2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, crew chief changes
Ambrose, 34, parted ways with JTG Daugherty Racing at the end of the 2010 season and has joined Richard Petty Motorsports. He takes over the No. 9 Ford formerly driven by Kasey Kahne. The former V8 Supercar champion is in his third full season of Cup competition and has 13 top-10 finishes, seven of them top fives, to his credit.
Several Sprint Cup drivers and crew chiefs find themselves in different roles than they were a year ago. Some made an early start to their 2011 role late last season while others are brand new to their respective teams. Here's a quick primer on some of the key full-time movers this season:
Paul Wolfe remains with Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing, but in a new role. He moves from being crew chief of Keselowski's 2010 Nationwide Series championship team to working with him on the Cup team. Wolfe is a former driver who debuted as a crew chief with Fitz Racing in 2006. He then worked with CJM Racing in 2009 and joined Penske following that season. Last year, he and Keselowski earned six wins en route to the title. They posted 29 top-10 finishes, 26 of them top fives.
Sadler, 35, is leaving the NASCAR Sprint Cup ranks to pursue the Nationwide Series championship for Kevin Harvick Inc. this season. He spent the last 12 seasons competing full time at the Cup level, most recently with Richard Petty Motorsports. Sadler has three Cup wins with 69 top-10 finishes, 19 of them top fives, in 429 starts and a top series finish of ninth, which came in 2004. In the Nationwide Series, he has five wins with 38 top-10 finishes, 19 of them top fives, in 130 starts. He has a career-best finish of fifth in the series standings in 1997, one of the few seasons in which he ran the full slate.
Parrott is a 26-year veteran in the NASCAR crew chief role. He began his career as the crew chief for Dale Jarrett in 1996 and won the Cup title in 1999. He spent the latter part of 2010 working with Richard Petty Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler on the organization's No. 19 team. Now he'll work with Marcos Ambrose, filling the void left on the No. 9 team by the loss of Kenny Francis.
Menard, 29, is in his fifth full-time Cup season with his third organization. He joins Richard Childress Racing in a fourth car this season after spending two seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports and a year with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Sponsor Menards moves with him to RCR. He has 147 career starts with eight top-10 finishes -- six of those in 2010 -- and two top five finshes. His career best is fifth at Atlanta Motor Speedway last spring. He joins a team that put all three drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season with a top finish of third overall by Kevin Harvick.
Casey Mears will be Germain Racing's driver in the No. 13 for the 2011 season after beginning with the organization late in 2010. He raced for several teams in 2010, including Tommy Baldwin Racing and Red Bull Racing. For his career, Mears has won Sprint Cup victory. He has 46 top-10 finishes, 12 of them top fives, in 273 Cup starts.
McGrew, 43, took over Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports team late in the 2009 season. Prior to that, he spent the 2005-06 seasons as crew chief for Brian Vickers, with whom he won the 2003 Nationwide Series title. In 2000, he was a crew chief for the part-time Nationwide team shared by Jeff Gordon and Ricky Hendrick. Now, he'll remain with Hendrick, but work with veteran Mark Martin following an offseason shakeup within the organization.
Steve Letarte, 31, spent the last five full seasons guiding the effort of four-time champion Jeff Gordon. He led the driver to the Chase for the Sprint Cup each of those seasons. The pair united following the 26th race of the 2005 season. Prior to that, he was a crew member on all four of Gordons championship teams. Now he takes on a new role at Hendrick Motorsports, that of crew chief for driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. He'll be tasked with getting the driver back to Victory Lane - Earnhardt Jr. has one victory at Hendrick, in 2008, and back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a field Earnhardt Jr. last made in 2008.
Labonte, 46, competed for a series of teams in 2010 before drive the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota being vacated by Marcos Ambrose in 2011. His new team operates out of the Michael Waltrip Racing shop through an alliance with that organization. In 18 full seasons of Cup competition, Labonte has 21 wins. He has posted 199 top-10 finishes, 114 of them top fives.
Kahne, 30, surprised the NASCAR community when he and Hendrick Motorsports announced last April that he had signed a long-term contract with the organization – but that he won’t join the team until 2012. He then went ahead and joined his 2011 Red Bull Racing team late in the season. This year, he'll work with that group all season as they shift to the No. 4 Toyota. He ran five races with Red Bull in 2010 with a top finish of sixth. Entering his eighth season of full-time competition, Kahne has 11 wins. He has 87 top-10 finishes, 49 of them top fives, in his career.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Sam Hornish Jr., a three-time IndyCar Series champion, is shifting to Penske Racing's NASCAR Nationwide Series program after three full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the organization. Hornish has eight top-10 Cup finishes to his credit, two of them top fives, with a career-best of fourth at Pocono Raceway in 2009. He will drive at least 10 Nationwide Series races this season.
Gustafson, 35, spent the last two seasons working with Mark Martin at Hendrick Motorsports, guiding him to a second-place finish in the overall standings in 2009. From 2005 to 2007, he worked with drivers Kyle Busch at Hendrick. Gustafson has nine career wins to his credit in the Cup series. This season, he’ll move over to work with four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
For Francis, it's a case of same driver, new place. The two were separated briefly at the end of 2011 when Kahne made the early move to Red Bull Racing while Francis, 41, remained with their Richard Petty Motorsports team. Other than that, the pair have spent most of their Cup career together. Francis originally worked with Jeremy Mayfield at Evernham Motorsports, making the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004, then moved over to Kahne's team in 2006. The pair have 10 wins with 64 top-10 finishes, 31 of them top fives, together.
Bill Elliott, 55, will run a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule for Phoenix Racing this season. Elliott has competed on at least a part-time basis in NASCAR for 35 seasons. He won the 1988 title. Overall, in 821 starts, he has 44 wins. He has 320 top-10 finishes, 175 of them top fives, with 55 career poles and has been competing on a limited basis for Wood Brothers Racing in recent years.
After several years working with veterans and rookies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Jimmy Elledge, 30, takes on a new role with one of the hottest young drivers in the sport. He'll partner with Justin Allgaier at Turner Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 2011.
Dave Blaney, 48, will drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season. He competed in six races for Baldwin last season, but also drove for other teams. This year, the group plans to attempt to qualify for all of the Cup races. In 12 NASCAR seasons, Blaney has compiled three top fives, 27 top 10s and poles at North Carolina Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Blaney finished a career-high 19th in the points standings while driving for Jasper Racing in 2002.
Trevor Bayne will drive for the Wood Brothers Racing team in the opening five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season. The 19-year-old is expected to compete in 17 races, maybe more, as he moves to the Cup level. He made his debut in the series driving in one race for the Wood Brothers in 2010.