Fast-forward transition for NASCAR crew chiefs
For crew chiefs like Dave Rogers and Steve Addington, it’s one of the toughest challenges in motor racing: building a relationship with a new driver, while pushing a team to be competitive and successful.
Rogers and Addington work with Kyle and Kurt Busch on two of the strongest NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. Todd Parrott, who joined Matt Kenseth after the first race of the new season, has also had to pick up the threads with his driver on the fly.
For Rogers, working with Kyle since late last season, the difficulty is compounded by the need to adjust from a Nationwide car that allowed for specific setup changes, to NASCAR’s new model.
Weekly racing offers a unique set of challenges on the technical and human front. Not only do these crew chiefs have to keep up with the competition, but fine tune the lingo and nuances of communication with their new driver. Sometimes the benefits of that work and newly acquired knowledge won’t be apparent until the second half of the season.
So far, each is adjusting well and keeping his driver within sight of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Parrott and Kenseth are clearly the most successful so far. Kenseth has five top-10 finishes in six starts, with a repeat result looming on Monday before a late-race skirmish on the final restart at Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth is third overall in the standings.
Kurt Busch, with Addington at the helm, has led laps and challenged for wins, but has yet to break through. He has three top-10 finishes and is sixth in the standings.
Kyle Busch suffered tire problems, then a late-race crash in Martinsville. He is 16th in the standings but within striking distance of the 12-driver Chase field.
It’s still early, with each driver confident that their pairing is working. And with time, each group should only become stronger.
Many have referred to this early phase of a new driver-crew chief partnership as a honeymoon period, which explains Kenseth’s response.
“I’ve enjoyed working with him, he’s got a lot of good experience,” Kenseth said of Parrott. “The guys really look up to him as a leader. He’s got some great leadership qualities about him. I’ve enjoyed the first few weeks here. … It’s been fun.”
Addington says likewise of working with Kurt Busch.
His perspective is unique, having spent most of the previous two seasons working with younger brother Kyle – and winning 12 races with that Joe Gibbs Racing team – before moving to Kurt Busch’s Penske Racing group this season. They appear to have clicked from the start.
“The first time we sat down to talk, it went really well,” Addington said. “I was really pleased with it; I thought this guy is a really cool guy. ... He really likes to think about his race cars and really likes to think about the changes that we make on them, to give you good feedback.”
This makes it easier to make adjustments, Addington said.
Still, he is learning just how far to go when making a change and to read Busch’s response. In the months to come, that communication should only improve.
“We both have mutual respect for each other,” Addington said. “I think the world of him."
Rogers, too, is learning and adjusting – though his shift comes as much in moving from the Nationwide Series car to the new-model Cup one.
Rogers and Kyle Busch knew each other from working together in the Nationwide ranks. Though Rogers helmed the car of Busch’s teammate, he often found himself working closely with Busch himself in that series last season.
“Kyle’s been great to work with,” he says. “I haven’t really felt like there was much adjustment.”
Now, they just want to finish their races as well as they run them.
They are also confident that performances will only improve over time, provided there's a little less misfortune on the track.
“Dave’s done a really good job at pushing everybody harder and keeping everybody up on the same page and making sure that we try to elevate to the next level,” Kyle said. “Our on-track performance maybe hasn’t been quite as good as we would have liked, but I feel like the team’s a lot closer together.
“Dave’s a smart enough crew chief that we’ll get going pretty good.”