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2011 Has Been Year of Crew Chief Shuffle

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 30 2011

Todd Berrier and Jeff Burton – the results just were not happening. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Indianapolis – These are not good days to be a crew chief, it appears. Especially if the car you’re working on and the driver you’re working for are not performing up to whoever’s expectation.

At just past the halfway point of the season, five Sprint Cup crew chiefs have been sacked in 2011.

What’s up with all that?

Greg Biffle, who had Greg Erwin replaced by Matt Puccia just before the race at New Hampshire two weeks ago, was asked just that this weekend.

“For us,” Biffle said, “I’ve had the same crew chief since 2007, so we’d been together a long time. This is really technically my fourth crew chief in my Cup career. I had an interim of Pat Tryson for seven or nine races, so I had (Randy) Goss, Doug (Richert) and (Greg) Erwin. I think everybody has so much pressure to perform and to win races and be competitive. I don’t know what everybody else’s issues are, but I would imagine they’re the same.”

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle said it was not really a chemistry thing in his and Erwin’s situation. It was more just a decision to shake things up.

“We needed a different approach,” Biffle said. “We needed to look at it differently and I don’t think just changing the crew chief is gonna fix why we’ve run out of gas so many times and our fuel mileage and

Greg Biffle and Greg Erwin were separated a couple of weeks ago. A lot of crew chief changes have been occurring in 2011. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

other things that we’ve had going on, but it gives a fresh look at it. ‘OK, what can we do to fix our issues. What can we do to be a better team and compete more competitively every weekend.’

“Not really compete more competitively because we have been fast everywhere we’ve been, but how do we finish where we’ve been running. What do we need to do to finish where we’ve been running? One is to run the same amount of laps as the rest of the field is on a fuel tank. Two, get good, decent pit stops, and pit strategy – when to pit and when not to pit, when to put two on and when to put four on. That’s what we were missing. We had good, fast cars and still do. We just needed to finish and close the deal. We weren’t closing and we just needed a fresh look at it.”

Jeff Burton of Richard Childress Racing, had his crew chief, Todd Berrier, replaced by Luke Lambert this week.

Again, nothing personal against Berrier.

“Todd is a really smart guy and very talented and he’s been a part of RCR for a long time. The problem we’re in isn’t a one-person problem. Todd brings a tremendous amount to the table, a tremendous amount of good but at the end of the day the success just isn’t here. We just can’t continue on down the road we were on. It just wasn’t working. But it’s not singly Todd’s fault by any means. Certainly he had some blame in it and so do I and so does everybody on the team but by no means do I think this is 100 percent Todd Berrier’s fault.”

Loyalty, a lot of employees have learned, is always trumped by change.

Berrier was Kevin Harvick’s crew chief for years at RCR. Asked about his reassignment, Harvick shrugged a whatever shrug.

“Obviously Todd has been there for 18 years,” Harvick said. “We started our Nationwide program together. He came up as I was coming up, was my crew chief on the Nationwide side. So, yeah, I mean, unfortunately tough decisions like that have to be made. Those things happen.”

Burton sounded more compasionate, but, the decison was made at the top so there was nothing he could do but shrug.

“My mindset is more to think about just keep working and working and everybody has to keep working together but as the year went on it became evident that we had to change something and what that was who knew,” he said. But it became evident that we had to change something.”

Clint Bowyer and Travis Pastrana go way back. The raced motorcycles together back when they were kids.

Travis Pastrana's NASCAR career is being delayed. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Michael Waltrip Racing)

Bowyer was asked what he thought about Pastrana suffering leg injuries doing X-Games trick riding two nights before his scheduled debut in the NASCAR nationwide series.

Bowyer was not surprised.

“There’s not too many people in the world let alone the racing world that would do what he does,” Bowyer said. “He’s an incredibly gifted, incredibly talented athlete but I’m telling you he’s got a few wires loose, he’ll go for it now. He’ll jump out of a plane with no parachute. Nobody does that. He’s just always lived life on the edge and he’s made a hell of name for himself in doing so.

“Him doing that last night is what gave him the break in a race car. He don’t need that race car. He’s making a bigger living doing what he’s doing than he could ever do over here. He’s always been that way. He’s made a career doing that and I truly think he’s doing this NASCAR thing for fun and a new challenge. That’s exactly right.”

Bowyer, before getting into stock cars, was a gifted rider himself. As a kid, he and his brother used to flip their bicycles off the pier and into the pond behind their house in Emporia, Kansas.

Bowyer traded in two wheels for four and says he has mixed emotions about Pastrana, who will not drive tonight in NNS at Lucas Oil Raceway because of his injuries, moving into cars.

“He doesn’t need that race car,” Bowyer said. “He’s doing it just for the challenge, but he doesn’t need it.”

Common sense, especially among those who saw him pounded into the ground in Los Angeles on Thursday night, might dictate otherwise.

Bowyer is in the final year of his contract at Richard Childress Racing. As such, he is playing a starring roll in Silly Season.

NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and driver Clint Bowyer are close to having a new deal. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

He said it appears he will be back with RCR next season.

“I hope we have it done in a couple of days,” Bowyer said of reach a deal. “We’re getting close.”

Bowyer said that the big prize in free agency this year, Carl Edwards, is the big domino when it comes to signing new deals: When and where he signs will have an influence on other signings, perhaps, including Bowyer’s.

“Yeah, that’s the biggest thing, there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that have to be put in place,” Bowyer said. “Like Carl. Where he decides to go is a big part of that. Like you said the puzzle is not put together yet.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 30 2011
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