NASCAR

Crew chief life tough even with wins

NASCAR Chad Norris
Chad Norris will be Carl Edwards' new crew chief.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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With Bob Osborne stepping down due to undisclosed health concerns, Chad Norris takes over as the crew chief for Carl Edwards’ team.

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Just what is a crew chief's schedule like?

If I had to compare, the way I look at the stress and strain that is on a crew chief of today, I’d have to look at it almost like an air traffic controller. There are so many people that are dependent on you doing it right and keeping them out of harm’s way and keeping everything on schedule that the stress load is almost indescribable.

Even when I was a crew chief, I had a lot on me because once again there is that relationship to the driver, relationship to the owner, sponsors, crew, making sure the pit crew was sharp, making sure that the cars are prepared and done and being built in the order that you want with the shop foreman and the team management. All these things, and interacting with your engineers, keeping up with today’s times as far as the rules and regulations NASCAR is either implementing or thinking about implementing, it’s just a constant battle. Plus you are on the road all the time.

You are away from your family, you are away from just the comforts of being home on a regular basis. I don’t think anybody understands how much time they spend away from home. The life of a crew chief, a lot of times, you can’t quite be that buddy-buddy to everybody on your crew either.

Sometimes you’re kind of like on an island by yourself because you have to make certain decisions, analyze things a certain way and make decisions sometimes that prohibit you from being just like one of the guys because you want them to respect you and understand that when you give an order, it needs to be done.

Sometimes that puts a strain on a group of guys. So it’s a tough job, it’s a very tough job and I think Bob has done an excellent job of making the transition from being a full-time engineer. He’s very confident, very sharp. Again, he’s won 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup races with Edwards, finished second in the championship race in 2011 in a tiebreaker and has been very successful within the organization with what he’s been able to do.

Still, it’s hard to draw a conclusion about where they are as far as being on the same page.

Pit bulls

NASCAR Cup crew chiefs bring varying levels of experience to the role.

I think Darrell Waltrip summed it up one time, he and I were on the same page -- sometimes it was just that he was on the front of the page and I was on the back of the page. It happens. Again, I’m speaking from experience here, what Darrell and I had in the very beginning and the times that I would go away and I’d come back, we did well when we came back together but it was never the same.

Maybe in the past the time that team owner Jack Roush split up Carl and Bob to work with other people they lost a little bit, they came back, they did OK together, but they’ve struggled the last couple of years to get to Victory Lane.

They’ve been consistent and I think that’s a tribute to Bob putting together a very solid, very consistent race car week in and week out. But this year, whether it’s the tires, whether it’s some of the aero changes, whether it’s just the overall what I’m hearing vs. what you’re hearing when we’re talking to one another, that magic has not been there. They haven’t been able to wave that magic wand and make it happen.

They are 11th in the NASCAR points standings and have not won a race in the last 52 attempts. Still, Carl is 46 points out of the top 10 and could make that up.

Here is something I have seen throughout my years being in the sport. You work with a guy so long and all the sudden you have a little bit of problem and some of the excitement, some of the energy that you’d like to have, that you used to have, is kind of lost. I experienced this with Darrell, I have watched it happen with guys even in the Roush Fenway group, like Jimmy Fennig and Mark Martin, for example, had a lot of success together and just couldn’t quite make the magic that they did in the very beginning. And it’s nobody’s fault, it just happens.

Even with somebody like crew chief Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon, as good as they were, they missed the boat every now and then had a little issue. Let’s not forget five-time champions Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson and the fact that Rick Hendrick had to sit down and have cookies and milk with them because he felt like they were acting like a couple of kids. Am I saying Bob and Carl are a couple of kids? Absolutely not. I think they’ve just reached the limit of what they’ve been able to get out of one another here recently and sometimes change is what’s necessary.

It’s just a tough sport right now. You’ve got a driver that the folks at Roush Fenway have put so much faith and money into that they need results. They need him to be the standard bearer and kind of pushing his team forward along with his teammates. In recent weeks it just has not happened.

Now, they’re going to seize the opportunity to kind of start fresh with having a week off for the team to kind of regroup and refresh itself. Carl can do the same thing, spend a little time with Chad Norris. I believe he’s had a little bit of a relationship with Norris in the Nationwide Series, so they’re not total strangers, but I think Jack felt it was not necessary to leave this No. 99 team struggling to get into the Chase if they had a chance to get there. It may have even come too late to get Carl in the Chase. It’s yet to be seen. Unfortunately I felt like this was going to happen and it has.

Now you just put Chad Norris basically in the gambler’s seat.

He’s got everything to gain and nothing to lose. He’s coming in to try to make magic. You don’t want to totally get crazy because mathematically Carl is not totally out of fighting his way back with the number of points he’s behind.

Granted he’s one race out with seven to go. Being 46 points behind with seven races to go, you can do the math. Pick up eight points a race and you can unseat the guy that’s in 10th if you do not slip. That’s the key thing right now, they gave up a big chunk this past weekend. They were 31 points out when they got to Loudon; now they’re 46.

They can’t do that anymore, otherwise they’ll be in a must-do as far as winning and that means they’ve got to win two races with seven to go and that’s tough. I look at the rest of the Roush cars and they’re not winning races either. Again, there’s the mountain that they’ve kind of created.

Tagged: Carl Edwards

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