Kirk Shelmerdine

More with less: Comparing records of Joe Gibbs Racing’s two best teams

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It took 13 races, but Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn appear to have their groove back.

Sunday’s Coke 600 saw the driver-crew chief combo win for the third time in five races after a slow start to their first season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Before their winning stretch, the No. 19 team had only two top fives (both runner-up finishes) and 12 laps led in the first eight races. By comparison, their JGR teammates Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens won three times and finished in the top 10 in every race.

In addition to their wins, Truex and Pearn have led 445 laps since their Richmond victory April 13.

“Looking at it now, it’s going well, but it’s come with a lot of hard work. It’s been a lot of adjustment,” Pearn said Sunday of the move from Furniture Row Racing to JGR.

They now have 20 wins in their five years and 156 starts together.

“It’s always been an easy relationship between the two of us,” Pearn said of Truex. “I never, ever dreamt that when I kind of took over as crew chief that we’d be sitting here with as many wins as we’ve had together. It just still blows my mind.

“Seemed like we were just hoping that we could knock out some top 10s, and looking back what we’ve been able to do is great, and just so fortunate to work with so many special people on our team and now be part of a big organization with that many more special people, it’s really cool. People are everything that makes this sport and makes the team, so it’s really cool.”

Truex and Pearn claimed three wins in fives races once before in 2016. They also had stretches of three wins in six races in both 2017 and 2018.

Busch and Stevens have been together just as long as Truex and Pearn, being paired together in Cup since 2015 after two years together in Xfinity.

But they have 15 fewer Cup races than Truex and Pearn, a result of Busch missing the first 11 races in 2015 due to injury and Stevens missing four races in 2017 due to a suspension over a lug nut violation (Pearn missed one race for suspension in 2016).

Despite the fewer Cup races together, Busch and Stevens have five more wins, 11 more top fives and six more top 10s than Truex and Pearn.

While Busch hasn’t won since Bristol, he has remained stubbornly consistent. Busch has 12 top 10s in 13 races. The only blemish came at Kansas when Busch had an unscheduled pit stop late for a tire rub and finished 30th.

“We’re fortunate enough to have strong teammates that make us better and hopefully we can do the same for them,” Pearn said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve got some really tough competitors just in this building.”

Last June, after Truex won at Sonoma Raceway, NBC Sports took a look at his and Pearn’s record after 123 starts together and compared it to other historic and active driver-crew chief pairings at the same point, including Busch and Stevens despite them being behind in terms of starts.

With help from Racing Insights, NBC Sports has an updated look at the pace of Truex and Pearn and Busch and Stevens through 156 and 141 starts respectively.

Truex and Pearn trail their JGR teammates, as well as the historic pairings of Darrell Waltrip/Jeff Hammond, Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham and Dale Earnhardt/Kirk Shelmerdine.

They remain narrowly ahead of the pace established at the same time by eventual seven-time champions Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus, along with Tony Stewart/Greg Zipadelli and Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe.

However, when it comes to Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers, Truex and Pearn have them beat only in the wins category, with one more victory through 156 races.

See the complete state comparison below.

After 156 starts together

Dale Jr. Download: Kirk Shelmerdine on Hall of Fame, Dale Sr.

(HHP/Harold Hinson)
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There’s been a lot of buzz around Kirk Shelmerdine in the last week, probably more than at any point in the 27 years since he unexpectedly walked away from being Dale Earnhardt’s crew chief.

The reason? Shelmerdine was dropped from the nominee list for the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class a year after he first appeared on it. It was a move that NBC Sport’s Nate Ryan wasn’t very fond of.

But Shelmerdine, who won four Cup titles with Earnhardt and 46 races before he turned 35, is taking it in stride.

On this week’s “Dale Jr. Download” (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Shelmerdine quoted Clint Eastwood’s character in the film Unforgiven to express his view.

“The way I look at it is, Clint Eastwood says, ‘Deserves got nothing to do with it,'” Shelmerdine said.

“The list of names, if you look in the record book for crew chief stuff, mostly, my name’s in there next to Smokey Yunick and Junior Johnson,” he continued. “All these people that were heroes to me or bigger than life people. Racing was this whole dimension that you never thought a kid from Philadelphia is going to even be involved in let alone do well. …

“The Hall of Fame sort of caps it off. It was really a great feeling being on that list last year. You look at the people who are there. ‘Holy smokes, how can I be not only on the list, but way up the list is some categories?’ That’s a super honor already. Whether someone officially recognizes it or not ever, that’s up to them. I already kind of know what I had to do to get there and how lucky I am to just be on that list. It’ll happy sooner or later.

“They’ll be running out of people before long.”

