The best new driver-crew chief combinations of 2014

Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers were a match made in heaven in Year One together.

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The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season saw a number of new driver-crew chief combinations, some more successful than others.

Whenever a new driver and crew chief are paired together, there are sure to be bumps in the road, and success right off the bat is more of a rarity than the norm. Yet throughout the 2014 season, some new partnerships hit the ground running and found great success.

Looking back across the season, we break down some of the best new driver-crew chief pairings of 2014.

Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick

When Stewart-Haas Racing announced Kevin Harvick would have crew chief Rodney Childers leading the No. 4 team, many wondered how the mild-mannered crew chief would handle the occasionally hot-tempered driver. Yet throughout the 2014 season, this pairing showed they were the team to beat.

From the outset of their working relationship, Childers and Harvick hit the ground running. During the preseason test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in December 2013, the two turned heads with their off-the-truck speed and successful back-and-forth in the garage.

Once the season officially kicked off, it was evident right away this combination would be a force to be reckoned with.

The No. 4 Chevrolet was fast in Daytona and flat-out dominant at Phoenix International Raceway, where the pair scored their first victory together. However, they also overcame early-season adversity and a string of poor finishes where they finished 36th or worse in four of the five races after their Phoenix win.

Yet through it all, the team came together, solved pit crew and reliance issues, and charged into the Chase with momentum on their side. Thanks to their work at the shop, in the hauler and in the garage, the No. 4 Chevrolet was often the fastest car all weekend long, and captured eight poles on the season.

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The team was able to peak when it mattered most, earning significant Chase victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which led to the team’s Sprint Cup Series championship.

Aside from their success on track, the pairing showed Childers a much different side of Harvick. Instead of working together as a driver and crew chief, Childers described their relationship more like "dating" one another.

"What I’ve seen the past 18 months is nothing that I ever thought, and it’s nothing that I ever read in the media or anything," Childers said of Harvick ahead of the season finale in Homestead. "It’s a guy that cares 100 percent about his race team, cares about me, cares about every single person on that team, and you know, as much of a family person as I’ve ever been around. …

"He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around and cares about all of us and cares about his family and cares about (son) Keelan and the way he’s going to be raised and everything else."

With this relationship finding so much success so early on, there is little doubt they will be back with a vengeance in 2015 looking for a second Sprint Cup title.

Luke Lambert/Ryan Newman

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was the success of crew chief Luke Lambert and first-year Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman. Together, the pairing was able to make the 16-driver Chase field, advance through each round, and finish second in the final championship standings.

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While they were unable to score a victory, their success on the track is nothing short of spectacular given the unknowns going into the season.

The pairing used their time wisely getting to know each other, and was much stronger once they began returning to tracks for the second time later in the season. Using consistency and a "points racing" approach, the No. 31 team was able to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase field.

Remaining dedicated to that approach, Newman and Lambert were part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That consistent approach nearly paid off as Newman ran second to race winner Kevin Harvick, who also walked away with the title.

This duo will remain together for the 2015 season, and given the success they saw the second half of the 2014 season, things should get off to a strong start for Lambert and Newman next season.

Chris Heroy/Kyle Larson

After two seasons working with Juan Pablo Montoya, crew chief Chris Heroy enjoyed a host of success this season working with Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. The former sprint car driver entered his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series with high hopes, and working with Heroy, he did not disappoint.

Although they did not earn a victory on the season, Larson and Heroy put together fast cars and strong performances week in and week out. The pairing successfully worked throughout the weekend to iron out many first-year issues during practices, while bringing fast cars to the grid on race day.

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By missing out on a trip to Victory Lane, the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team also missed out on making the 16-driver Chase field. Watching the title fight from the outside looking in, Larson and Heroy refused to give in and had some of their best performances during the 10 Chase races.

With a full year of working together under their belts, and Larson’s talent behind the wheel expected to only get better, this driver-crew chief pairing should also make their mark on the 2015 season.

Tony Gibson/Kurt Busch

After Tony Gibson worked with Danica Patrick for the majority of the past two seasons, Stewart-Haas Racing officials moved the veteran crew chief over to the No. 41 team to work with former Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch.

While they only worked together for three races at the end of the season, the pairing of Gibson and Busch certainly showed results right away. Starting their partnership at Texas Motor Speedway, Gibson and Busch finished 11th or better in their three races together.

In fact, during his 69 races working with Patrick, Gibson scored just four top-10 finishes. In his three races with Busch, Gibson recorded two top-10 finishes.

Prior to the swap, Busch was working with first-year crew chief Daniel Knost. Together, Busch and Knost were able to score one victory, six top fives, and nine top 10s. A former engineer, Knost moved over to Patrick’s team, but was named the "interim" crew chief on the car and not given a guarantee of being atop the pit box in 2015.

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Unlike the situation on the No. 10 car, Gibson is guaranteed to be crew chief for the No. 41 team in 2015 with Busch as the driver.

Keith Rodden/Jamie McMurray

When the announcement was made that Keith Rodden would serve as crew chief for Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team, many expected big things out of the pairing.

Rodden, a longtime engineer under the guidance of crew chief Kenny Francis, finally got a shot atop the pit box, and did not disappoint. The No. 1 team had a solid season all around, but did not score a points-paying victory.

The new driver-crew chief combination did earn the big-money victory in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but was kept out of Victory Lane throughout the regular season and Chase.

Despite not scoring a win, the combination proved to have its worth, as McMurray had his best season since 2010, scoring seven top fives, 13 top 10s, two poles and finishing the year 18th in the season standings.

This driver-crew chief pairing was one and done, however, as Rodden will move back to Hendrick Motorsports to serve as the crew chief for Kasey Kahne in 2015. Former RCR race engineer Matt McCall will move over from Ryan Newman’s team to serve as McMurray’s crew chief next season.