By Steve Mickey
Unless you are the reigning Sprint Cup champion, chances are that your team may be in for some changes before the beginning of the 2016 season. Those changes can come in many forms but most will involve a changing of a crew chief, sponsor or the driver.
Owners spend millions in trying to win races and make the chase but when that doesn’t happen, they are quick to make what they feel are the necessary changes to turn their fortunes around. For some it is a change in manufacturers and that is exactly what will be taking place at Furniture Row Racing even though its driver Martin Truex Jr. made it into the Championship Four with a chance to win the title. The Colorado based team will be switching from Chevrolet to Toyota in a new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Stewart-Haas Racing decided that it needed to change crew chiefs with two of its four teams to help jump start the seasons of Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. Stewart who has already announced that the 2016 season would be his last will have Michael Bugarewicz calling the shots from his pit box. Bugarewicz was promoted from race engineer on SHR’s Kevin Harvick’s team to replace Chad Johnston.
Johnston wasn’t out of work long as he will be moving over to Chip Ganassi Racing to take over the crew chief duties for Kyle Larson. After a season in which he finished 19th in the final standings which was a two spot drop from his rookie year in 2014, crew chief Chris Heroy was let go.
Billy Scott will be the new crew chief for Patrick replacing Daniel Knost who has been promoted to a senior leadership position with SHR. Scott spent the 2015 season with Michael Waltrip Racing where he served as crew chief for Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team.
Richard Petty Motorsports is the latest organization to make a change for next season as it just recently announced that Same Hornish Jr. would no longer be behind the wheel of its No. 9 Ford. He will be replaced by Brian Scott who has spent the last six seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Some teams feel that they have the driver and crew chief in place to get the job done but that they need some improvement on pit road. That is exactly the approach the No. 3 team of Richard Childress Racing with driver Austin Dillon and crew chief Slugger Labbe will be taking during the offseason. Labbe has hired former Michael Waltrip Racing crewmembers in jack man Brian Chase and front-tire carrier Allen Steele to increase the performance of Dillon’s over-the-wall crew on race day.
Some changes go under the radar in the sport and not all of the big changes take place with the larger multi-team operations. After a 22nd place finish in the final point standings, JTG Daughtery’s AJ Allmendinger’s team will have a new crew chief in Randall Burnett and a new Director of Competition in Ernie Cope. Burnett has been the lead engineer on Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet with driver Kyle Larson the last two seasons. Cope brings a wealth of experience to the team as he has experience with Kevin Harvick Inc., Richard Childress Racing and the last two seasons at JR Motorsports working with Chase Elliott.
The one change for next year that every fan will be impacted by will be the change that takes place in the FOX broadcast booth. Jeff Gordon will be making the move from behind the wheel to behind the microphone when FOX resumes its Sprint Cup coverage in February at Daytona. He will be joining Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip as he will be taking the place of Larry McReynolds who will now be featured in segments about the technology of the sport.
It’s going to be another one of those Speedweeks at Daytona where you will need a program to figure it all out. All of this isn’t new as every team that struggles will always try and make the kind of changes that it believes will make the difference when the new season gets underway.