Rodney Childers

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Team Penske shakes up driver/crew chief lineup

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Team Penske announced Monday that it has changed the driver/crew chief lineup for each of its three Cup teams.

The changes for 2020 are:

The changes come after a season where all three drivers finished in the top 10 in points and combined to win six races.

“As we do after the completion of each season, we evaluated what we can do to better achieve our goals and we felt it was time to make these changes to better position us to reach our potential,” said Roger Penske. “We are fortunate that we have three very strong leaders in Paul, Todd and Jeremy, who work with experienced and talented crews. Pairing each of these winning teams with different drivers and cars should provide new energy and a fresh approach for the 2020 season.”

Keselowski and Wolfe had been together since the 2010 Xfinity season. They won the Xfinity title that year and moved to Cup together in 2011. They won 29 races together and the 2012 Cup title but had only been to the championship race once since the playoff format change in 2014.

Gordon and Logano had been together since 2013. They won 21 races together and the 2018 Cup championship.

Bullins and Blaney had been together since 2014. Blaney has made all 162 Cup starts with Bullins as his crew chief. They were together with the Wood Brothers and moved together to Team Penske in 2018. They won three races together.

The changes were made even though all three teams won races last season. Logano won two races and finished fifth in the points. Blaney won one race and was seventh in points. Keselowski won three races and was eighth in points. Last year marked the second consecutive year Team Penske had all three of its drivers place in the top 10 in points.

Keselowski and Wolfe had the longest active streak together in Cup. With them split, the longest tenure for a current driver/crew chief pairing is Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick. The 2020 season will mark the seventh year together for Childers and Harvick.

These changes also mean that six of the top 10 finishers in the points last year have had a new driver/crew chief pairing since 2019. Other drivers who finished in the top 10 who have had a new crew chief since the start of the 2019 season are:

Martin Truex Jr., who finished second in points last year, will be paired with James Small after Cole Pearn announced after last season he was stepping away from the sport.

Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth in the points last year, was paired with crew chief Chris Gabehart entering the 2019 season.

Clint Bowyer, who finished ninth in the points last year, will be paired with John Klausmeier this season after a swap of crew chiefs with Aric Almirola.

2019 Season in review: Kevin Harvick

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Kevin Harvick

CREW CHIEF: Rodney Childers

TEAM: Stewart-Haas Racing

POINTS: Third

WINS: Four (Loudon, Michigan 2, Indianapolis, Texas 2)

LAPS LED: 953 (Significant drop from 1,990 in 2018)

TOP 5s: 15

TOP 10s: 26

POLES: Six (Las Vegas 1, Richmond 1, Kansas 1, Pocono 2, Indianapolis, Texas 2)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Was consistent throughout the season, never falling out of the top five in the weekly rankings (except for after the Daytona 500). Also, only once did he have two or more consecutive finishes outside the top 10. … Had second highest starting average (8.5) of his career.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Once again, finished third – for the third consecutive season. … Dropped from career-high eight wins in 2018 to four in 2019. … Pit crew mistakes continued to be a problem.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020: The 2020 season could be a very pivotal year for Harvick. Depending upon how it goes, it could help answer several questions about his future, including: A) How many more seasons will Harvick continue to race? B) Does he have three or less seasons left in him? And perhaps most importantly, C) Does he still have a second Cup championship in him?

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Rodney Childers can relate to why Cole Pearn stepped away from NASCAR

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Cole Pearn shocked the NASCAR world last week when he announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, the No. 19 team and the sport as a whole to spend more time with his family.

Few people could better understand Pearn’s decision than Rodney Childers, crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 Ford driven by Kevin Harvick.

While Childers is not quite at the point Pearn was when he made the fateful decision to step away, he more than understands why his good friend did what he did.

“Cole has always been a simple guy,” Childers said on the Stewart-Haas Radio Podcast, Episode 43, with Mike “Nook” McCarville. “He was in a position to do whatever he wants. He’s more of a family man than I think anybody in the garage realized, what his wife and kids mean to him is quite impressive. No matter how many races or championships you win, none of that matters at the end of the day. What matters is those kids and how they grow up and what their dad means to them.

