The Right Stuff: The top five moves of the 2015 NASCAR season

At the end of the 2014 season, Adam Stevens was preparing for his first year as a Sprint Cup Series crew chief. At the end of the 2015 season, he was celebrating his first Sprint Cup Series championship. 

Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

Success in NASCAR depends on a lot of variables, including fast cars, smart strategy, sound engineering, sufficient funding and a driver who can push his equipment to the limits.

But the true magic elixir is team chemistry — pairing the right driver, crew chief, sponsor and team together to form a potent combination capable of defeating the competition.

To that end, here are the five best moves of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

5. David Ragan, supersub: You can argue that no driver had to make more adjustments in 2015 than David Ragan did. He began the year with the low-budget Front Row Motorsports team, moved to Joe Gibbs Racing to replace the injured Kyle Busch, then finished the year with the lame-duck Michael Waltrip Racing operation. All things considered, Ragan acquitted himself admirably.

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4. Cole Pearn named crew chief of the No. 78: Martin Truex Jr. had the best year of his career in 2015, finishing fourth in points in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. The big change this year was the addition of crew chief Cole Pearn, who proved to be a great fit with driver and team alike. The Canadian-born Pearn told me he and his wife much prefer Denver, where Furniture Row is based, to North Carolina, because Colorado is much more like Canada in terms of climate and outdoor recreational options. Clearly, this move was a win for all parties. 

3. JGR adds Carl Edwards and fourth team: Expanding from three cars to four is an enormous undertaking. Joe Gibbs Racing did it exactly the right way, adding a championship-caliber driver in Carl Edwards and finding a new-to-the-sport primary sponsor in ARRIS. While there predictably were some ups and downs, especially early in the year, Edwards won the Coca-Cola-Cola 600 and the Bojangles’ 500, two of the sport’s biggest races. He ended the year fifth in points, which made the year a success.

2. Greg Ives works with Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The single most thankless job in NASCAR is being Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. Earnhardt’s passionate and huge fan base means every decision his crew chief makes gets second guessed and criticized on social media. But first-year crew chief Greg Ives took over for Steve Letarte and did an excellent job, as Earnhardt won three races and posted 16 top fives, third best in the series. And had the final caution flag at Talladega come out half a second sooner, who knows what Earnhardt might have been able to do. Best of all for No. 88 fans, Earnhardt thinks the team still has a lot of upside.

1. Adam Stevens named crew chief of the No. 18: OK, think about this for a second: Adam Stevens became a Sprint Cup crew chief for the first time in 2015. His Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Kyle Busch, missed the first 11 races of the year with a broken right leg and a broken left foot suffered in a crash in a preliminary race at Daytona. That meant Stevens had to field cars for three different drivers in those 11 races and prepare for Busch’s eventual return. During Busch’s absence, Stevens held the team together, and upon Busch’s return, the rookie crew chief gave him championship-winning cars and the encouragement and support necessary for Busch to win his first title and JGR its first since 2005. Those accomplishments make him No. 1 on this list.