Alba Colon, Sprint Cup program manager for GM, has spoken at several schools this year, encouraging student interest in race car engineering.
Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for ESSENCE

Hendrick Motorsports adds GM executive to competition department

Leave a comment

Hendrick Motorsports continued revamping its competition department by hiring Alba Colon, who had been a General Motors engineer and auto racing program manager, to oversee the team’s competition systems group.

The team announced Tuesday that she will join the organization later this month and report to Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition.

Hendrick Motorsports stated in a release that Colon will work to enhance capabilities that support at-track competition, which include simulation programs, analytics platforms, data acquisition and communication technologies and at-track research and development. The position was previously held by Darian Grubb, who has moved into the crew chief role for rookie William Byron.

MORE: How Alba Colon is giving back to her native Puerto Rico 

MORE: Alba Colon on Episode 84 of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast

Colon had been with GM since 1994, joining as a data acquisition engineer for its Oval Track Group, covering NASCAR’s three national series. She later moved to GM’s NHRA program and was placed in charge of its drag racing programs in 2000. Colon became Chevrolet Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series program manager in 2001, a position she held until making this move.

“Alba Colon was a key contributor to Chevrolet’s racing success for over two decades, including 14 NASCAR Cup Manufacturers’ Championships as our program manager in the series,” a statement from Chevrolet Motorsports read. “We thank Alba for all of her contributions to Chevrolet Motorsports.”

In June, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Doug Duchardt, who had been the organization’s general manager since 2005, was leaving at the end of the month.

Duchardt joined Chip Ganassi Racing last week to be that organization’s chief operating officer.

Hendrick Motorsports announced in June that it did not plan to fill Duchardt’s role and that his responsibilities would be divided among many individuals.

In August, Hendrick Motorsports announced it had elevated eight senior leaders into new positions. Included in the moves was promoting Ken Howes from vice president of competition to vice president and chief of staff and Andrews from director of engine operations to vice president of competition. Grubb was elevated to director of competition systems at that time but was named about a month later to be Kasey Kahne‘s crew chief the rest of the season before moving into that role with Byron.

Hendrick Motorsports is coming off a season where it won four races — its fewest total since 2000 — and won only four stages. To compare, Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., the reigning Cup champion, won eight races and 19 stages last season.

Hendrick Motorsports’ victory total has declined each of the past four seasons, going from 13 wins in 2014 to nine victories in 2015 to five wins in 2016 and four last season.

Only one of the organization’s four drivers — seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson — has won a Cup race. He’s joined by Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

 and on Facebook

Friday 5: Questions about the upcoming Cup season

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

 and on Facebook

Darian Grubb ‘absolutely impressed’ with William Byron in short time together

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s still 45 days left until the Daytona 500, yet Darian Grubb is already “absolutely impressed” with William Byron despite not having been to a track with him yet.

Grubb, 42, was named the crew chief of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in November. When the green flag drops on the season in February, it will be the Grubb’s first as a crew chief for a rookie driver.

Grubb appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” Thursday to discuss how his Hendrick Motorsports’ team has prepared to help the 20-year-old reigning Xfinity Series champion in his first foray into Cup racing.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve met so far, to be able at that age, have that kind of focus in what he’s trying to do,” Grubb said. “He knows what his goals are and what he wants to accomplish. He’s been a phenomenal talent on the race track, and now from what I’ve seen behind the scenes here in the shop and working with the crew guys and getting to know people, he’s doing everything it’s going to take to make sure he has that performance.”

Byron enters 2018 having won 11 NASCAR races in the last two years – seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series and four in his Xfinity title campaign.

He’s paired with Grubb, who has 23 Cup wins in 295 races as a crew chief, including the 2006 Daytona 500 as an interim crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. Grubb won the 2011 championship as crew chief for Tony Stewart.

Grubb returns full-time to a crew chief role for the first time since 2015 with Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2016, he rejoined Hendrick as the vehicle production director. Last August, he was promoted to director of competition systems. In September, he was made the interim crew chief for Kasey Kahne for the final nine races of the year.

Kahne’s No. 5 team has now transformed into the new No. 24 team.

“I’m really excited about getting (Byron) on the race track and kind of let him refocus his efforts towards the track instead of having to do all the preparation and making sure he’s ready and … let him actually enjoy the fruits of that labor,” Grubb said.

That work includes frequent visits to the General Motors simulator located near Charlotte. That mode of preparation is not foreign to Byron, whose racing origins are in iRacing, an online simulator game.

