief will ‘lean heavily’ on veteran driver in Xfinity title race

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
0 Comments

In the biggest race of Elliott Sadler‘s NASCAR career, the driver will have a new voice talking to him over the radio during the Ford EcoBoost 300 on NBCSN.

After the one-race suspension of crew chief Kevin Meendering for a lug nut violation, Sadler will be working with Mike Bumgarner in the Xfinity Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bumgarner, JR Motorsports’ race operations manager, will be crew chiefing his first race since 2014.

“I think having someone like Elliott Sadler alone speaks for itself,” Bumgarner said in teleconference Wednesday. “I’ll lean heavily on Elliott. He’s the leader of this team as well as Kevin, and these guys have worked really hard the last few days to set forth a plan to move forward to Homestead and have a shot to win this championship.”

Bumgarner steps into the role after Sadler joked at Phoenix International Raceway that team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be his crew chief.

“It would have definitely made it easier on me,” said Bumgarner with a laugh. “I would have much rather just went down there and sat back and watched.”

A 22-year NASCAR veteran, Bumgarner joined JR Motorsports in 2013 as a crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Brad Sweet on the No. 5 car. In 2014, he transitioned into the race operations manager position.

On Saturday he will try to finish the job Meendering started, giving Sadler, a 21-year veteran of NASCAR racing, his first championship. The No. 1 team enters Homestead with three wins, 13 top fives and 28 top 10s.

“I don’t see much of a challenge from my side,” Bumgarner said. “Kevin has a good group of guys, and these guys know what their role is played … It’s just more or less for me just to guide these guys along and answer any questions and try to do my best at calling a good race and getting Elliott in and off pit road. I think that’s probably the biggest task.”

Navigating pit road will also involve communicating with Sadler’s spotter, Brett Griffin.

“(Sadler) and Brett, they have a good combination as far as speaking and talking together, and I think that is going to make it easy,” Bumgarner said. “Elliott knows what he needs to do with the race car. These guys, they’ve shown on paper or speed charts as the week goes on every week, they progressively get better as the week goes, and I think that’s due to all the roles that Kevin has set aside as far as his guys and Elliott.”