Now-former NASCAR Cup crew chief Cole Pearn. (Getty Images)

“I can promise you, I think about that stuff every day. I’ve done this stuff for a long time. I’ve raced since I was 12 years old. It’s been 31 years, that’s a long time to do it, for sure. You just have to keep plugging along. Some days are good, some days are bad but you have to have a supportive family beneath you, and I feel he definitely had a supportive family. … He’s doing it (retiring) because of what he loves and what means the most to him.”

Childers identifies strongly with Pearn’s desire to spend more time with his family.

“You look back in 2014 and 2015 when we were first started this deal, I was getting home at 10 o’clock every night and I was here at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Childers said on the SHR podcast. “The guys still joke about it but New Years Day came around and I said we were working, and they were like, ‘Well, that’s a holiday.’ And I said, ‘It’s not a holiday right now.’

“If you’re going to win races and run for a championship, you have to work. As a crew chief, you don’t get those days off. … The only time I see the kids is at night. If things are rolling real good at the shop, sometimes I can get out of here at 5:30 p.m. Other times, I don’t get home until it’s 7:30 p.m. or 8 o’clock and they’re already getting in bed. It’s dark when you leave to go to work and it’s dark when you get home and you don’t get a chance to play basketball with them, you don’t throw a ball, don’t go to the tennis court and you don’t take them to golf lessons. You don’t do any of that stuff. I see that with my own kids.”

Childers and Pearn may have been tough competitors on the racetrack, but they also became close friends over the years.

“We’ve talked for a lot of years,” Childers said on the podcast. “A lot of people don’t know this but the first person I called for an elite engineer position when I was starting the 4 team was Cole Pearn. He was just getting moved up into a crew chief position (at Furniture Row Racing) and wasn’t sure if he wanted to do that or not, but he made the best out of it.

“He worked under Todd Berrier out there (Furniture Row Racing was based in suburban Denver). Todd moved back to Charlotte to work for Gibbs and kept things going out there (Denver). We have a ton of respect for each other over the years. His way of racing was really like ours, they work hard and try to win races. We probably like being beside them in the garage than anybody else in the entire series.

“It’s funny, you put the two of us in a garage beside each other, and we act like teammates in a way. At Homestead (for this past season’s championship race), we were beside each other the whole weekend and talked the whole weekend and I remember I needed a tool and I borrowed it out of their tool box. We respect each other, don’t rat each other out. We see things on their car and don’t say a word and they see stuff on ours and they don’t say a word. That’s a lot of mutual respect.”

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

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As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

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Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola look for crew chief changes to spark teams

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola each say the crew chief swaps are ways to make their teams better after each failed to win a race this past season.

While both Bowyer and Almirola made the playoffs, neither was a factor. Almirola was eliminated in the first round. Bowyer failed to advance beyond the second round. Bowyer finished ninth in points. Almirola was 14th.

“We don’t want to be satisfied with just making the playoffs,” Almirola said Wednesday, a day before the NASCAR Awards Show (8 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN). “You want to make a run in the playoffs like we did last year and win races. Unfortunately we didn’t do that.”

Mike Bugarewicz will be paired with Almirola after spending the past three seasons with Bowyer. Johnny Klausmeier will be paired with Bowyer after spending the past two seasons with Almirola.

Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled to have its three other cars match the consistent success of Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. Harvick won the 2014 title in his first season at SHR. This year marked the fifth time he’s made it to the championship race in Miami in the six years of the format. No other SHR team has made it to the championship Cup race. Harvick’s team also was the only SHR car to win a race in 2019, scoring four victories.

“You look at teams like Kevin and Rodney and the success they’ve had,” Bowyer said. “They click. All the successful pairings are that way. Obviously this is an effort to try to find a little bit more of that fit factor. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good fit thing for all of us. Definitely excited about what’s to come and getting things started with Johnny.”

Bowyer said he and Bugarewicz didn’t fit as well because they were too much alike.

“I really enjoyed Mike and all the guys on that team,” said Bowyer, who won two races with Bugarewicz in 2018. “Sometimes we’re too much the same. When I get fired up, he gets fired up and then we butt heads. You need a little bit of the opposites attract thing like a marriage.”