During his podcast appearance, Shelmerdrine shared stories of how he broke into the sport in the late 70s, teaming up with Richard Childress and Earnhardt and why he decided to step away from his crew chief role after the 1992 season.

Shelmerdine also told of the time Earnhardt served as his spotter in his first start in NASCAR’s Sportsman Division at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1989

“He sat up there in the condo (in Turn 1) on the radio, and I wish I had a way to record that. It was gold,” Shelmerdine said. “I’m seeing the inside of his mind for two hours the whole time. He’s talking and mumbling, ‘Stay in that gas, boy.’ ‘What’s his name, he’s sideways. So what you got to do when you get to him is this.'”

After years of experience, Earnhardt also predicted when his crew chief would start to get uncomfortable in the cockpit.

“About 20 laps into the race he goes, ‘How’s your (expletive) neck right now?'” Shelmerdine said. “It was exactly the lap before I noticed, ‘Holy (expletive), my neck hurts.’ He said it the damn lap I felt it.”

Listen to the full podcast below and watch the TV version today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Ryan: It’s a shame the story of Captain Kirk didn’t get its due

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Why don’t the guys who make the critical race-winning calls ever get the calls to the shrine that validates their race-winning careers?

That’s the question that the NASCAR Hall of Fame awkwardly is facing yet again with the nomination process for its 11th class.

Kirk Shelmerdine, the team-building genius who guided Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet to four championships before mysteriously disappearing from the NASCAR limelight, inexplicably has fallen off the nominees list for the 2020 induction ceremony.

It was only last year that Shelmerdine had appeared on the ballot for the first time.

Now he’s gone, and it’s reasonable to ask if he ever will return for consideration given some of the names that have supplanted him.

There was never any doubt about three-time champion Tony Stewart being ushered directly into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

But there undeniably are greater questions about the other five new nominees — Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal and Red Vogt. They all are deserving of consideration … but are they more deserving than Shelmerdine?

Shelmerdine has nearly twice as many wins (46) as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier Cup series as any of those candidates.

He changed front tires and led the famous Flying Aces pit crew that was the best in NASCAR for several seasons.

He was a key cog during many of the greatest years ever posted by seven-time champion and inaugural Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt.

Shelmerdine is a living and breathing integral connection to the legacy of “The Intimidator,” which makes it even more indefensible that his candidacy has been suspended without explanation.

It’s patently ridiculous, and it’s a disturbing pattern that has emerged over the years since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Kirk Shelmerdine worked as a crew chief for Richard Childress Racing from 1982-92. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Crew chiefs get no respect when it comes to being considered for legendary status, never mind actually being enshrined.

Of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 50 inductees, there are only four who have at least 50 races as Cup crew chiefs (Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Bud Moore and Ray Evernham). And of that group, only Inman and Evernham could be considered true crew chiefs.

Between Inman, Moore, Evernham, Leonard Wood, Robert Yates and Maurice Petty, the representative list of crew chiefs, engine builders and mechanics in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is painfully short, and the number of slights is unfortunately long.

–Dale Inman was elected to the third class of the Hall of Fame with 78% of the vote … two years after he inexplicably was left off the ballot for the inaugural class – a 25-person list with no crew chiefs.

–Ray Evernham, who was voted the greatest crew chief of all time 13 years ago, didn’t appear on the ballot until the 2016 class and wasn’t elected until 2018.

–Smokey Yunick and Banjo Matthews, two icons generally regarded among the finest mechanics of their generation, have yet to be recognized.

In the case of Yunick, the larger-than-life personality whose “Best Damn Garage in Town” is the stuff of Daytona Beach legend and Hollywood lore, there is a realistic fear he never will be nominated because of his endless wars with NASCAR executives and officials over the rulebook.

There were some other curious omissions on the 2020 ballot in the Landmark Award category, where racing pioneer Janet Guthrie and late Motor Racing Network legend Barney Hall got booted.

As Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer noted, the optics are poor to have Guthrie suddenly excluded with so much cultural focus on female equality and particularly given NASCAR’s persistent efforts to promote diversity (and rising stars such as Hailie Deegan).

The process for building the nomination list, though, isn’t necessarily wrong.

According to those involved in culling the nominees, the NASCAR Hall of Fame actually has been more proactive in pushing for a broader spectrum of nominees by providing more information for prospective candidates in several categories.

Much like the Hall of Fame vote, the nomination discussion is held in confidence, and the voting is done by secret ballot and tabulated by an accounting firm. As Winston Kelley explained Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR, it wasn’t as if someone were advocating for the exclusion of Guthrie, Hall and Shelmerdine.

The names disappeared from consideration through an honestly conducted winnowing. Another process might produce the same results.

