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Crew chiefs on the move

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

The start of every new Sprint Cup season requires some studying up on the part of the fans and in some cases those in the broadcast booth as there are always enough changes taking place both behind the wheel and on top the pit wagon to create confusion.

The 2012 season will not be any different as close to one out of every four teams in the series will begin with a new crew chief when the green flag waves at Daytona in February.

In the case of the Sprint Cup championship winning crew chief Darian Grubb, he didn’t even have to wait until the end of the season to learn that he would not be returning as Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2012. He was told during the early stages of the Chase that he would not be returning and to their credit, Grubb and Stewart were able to put all their differences behind them and make what turned out to be the most improbable championship run that we may ever witness in the series.

Grubb, as you would expect with a championship on his resume, didn’t have to stand in the unemployment line long as he was named Denny Hamlin’s crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing after his former chief Mike Ford was let go at the end of the season. Ford had been Hamlin’s only crew chief since he entered the series six seasons ago and during that span led Hamlin to 17 wins and a runner-up finish in the points to Jimmie Johnson in 2010 after actually going into the last race with the points lead.

Stewart didn’t wait long before naming his crew chief for next season as he replaced Grubb with Steve Addington, who left Penske Racing after a couple of tensionfi lled years as crew chief for Kurt Busch. Stewart also took another huge step in defending his title when he announced that he was hiring his former crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zippadelli, to be his competition director. Zippadelli will be replaced by Jason Ratcliff as Joey Logano’s crew chief at JGR after moving up from Gibbs’s Nationwide team

Richard Childress also jumped into the never-ending carousel of crew changes when he made changes on two of his teams for next season. His four-team operation will drop back to three for 2012 with Paul Mennard and crew chief Slugger Labbe being the only driver-crew chief combination not to change.

Childress’s flagship team of Kevin Harvick will see a change as Todd Berrier will no longer be calling the shots as he will be replaced by Shane Wilson. Berrier moved over to JT Daugherty Racing where he will become Bobby Labonte’s crew chief. Wilson makes the move over to Harvick after serving as crew chief for Childress’s Clint Bowyer’s team that will not be fielded this coming season.

Childress’s Jeff Burton will also be getting a new crew chief this season in Drew Blickensdefer. He comes to Burton from Roush- Fenway Racing, where he was the crew chief for David Regan’s #6 team that was shut down at the end of the season after loosing UPS as its sponsor. Blickensdefer will be replacing Luke Lambert, who stays with Childress and will work with one of its Nationwide Series teams.

The last major change at the crew chief position belongs Hendrick Motorsports that finds its #5 team competing in 2012 with both a new driver and crew chief. Last season was the final year for Mark Martin behind the wheel as he will be moving over to Michael Waltrip Racing for a 25-race schedule for the next two seasons. His crew chief, Lance McGrew, was relieved of his duties at the end of the year to make room for new driver Kasey Kahne, who had signed to drive for Hendrick in 2012 back in 2010.

Kahne signed on with Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season along with his longtime crew chief Kenny Francis. Kenny will be joining him at Hendrick Motorsports as the two have a long history of winning races and being competitive in the series.

This is just a partial list of the changes that we will see but it once again proves that in this sport even if you are on top, change is the normal way of doing business.

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