“He’s able to actually take our setups and our race car, our aero performance, suspension settings and all these other things and go testing,” Grubb said. “We can go test there just like we can at a race track. Obviously the feel is not exactly the same, but we are learning some things as we go through.

“He spent enough time in there with the Xfinity program with JR Motorsports and our chassis and everything that we’re very familiar already with his style and what he’s doing. We’re thinking we can apply a lot of these things at the race track.”

While Grubb and his team may be familiar with Byron’s style, they have no “preconceived notions” about what he likes in a Cup car. The fact that Chevrolet is introducing its Camaro model to Cup and there are new ride height rules make deducing that even harder.

“There’s not a lot really that transfers over (from last year),” Grubb told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Everything is kind of fresh and new … We’re kind of putting together in our own heads what we think is best and how we’re going to handle the new ride height rules and the performance of the race car on track. For us, it’s more about we do have a new body, we’ve got to check for fender clearances and the travel of the race car and all those things. Then can we do pit stops once we do that? How do we manage getting tires out of the fenders and everything with the car being so low.”

Byron has five restrictor-plate starts and one win in the last two years. But he’ll arrive at Daytona with new spotter in Tab Boyd.

Boyd joins Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 team after previously spotting for Joey Logano.

The pair is already working on their chemistry. Grubb said Byron plans to be on the spotter’s stand with Boyd to watch the Feb. 11 Advance Auto Parts Clash since Byron is not in that exhibition race.

“They’re already going to sit down and review video and just kind of see how those scenarios of runs develop,” Grubb said. “It’s different from what he’s run in Xfinity cars from what we’re going to have in a Cup car. It’s a lot to learn and the more you pick up in the data and what you can see and what you think you can learn, then you can go out there and practice and try to apply those scenarios.”

 

Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

 

 and on Facebook

William Byron’s rookie mindset: Race like you’re on borrowed time

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — In 2018, William Byron will be racing like his career is about to end.

“You just never know how long you’re going to race,” Byron told NBC Sports. “I’m going to move up to the Cup Series like it’s my last year.”

That’s the mindset the newly 20-year-old driver will have in his rookie season in the Cup Series.

“I think you gain that (mindset through) advice,” Byron said Thursday during an event for NASCAR’s national touring series champions. “Max Papis had helped me a lot in understanding the role and the person you need to be. Just how special of an opportunity this is.”

If that’s the mentality Byron’s had the last two years in NASCAR, it’s worked.

Byron is weeks removed from winning the Xfinity Series title and five years removed from the start of his career on the iRacing simulator.

In 73 days, he’ll start the biggest chapter of his career driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

The fact he’s a NASCAR champion has “not really” set in for Byron. It might finally do so when he gives his champion’s speech Saturday night at the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Awards banquet in Charlotte.

With all that going on, Byron doesn’t feel like he’s two decades old.

“I still feel really young,” Byron said. “Everything’s going to happen really fast and I feel like I’ve matured a lot this year.”

How do you measure your own maturity when you’re a college student who spends his weekends at race tracks going 180 mph as a living?

“I don’t know,” Byron admits. “I feel like compared to my peers, I obviously feel quite a bit ahead of the guys my age. But in racing, I feel really young. It’s a little bit of both. I’m surrounded by two different environments, when I’m at home it’s a lot different than when I’m racing the guys on the road. I feel like I’ve got a while, but I think I’m in the right direction and hopefully I can run hard with the Cup guys and the guys I used to watch on TV.”

Part of getting comfortable in the mindset of being a Cup driver is simply being comfortable in his car.

“I think really it involves the pouring the seat (getting his seat fitted) and everything for next year and getting all that stuff aligned,” Byron said. “Those races are really long, so you got to make sure all that stuff is really comfortable. Make sure you’re really ready for that. That’s what we’ve been working on mostly. As well as getting to know my crew chief.”

A winner of 11 NASCAR races in the last two years, Byron has been paired with Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

Grubb has 23 Cup wins as a crew chief and won the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart. But since his start as a full-time crew chief in 2007, this will be his first time working with a rookie driver.

“I think for us, it’ll be key just to start out and be consistent at the beginning of the year and kind of progress and compete for wins as the year goes,” Byron said. “I feel like if we can start out consistent, which I know Darian’s really used to having consistency, it’s going to be successful and hopefully we keep progressing each race.”

When it comes to his transition from JR Motorsports to Hendrick Motorsports, Byron is still getting used to his new home.

“I’m starting to figure out my way around the place,” Byron said. “Hopefully (I’ll) be able to know where I need to go to get all the information I need.”

He’ll have plenty of time to figure it out, even though he’ll be racing like he’s running out of it.