The question that must be answered is why the results keep being returned with crew chiefs, engine builders and mechanics being snubbed.

If the argument is that they somehow aren’t personalities, that’s absurd, too.

Yunick’s autobiography probably could be optioned as a screenplay. Evernham has transitioned into a post-crew chief/team owner career as a highly successful TV analyst. Inman still is often at Richard Petty’s side weekly in the Cup garage, cracking hilarious stories about yesteryear.

Kirk Shelmerdine speaks during a 2010 news conference about pit stops at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

Shelmerdine has one of the greatest backstories in NASCAR.

How many people can say they competed in The Great American Race first as a crew chief and then as a driver (Shelmerdine finished 20th in the 2006 Daytona 500)?

At the top of his game as Earnhardt’s crew chief, a 34-year-old Shelmerdine walked away from Richard Childress Racing after the 1992 season to start a driving career, which he toiled through for 15 years with limited success racing his own team in ARCA, trucks, Xfinity and Cup.

Though Shelmerdine was a straight-talking Delaware native with an iconoclastic streak that made him a great in calling and managing races, the move still stunned NASCAR. Team owner Richard Childress said Shelmerdine simply was “burned out.”

Robin Pemberton, a rival crew chief before his run as NASCAR executive, once said Shelmerdine was “a pretty sharp fella who got out of the sport a little too early. He still had a lot to offer. It was a big shock. I think everyone was confused as to the reasons he left. I’m not so sure anybody knows.”

When asked by the Richmond Times-Dispatch 16 years ago (while trying to make the 2003 Daytona 500 with Junie Donlavey) why he quit, Shelmerdine said, “It gets to the point that you don’t care about winning, you just can’t stand to see the other (expletives) win.” The reporter who asked the question was so taken aback by the answer, he couldn’t even muster a proper follow-up.

Maybe the rest of Shelmerdine’s story finally might be told during a NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech that’s long overdue.

Too bad we’ll have to wait at least another year to hear it.

Comparing Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr.’s record together to NASCAR greats

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Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn have a good thing going.

Truex’s win Sunday at Sonoma Raceway came in his 123rd start with Pearn serving as his crew chief.

The two have had an eventful tenure in their four years together at Furniture Row Racing.

Since teaming up in the No. 78 Toyota in 2015, Truex’s second year with the team, the duo has scored 16 wins, 45 top fives, 75 top 10s and an all important championship last season.

How does their record so far compare to the first 123 races of other notable driver-crew chief pairings in NASCAR history?

Racing Insights compiled the info of nine pairings, including Truex/Pearn and Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens, who have 119 starts together. They would have 134 starts together if not for Busch missing 11 races in 2015 due to injury and Steven being suspended for four races in 2017.

Truex and Pearn would have 124 starts together if not for a one-race suspension for Pearn in 2015.

The data includes five active pairings: Pearn/Truex, Stevens/Busch, Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson, Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick and Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski.

Among the nine pairings, the best is Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond, who had two championships, 28 wins, 75 top fives and 91 top 10s in their first 123 races together.

The most comparable pairing to Truex/Pearn is Knaus/Johnson.

After 123 starts, they’re tied for 16 wins and 75 top 10s. While the Hendrick Motorsports pairing had two more top fives, Truex and Pearn earned their first championship faster.

Johnson and Knaus earned their first title in their fifth year together when they reached 176 starts together.

Check out the info below.

Pairing       Starts     Wins Top 5s   Top 10s Titles
Jeff Hammond/Darrell Waltrip 123 28 75 91 2
Cole Pearn/Martin Truex Jr. 123 16 45 75 1
*Adam Stevens/Kyle Busch 119 18 54 74 1
Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick 123 13 59 84 1
Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson 123 16 47 75 0
Ray Evernham/Jeff Gordon 123 19 51 71 1
Kirk Shelmerdine/Dale Earnhardt 123 22 59 89 1 – Secured 2nd title in 125th start
Greg Zipadelli/Tony Stewart 123 14 47 76 0
Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski 123 11 39 61 1
 

*Only 119 starts together

Bump & Run: Where to race next with All-Star rules package?

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When and where would you suggest running the All-Star package next?

Steve Letarte: I think there was definitely some entertainment. I enjoyed the package. I think the when is somewhere in the regular season. I don’t really think it belongs in the playoffs unless we run it a few more times in the regular season. It seems to me that Michigan, Indy and Pocono are the three tracks that I think easily the package could be adapted to.

