In his return as a full-time crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series, veteran Mike Kelley is set to achieve a milestone mark. By participating in this weekend’s Cup Series Playoff event at Kansas Speedway, Kelley will call his 100th career race as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Pinellas County, Florida, Kelley, who competed as a Pinellas Park racer in the 1990s before becoming a crew member and car chief working with icons that included Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan, Ray Evernham, Jack Roush and Kurt Busch, made his inaugural presence as a crew chief in the Cup Series at the start of the 2014 season when he was paired with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whom Kelley worked with and won back-to-back Xfinity Series championships in 2011 and 2012. By then, Kelley had also racked up 12 career victories and 13 poles in the Xfinity circuit as a crew chief while working with eight different competitors.
In their first event paired in the Cup Series, Kelley led Stenhouse and the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion team to a seventh-place result in the 56th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February. Three races later, Stenhouse notched a career-best runner-up result at Bristol Motor Speedway in March as the No. 17 team cracked the top 10 in points. The remainder of the regular-season stretch, however, ended up being a struggle for both Stenhouse and Kelley as they only managed two additional top-10 results and dropped outside of the top-20 mark in the standings, which prevented them from making the 2014 Cup Playoffs. The low point for the duo was when both failed to qualify for the Playoff event at Talladega Superspeedway in October. For the other nine Playoff events, Stenhouse finished no higher than 15th before capping off the 2014 season in 27th place in the final standings.
The following season, Kelley assumed the role as car chief for Stenhouse’s No. 17 Ford team while Nick Sandler, a former head engineer for Stenhouse’s teammate Carl Edwards, became Stenhouse’s new Cup crew chief. In 2016, however, Kelley returned to crew chief Stenhouse for a single event, which occurred at Talladega in May while on an interim role as Sandler was suspended for the event as a result of an unapproved steering wheel coupler that was found on Stenhouse’s car during the previous weekend’s practice session at Richmond Raceway. During the Talladega event, Stenhouse ended up 16th in the final running order after being involved in a multi-car wreck on the final lap.
In 2019, Kelley departed Roush Fenway Racing and joined Front Row Motorsports as a full-time Cup crew chief for the No. 36 Ford Mustang team piloted by former Xfinity Series competitor Matt Tifft. Through the first 20-scheduled events, Tifft and Kelley could only manage to post three top-20 results and a single top-10 result, which occurred at Daytona in July, as they were mired in 31st place in the regular-season standings. Then for the final 16-scheduled events, Front Row Motorsports swapped Kelley’s team role that resulted with him becoming a crew chief for veteran David Ragan and the No. 38 FRM Ford Mustang team, a role that was previously held by Seth Barbour with Barbour assuming Kelley’s old role with Tifft. In spite of the move that reunited Kelley with Ragan, whom he notched two Xfinity victories with in 2009, the duo finished no higher than 11th for the remainder of the season as Ragan settled in 30th place in the final standings.
Four years later, Kelley, who moved to JTG-Daugherty Racing in 2020 and served as a competition director for the organization and the team’s driver Stenhouse, was elevated to the role of becoming Stenhouse’s Cup crew chief for a second time. In their first driver-crew chief pairing with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse and Kelley commenced this season on a high note by winning the 65th running of the Daytona 500 after Stenhouse survived two overtime attempts and retained the lead on the final lap amid a multi-car wreck to achieve an upset victory for himself and the team. The 500 victory was Kelley’s first overall as he also achieved his first Cup career win as a crew chief. With the 500 victory guaranteeing Stenhouse and Kelley a spot for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs, the duo led the No. 47 team to an additional six top-10s and 13 top-15 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch before officially entering the Playoffs as one of 16 teams vying for this year’s title. Currently, Kelley and Stenhouse are coming off a 16th-place result in the Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway and are ranked in 15th place in the Playoff standings while being four points below the top-12 cutline to transfer to the Round of 12.
Through 99 previous Cup events, Kelley has achieved one victory, three top-five results, 13 top-10 results and 26 laps led while working with three different competitors.
Kelley is primed to call his 100th Cup Series event as a crew chief at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, September 10, at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.