Earnhardt Ganassi Racing recruited its newest crew chief from Hendrick Motorsports’ engineering staff once again.
Keith Rodden, who has been crew chief Kenny Francis sidekick for close to a decade, will take over as crew chief for the No. 1 EGR team and driver Jamie McMurray for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Current crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion, who has another year on his contract, is expected to remain with EGR.
Rodden graduated from NC State in 2003 with a degree in mechanical engineering and was recruited by Andy Petree Racing. Over the last decade, the Denver, N.C.-native has worked for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Red Bull Racing and, most recently, Hendrick Motorsports.
Rodden, who has been aligned with crew chief Francis and Kasey Kahne for the greater part of his career, says the opportunity to work with championship crew chiefs such as Andy Petree (Dale Earnhardt) and Ray Evernham (Jeff Gordon) prepared him to take the next step from team engineer to team leader.
“I’ve always been in leadership roles my whole life,” Rodden said. “I’ve worked with championship people in this sport. I started at Petree’s with Andy, worked with Ray Evernham and Kenny Francis. Just learning from them and meshing all their styles together is a good head start.”
Kahne considers Rodden’s departure “a big loss” because the trio has been together so long.
“I’ve known for a while he’s going to be a crew chief,” Kahne said. “He’s good enough to be one. He’s really smart and he puts a lot into it. I wouldn’t be upset one bit (for him to take on that role). I’d be really happy for him and cheer him on. We’d just have to rebuild that position on our team, but we have guys that are ready to go.
“It would be a lot different but I think it would be good for him to take that shot.”
McMurray says the change will not affect his relationship with Manion.
“The hardest part of our sport is when you have friendships and relationships and those change as you go on,” McMurray said. “Bono – even though he is my crew chief – he is also one of my best friends. You have the friendships and it’s hard when you go different ways. I just think the world of Bono.”
Manion guided Martin Truex Jr. to two Nationwide Series titles in 2004 and 2005 and graduated with the team to the Sprint Cup level in 2006. At the end of the 2008 season, Manion and Truex became part of the Dale Earnhardt Inc./Ganassi Racing merger. The following year, Truex left for Michael Waltrip Racing and McMurray was reunited with the team. Their pairing paid off with a career-best three wins and four poles for McMurray – including NASCAR’s most prestigious victories, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
But after two seasons sans win, followed by a third year without a Chase for the Sprint Cup appearance, the company opted to go in a different direction.