Steve Addington’s career will go full circle next season when he returns to his hometown to run a NASCAR team.
Addington was hired Thursday to lead Phoenix Racing, the Spartanburg, S.C.- based race team purchased by Harry Scott Jr. in September. Born and raised in Spartanburg, Addington left his hometown for Charlotte in 1998 to pursue a full-time job in NASCAR.
Now 49, he’ll be commuting back and forth as the competition director for Phoenix Racing and crew chief of the No. 51 Chevrolet.
”I looked at this as a new opportunity to be part of building something, growing an organization and making a difference,” Addington said. ”In talking to Harry, he’s very committed building a quality race team and being involved in NASCAR for a long time. It’s exciting to start fresh.”
Addington spent the past two seasons as crew chief for Tony Stewart but was let go earlier this week as the three-time NASCAR champion snapped up Chad Johnston from Michael Waltrip Racing.
Stewart told The Associated Press in an interview last week the crew chief change was results-driven but also indicated that as Stewart-Haas Racing expands from three teams to four next season, he needs strong communication within the organization.
SHR had hired Rodney Childers from MWR in August to crew chief Kevin Harvick, and Johnston and Childers worked side-by-side at MWR.
”The more pieces you add to the puzzle, the harder it is to put the puzzle together,” Stewart said. ”When we had two crew chiefs and two drivers, it was at a certain level. And then the third team and now the fourth team. Now you have to make sure, instead of just getting two crew chiefs to communicate, now you have four. The equation gets more complicated.”
Addington said Thursday he’d not been given any clear reason for his dismissal, which came in an option year of his contract.
”I’m kind of scratching my head on that,” Addington told AP. ”I don’t have any hard feelings or anything like that, I just don’t have a real good idea of why the decision was made.”
Addington knew the performance of the No. 14 team was not up to par in the early part of the season — in fact, all three teams at SHR struggled early — but believed the team had turned a corner before Stewart’s season-ending Aug. 5 injury in a sprint car crash.
”It was an option year, and after the accident, I figured we’d go on one more year,” Addington said. ”It’s no secret we had our issues early in the season, but after Charlotte, the 600, we really turned things around. We won at Dover, and other than Sonoma, where we were running top-five before a spin, and Kentucky, where we did struggle, we’d really turned it around.
”Then came the accident, and we just don’t know what could have come from the rest of the season. So I really don’t know what happened there.”
SHR is bringing in Kurt Busch for a new fourth team, and Addington left Busch and Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season to crew chief Stewart when Stewart fired Darian Grubb following their championship season.
Addington, a longtime Nationwide Series crew chief, has spent nine seasons at the Cup level. He was paired with Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kurt Busch at Penske, and Stewart the last two seasons. He has 20 Sprint Cup wins, 66 top-fives and 105 top-10 finishes.
Now he’ll likely be paired with Justin Allgaier at Phoenix Racing. The team did not announce a driver Thursday, but Addington made several references to Allgaier in an interview with AP, and Allgaier drove four races in the No. 51 after Scott bought the team.
”There’s a lot of upside in the opportunity of working with a young driver and taking him through the experiences, teaching him what to expect and helping him learn,” Addington said. ”We’re going to have our bumps in the road, but we’ve got realistic goals and we’ll put in a lot of work. We’re not afraid to put in the time and the work, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity in front of us.”