Dave Elenz had two very different experiences in his last two seasons as crew chief of JR Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet, but still wound up as a Xfinity Series champion each year.
In 2017, Elenz and rookie driver William Byron claimed four wins, 12 top fives and finished third in the season finale to earn the title.
This season, again paired with a rookie driver in Tyler Reddick, the No. 9 team made it to the Championship 4 with just one win and six top fives.
They left Miami with their second win and JR Motorsports’ third Xfinity title.
Elenz, 37, is just the 10th Xfinity crew chief since 1982 and the fourth since 2000 to win multiple titles.
Both of those came in his first two years as crew chief for full-time drivers. In 2015, he worked with five drivers. In 2016, he worked with seven.
“Dave is critical,” JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday after Reddick’s win. “Dave’s ability to take those young guys and mold them into men and mold them into people that believe in themselves and know what they need to do and don’t drive over their head, don’t make a lot of mistakes, they’re going to make mistakes. Everybody does. They will continue to make them. But Dave has them ready when it’s time to be ready. You saw it in Tyler throughout the playoffs.”
Reddick entered the playoffs with four top fives. In the seven-race playoff, he earned three top fives (all in the final four races) and placed outside the top 10 just once at Dover.
At Miami, Reddick took advantage of bad pit strategy by Cole Custer‘s team and passed Christopher Bell for the lead with 37 laps to go. He spent the rest of the race running against the fence, scraping the wall multiple times but going unchallenged to the checkered flag.
“(Reddick) had a good focus and ran hard, ran aggressive but never took himself out or did anything to hurt their chances of getting here to Homestead,” Earnhardt said. “Dave has a big involvement in his ability to do that, as Dave is coaching him throughout the year to put him in position to make those last few laps and keep the car out of the fence.”
The victory was Elenz’s 10th as a crew chief. Those wins have come with five drivers: Byron (four), Kevin Harvick (two), Earnhardt (one), Chase Elliott (one) and Reddick (two).
Elenz doesn’t know why he meshes well with young drivers.
“Every year it’s a fresh guy with a new style of driving, new thoughts and everything,” Elenz said Saturday. “As they progress throughout the year, you let them make their mistakes, try to be easy on them and just when they’re down, try to bring them up a little bit. But I don’t really know what it is. I know we have great teammates like Dale was saying, and with Elliott (Sadler) and Justin (Allgaier), they help guide the 9 team quite a bit because it’s tougher for the young guys to tell us what they need. We’ve got two of the best right next to us in the crew chiefs that help me out to make sure we’re not getting too far off base.”
Elenz will likely be paired with yet another rookie driver in 2019. Incoming driver Noah Gragson sat on the No. 9 team’s pit box for during the Miami race.
“I think that only makes sense,” team co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller said Saturday. “(With) Kevin (Meendering) moving up (to crew chief Jimmie Johnson in Cup), and we’re still working on our fourth car, but the three cars that we have in place, we’ve got three crew chiefs in-house, and seems like that would make the most sense.”
Multiple Championships (1982 – 2018) – Crew Chiefs
CREW CHIEF YEARS
Steve Bird 1989, ’95, ’96, ’97
Jack Ingram 1982, ’85
Gere Kennon 1983, ’84
Ricky Pearson 1986, ’87
Bob Labonte 1991, ’94
Tony Eury Jr. 1998, ’99
Kevin Manion 2004, ’05
Mike Kelley 2011, ’12
Scott Graves 2015, ’16
David Elenz 2017, ’18
and on Facebook