Kyle Petty: Let me say first when they announced this package for the All-Star Race I was not impressed. I’ve always lived by “I hate Plates!” But … as everyone who knows or listens to me run my mouth knows, I can eat crow! I thought the race was entertaining and enjoyed it! I would like to see it at Michigan. I think the draft there and speeds would translate well to the package. And as we know from the Xfinity race last year at Indy, it made for some interesting moments there.

Nate Ryan: Pocono with an eye toward Indianapolis. Potentially Michigan (though a form of it is being used in the Xfinity race). Kentucky Speedway also seems a natural because the track and its owners already are on board and supportive of the concept.

Dustin Long: Run it at Michigan in June — when the Xfinity Series also is running it — then do it at Indianapolis in September. See how teams make their cars better and how that impacts the racing. That will give NASCAR ideas of changes it can make for 2019.

Dan Beaver: Michigan. The wide corners would allow drivers to get four-wide without the consequence seen near the end of the All-Star Race. Based on the success of the first race, they could choose to use it again when they return for race number two. Pocono is another track that needs a boost in terms of competition, but with the speed carried into turn one and the narrowness of the groove in two, that could be a recipe for disaster. By the time the playoffs roll around, shelf the science project until 2019 and Auto Club.

Daniel McFadin: It shouldn’t be tested in the playoffs, so if I had to pick a track before then I’d go with the August race at Michigan. That would mean both Cup and Xfinity teams tried out the package there this season.

What is a concern you have about the All-Star package?

Steve Letarte: The biggest concern, I think, is that one of the reasons it was successful was because teams didn’t have time to develop it. As teams develop it, it will change. I think the ratio of downforce to power is pretty successful. They need to try to keep that as teams make gains, whether horsepower with the plates or downforce with the car.

Kyle Petty: My main concerns are drivers/teams and fans. Drivers/teams went into Charlotte with some ideas of what this package would do and feel like but not 100% sure of everything. We saw a race where ALL drivers/teams were as close as they’ll EVER be with this package. The next time it’s run, someone will have figured out a way to be better than the rest and the never-ending cycle of rule changes vs. drivers/teams will continue. That’s what NASCAR has ALWAYS been and Thank God there’s still a little of that left! … The fans are a concern because they like it now but will they like it tomorrow? We’ve seen this same movie before. Everyone says they love tandem racing! Two or three races later they hate it! NASCAR listens to the fans and changes the rules as to not allow tandem racing. Once again fans Love the new racing … for two or three races and then some will want tandem racing again! NASCAR can’t chase the fan opinion, the fans matter, but the product on the track matters MORE. It’s why NASCAR is in business, the racing business, it’s why drivers/teams race and in the end it’s why fans come. We need long-term solutions not knee-jerk reactions.

Nate Ryan: It still seems to remain as difficult to pass the leader, if not more difficult.

Dustin Long: Just how much will some teams get better with this package and how will it impact the racing. Will there be more separation among cars? How will that impact passing at the front? That seems to be an issue already. Will it be worse?

Dan Beaver: From the outside, the cars appeared to be too stable because of the reduction of speed. Portions of the race were too similar to restrictor-plate superspeedway races where the mental aspect of passing was more important than the handling.

Daniel McFadin: The amount of difficulty for the car behind the leader to get close enough to challenge for the lead. It’s possible the straightaways just aren’t long enough at Charlotte build enough momentum.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame will select its next class Wednesday. Name one person — other than Jeff Gordon — who should be in the next class and why.

Steve Letarte: Roger Penske. I think because Roger Penske has had a Hall of Fame career as a car owner but his reach in NASCAR is much more than that. He was involved in Michigan International Speedway, he built Auto Club Speedway. Penske, that last name is just iconic in the U.S. when it comes to industry. I think his involvement in NASCAR matches that and he should go into the Hall of Fame.

Kyle Petty: ALL are deserving in so many different ways. I know or knew every one of the nominees. I’m sorry I can’t pick just one. So  I’ll just say … Congratulations Jeff Gordon! 

Nate Ryan: Alan Kulwicki because he accomplished so much with less than his rivals while also being ahead of the curve on the engineering trends.

Dustin Long: Kirk Shelmerdine. Won four championships as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chiefs in the 1980 and won 10 percent of all his starts while working with Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Richard Childress and James Hylton.

Dan Beaver: My vote goes to Red Farmer. He epitomizes NASCAR’s golden years with a path that weaves in and out of the top series while also running paved short tracks and on dirt. Still racing and winning well into his 80s, a driver like Farmer defines the sport for many grassroots fans. The Hall needs to remember its roots, just as NASCAR does.

Daniel McFadin: Kirk Shelmerdine. He won four Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. That’s one more than Ray Evernham won with Jeff Gordon. Shelmerdine partnered with Earnhardt for 44 of his 46 Cup wins.