As one season ends and a new one approaches, teams begin a self evaluation that often results in changes among key personnel. Here’s your guide to some of the new alliances we will see in 2015.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
As Steve Letarte departs for the television broadcast booth; Greg Ives will take over the role of crew chief for the No. 88 team. Ives will have big shoes to fill as the pairing of Letarte with Earnhardt in 2011 was the catalyst for resurgence in Earnhardt’s career. He’s coming off his first multiple win season since 2004 and running out of time in the championship hunt.
While some question his lack of experience in the Cup series, Earnhardt is confident that Ives is the right person for the job.
“I don’t think it’s a step back, I think it’s a step forward,” he said. “This is a guy that engineered Jimmie (Johnson) to five championships, won the Nationwide Series championship last year, almost won it with Regan (Smith) the year before. Basically, in more than 50 percent of the years he’s been in the sport, he’s won a championship.”
The No. 88 Chevrolet will also have a new sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series as Nationwide Insurance takes over as Earnhardt’s primary sponsor, replacing National Guard. Nationwide will sponsor 21 races each year of the next three seasons.
Keith Rodden, formerly of Chip Ganassi Racing, will assume crew chief duties for the No. 5 Chevrolet in 2015. Rodden worked with Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports as team engineer from 2004 until 2013. He replaces Kenny Francis who has been with Kahne since the end of 2005. The successful partnership of Francis and Kahne produced 16 of Kahne’s 17 career Sprint Cup wins but floundered in 2014. Kahne only had one victory and barely made it into the Chase. Francis moves to the new position of vehicle technical director and will also serve as Chase Elliott’s crew chief for five races in 2015.
“I worked with Keith for years, said Kahne.”We’ve got a great relationship, we’re friends, and it’s exciting to know we’ll be working together full time again. I think he brings a lot to the 5 team.”
Chase Elliott: After winning the XFINITY championship and becoming the youngest NASCAR Touring Series champion last year, Elliott has been named as Jeff Gordon’s successor in the No. 24 Chevy in 2016. As preparation for that role, he will run five Cup races this season in the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet with Kenny Francis by his side as crew chief. Those five races include Martinsville Speedway in March, Richmond International Raceway in April, Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July and Darlington Raceway on Sept. 6.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing ended the 2014 season with only two wins and as Carl Edwards moves from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, is using the opportunity to make some changes.
“With the expansion of our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series operations to four teams next year with the addition of Carl Edwards,” he stated, “we have been able to take a step back and evaluate each of our teams and make decisions that we feel are best for our organization long term.”
Adam Stevens will move from the XFINITY Series where he and Busch combined for 19 wins, to partner with Busch in the Cup Series as crew chief for the No. 18 Toyota.
Busch had one Cup win in 2014 and advanced to the Chase but was eliminated from championship contention in the second round. The frustration of the season sometimes disintegrated into heated exchanges between Busch and Rogers, undoubtedly putting a strain on their relationship.
Dave Rogers (Busch’s crew chief for five seasons) will join Hamlin’s No. 11 team as crew chief.
Hamlin scored one victory last season and advanced to the final round of the Chase. He led 50 laps in the championship title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway but Darian Grubb’s decision not to pit for fresh tires late in the race was costly.
Edwards, the newest member of the JGR team will be paired with Darian Grubb (Hamlin’s former crew chief) in the No. 19 Toyota.
Richard Petty Motorsports
Sam Hornish Jr.: Three-time IndyCar champion Hornish signed a multi-year deal to replace Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford this year after Ambrose announced his intention to return home to Australia at the end of the 2014 season. Drew Blickensderfer will continue in his position as crew chief.
Hornish is optimistic about his future stating, “I feel like having the opportunity is great for me, and above and beyond, to be able to drive for Richard Petty now is just awesome. I’ve worked four years to get back to this point, and I feel like as a driver I’ve come a long way. ”
Roush Fenway Racing
Bob Osborne will return to RFR as the crew chief for the No. 6 when Bayne begins his first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2015. Osborne was Carl Edwards’ longtime crew chief and a guiding force behind his 18 career wins.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.:
After a disappointing season with only one top-five finish, Nick Sandler will take over crew chief duties for the No. 17 of Stenhouse in 2015, replacing Mike Kelley who will continue as car chief.
“Nick has a strong engineering background with the company”, Jack Roush explained, “and his time working hand-in-hand with Jimmy Fennig over the past few seasons will prove invaluable as he takes the helm of the No. 17.”
Wood Brothers Racing
Blaney will replace Trevor Bayne as the driver of the famed No. 21 Ford Fusion this year in an expanded 18 race Sprint Cup schedule as Wood Brothers Racing enters its 65th year in NASCAR with a new technical alliance with Team Penske.
Blaney is optimistic about the upcoming season saying, “We have a very fast car for the 500 and a fast car for this whole year. They’ve worked really hard on our speedway car and they are very confident going into it.
“Just the history of this car with that race, it would be just amazing. I hope we can pull a Trevor Bayne moment.”
Jeremy Bullins will reunite with the team to serve as the crew chief for Blaney. Bullins first worked with Wood Brothers Racing in 1999 and from 2000-2002 was the race engineer for the No. 21 in the Cup Series.
Furniture Row Racing
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex’s first year with the team failed to produce any wins and only one top-five in the No. 78 Chevrolet. In his sophomore season with the team, he will be paired with former team lead engineer Cole Pearn who will replace Todd Berrier as crew chief.
General Manager Joe Garone emphasized the struggles they experienced last year will make them stronger going forward.
“What we went through last year, our performance was horrible and we hadn’t gone through that as a team yet,” Garone said. “We’ve been through that, we looked at where we were weak, where we had things where we were off base, and we’ve realigned it and we’re going to prove it this year.”
Michael Annett: Annett, who brings sponsorship from longtime backer Pilot Flying J, joins the organization for the 2015 season as they expand to a two car team.
“This opportunity came very late, but it was one that I couldn’t pass up and definitely wanted to jump on,” Annett said. “I know there’s going to be some growing pains. We don’t even have a car number yet, let alone a crew chief.”
Tommy Baldwin Racing
Alex Bowman: Bowman will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet in his second full-time year in the Sprint Cup Series after a rookie season at BK Racing. Kevin “Bono” Manion will remain with TBR as Bowman’s crew chief.
Owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. said, “Alex is the future of TBR, and he will be a great representative of our team. He is a young driver who displayed a great talent in both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series the past few years. We are pleased to give Alex the opportunity to further showcase his skills behind the wheel of the No. 7 Chevrolet this season.”