Heroy adds sunshine to Montoya’s team

Chris Heroy isn’t your typical crew chief.

The former Hendrick Motorsports engineer chosen by Juan Pablo Montoya to be his crew chief goes by “Sunshine” or just “Shine,” and with his sunny disposition the moniker suits him perfectly.

Heroy isn’t concerned with having the biggest house on the lake, the most luxurious motor coach at the racetrack or the most toys in his garage. He didn’t meet his wife on a runway or in Victory Lane. Heroy discovered her at the local Goodwill store.

“You have to appreciate all things old and all things new,” Heroy said.

No, Heroy isn’t absorbed by material things — with the exception of trophies. And that’s just an extension of his desire to win.

Team owner Chip Ganassi shares that desire. Ganassi knows success. His open-wheel teams continue to set the bar in IndyCar and no other owner has captured the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 in one season. Add the 2011 Rolex 24 to the mix and IndyCar’s reigning championship owner pulled off the victories in all four prestigious races in one 12-month period.

However, Ganassi did not mince words last week when he described the performance of his NASCAR Sprint Cup operation.

“We were 21st (Montoya) and 27th (Jamie McMurray) in the points and that’s just pathetic for a team with our ability and our resources, simple as that,” Ganassi said.

So Ganassi cleaned house at the end of last season. He acquired John Probst from Red Bull Racing to take over the role as technical director in September. He released long-time generals Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover and brought in former Roush Fenway Racing GM Max Jones as team manager.

And he added Heroy as crew chief for Montoya.

For Montoya, Heroy assembled an almost entirely new team — many members of which have Hendrick ties — and only three members of the original No. 42 Target crew remain. Heroy’s two engineers, Scott Radel and Clint Jennings, came from Stewart-Haas Racing and Kevin Harvick Inc., respectively, but had worked at HMS prior. David Bryant was Heroy’s car chief on the No. 5 Chevrolet and keeps the same role. David Hensley worked in Jimmie Johnson’s fabrication shop and assumes the same duties with Montoya. Mechanic Rich Muckenthaler is the exception, however; he worked for Kenny Francis at Red Bull Racing on the No. 4.

When Heroy is asked if his new squad resembles a Hendrick satellite team, he releases a hearty laugh, “It’s still Team Chevy,” said the 34-year-old Angola, Ind., native

“And we’re here to improve that,” he added. “That’s why we built the team the way we built it. We added on to what they were doing. They were doing a lot of things right, it’s just sort of giving it a new direction and a new focus.

“There were so many things. Juan alluded to it a little bit last year. Sometimes, racing just doesn’t go your way and you have to make changes. That’s really what it was all about.”

Montoya was frustrated early in 2011, particularly when success did not follow the organization’s four-win season from the year before (McMurray had three wins, Montoya had one) and making NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2009.

“You go into the next year thinking you’re going to be good and then, ‘Oh my God, what happened? Where did all the success go,” Montoya asks.

At Richmond International Raceway last May, the ninth race of the season, Montoya started a slide that took him out of contention for the Chase. Montoya had won his second pole and was ninth in points when he let Ryan Newman get the best of him on the track. He never recovered.

Crew chief Brian Pattie, who led Montoya to his most success in Sprint Cup, was released 10 races later and EGR assigned neophyte Jim Pohlman to the pit box.

Still, Montoya found the drop off in performance quite curious.

“We started really strong,” Montoya said. “But how can we have a car that finishes third in Vegas and you go a month later and finish 30th with the same car? That’s not right. When you go with the same car that you finish in the top five and get outrun by people with a fifth of the money we have, it makes no sense.

“I think there were a lot of things — not one thing and that’s why there’s so many new people in the shop and so many new people on the road and so many changes that were needed. Overall, I don’t think there was one person, one name. The whole thing wasn’t working together. The whole thing wasn’t pushing in the same direction. Everyone had their own agenda and when you have that it’s hard. When everyone isn’t on the same page, you’re not going to get results.”

Montoya and McMurray expressed their concerns to Ganassi last year. Montoya said the team owner had some ideas of his own and the organization began putting the plan in motion. One of the challenges topping the “to-do” list was a new crew chief for Montoya.

In Heroy, Montoya found a crew chief cut from the Hendrick Motorsports mold who knew how to be a team player. The recipe for success he gained from his eight years at Hendrick is simple.

“Treat people fairly, treat people well,” Heroy said. “Be honest. Communicate. Good team work. Hendrick is a fantastic organization that prides itself on its people and its teamwork. And I’m trying to make that a big part of what I do at Ganassi — another long-time successful race team.

“To be a successful race team in the number of series that they do, they have that teamwork, they have that communication. I’m really just continuing what I learned at Hendrick and what they already do at Ganassi.

“Every race team fights the same thing — you want to communicate. You want to connect your engineers to your fab shops to make sure the process goes smoothly. It’s a problem you fight on any team you’re at and a constant effort to improve that and your capabilities. That’s how race teams work.”

Heroy hails from the open-wheel ranks. He was an engineer in Toyota Atlantics — which he refers to “the Nationwide Series of open wheel” — before joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. Heroy moved to the No. 88 team with Dale Earnhardt Jr. when Rick Hendrick reorganized following the 2010 season. But it was Junior who made Heroy a household name when he personally chose “Shine” to run his Nationwide No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports at Daytona last February.

“He’s just a different guy,” Earnhardt said. “He’s just a little more laid back, a little less riled up by things. He’s focused on his job, works really hard. He has a great sense of humor and knows how to enjoy himself.

“I hope he does well. He has a lot of talent and he’s a really, really good guy. I believed in him and I told him before that he would be one of the best crew chiefs in the business one day — and he’s on his way. Hopefully, this is a good experience for him. Hopefully, he can get to Victory Lane and prove his worth. I’m sure he will.”

In the upcoming weeks, Heroy says the team will test “at any place that’s open.” The team is testing at Disneyworld this week and Nashville and New Smyrna are also on the list before the season begins.

In the short time he’s had to get acquainted with Heroy, Montoya describes his new crew chief as “a great guy who wants it bad.”

“He’s a helluva a smart guy who has surrounded himself with a lot of great people,” Montoya added.

Heroy won’t place lofty expectations on his team. He doesn’t expect Montoya to win five races, make the Chase or even take home the Sprint Cup in the first season. He understands that the responsibility to reinvent this team won’t happen overnight, but with EGR’s resources and Montoya’s talent as a driver the potential exists to turn the No. 42 team into a contender.

“I just tell them, ‘Let’s just race right, let’s communicate, be honest with each other and work together as a team and the results will speak for themselves,’” Heroy said. “And Juan’s great. I came from an open-wheel background so I saw Juan win that CART championship, win at Indy and be successful in Formula One. I view Juan as one of the greatest drivers of my generation.

“To have an opportunity to work with a driver like Juan is a no-brainer for me. He’s pumped up and we’re all just ready to get to the racetrack.”