Jerame Donley has joined GMS Racing to crew chief Ty Dillon and the No. 94 Chevrolet in the team’s inaugural season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Most recently, Donley spent nine years at Chip Ganassi Racing, serving as an engineer on the No. 42 Chevrolet with drivers Ross Chastain, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Larson.
Prior to joining CGR, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate worked at Hendrick Motorsports on the set-up plate and as an underneath mechanic for drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. During his time at HMS, Donley earned two Cup Series championships with Johnson in 2009 and 2010.
The Winston Salem, N.C. native grew up racing go-karts, bandoleros, and late models, after his father, Craig, retired from spotting for Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s team at Richard Childress Racing in the early 1990s.
Donley currently resides in Mooresville, N.C. with his wife, Jenna, and two rescue dogs, Bear and Bandit. The Donley family will welcome their first child in February 2022.
The No. 94 Chevrolet team will participate in the NASCAR NextGen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on November 17-18, marking Donley and Dillon’s first on-track activity together. That test is also why we’ve seen the flurry of crew chief announcements lately. See, with a new car debuting on track next season, all the past notes are now thrown away. You don’t have the luxury of learning each other while piloting an existing car from the year before.
This time, you have to learn a new car together. So, why wait to find the right pairing until later this winter. You need the maximum amount of time to figure this new Next Gen car out the right way and with testing occurring each month, you might as well get it out of the way now.
That’s why with the season ending on Nov. 7, that you’ve seen so many new deals announced.
Kurt Busch will now have Billy Scott on his pit box. That move was announced Tuesday morning. So was that Bootie Barker will remain paired with Bubba Wallace under the same 23XI Racing banner.
RFK Racing also announced on Tuesday that Matt McCall will be Brad Keselowski’s crew chief for 2022 while Scott Graves will stay with Chris Buescher.
That comes after the Wood Brothers named Brian Wilson as Harrison Burton’s crew chief last Thursday morning. That news came a day after Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Dave Elenz will be Erik Jones’ crew chief in 2022. The same day, Tanner Gray got a former RPM crew chief in Jerry Baxter named for his crew chief in the upcoming NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.
That’s eight driver and crew chief combo announcements in less than a weeks span.
Heading to 2022 now, there’s only six driver-crew chief combos still around in the Cup Series that started the 2019 season off together. That’s remarkable.
Chase Elliott and Alan Gustafson (Hendrick), Alex Bowman and Greg Ives (Hendrick), Denny Hamlin and Chris Gabehart (JGR), Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers (SHR) and Michael McDowell and Drew Blickensderger (Front Row) are the only ones left.
As to why so much change over?
One can make a case to where the driver/crew chief pairings in NASCAR now are as important now than ever before. See, drivers these days aren’t as well versed in what goes into making a car than they used to be. Back in the 70s or 80s, a lot of the drivers were gearheads in a sense that they could work on their own cars too. Not that some drivers now aren’t, but most couldn’t tell you what goes into a car anymore. They just drive what they were given.
Crew chiefs have to have such a close relationship to know what their driver likes in the car because of that. The drivers can tell you what they need to help their car go faster on track and what areas of the track that they’re struggling in, but some struggle to tell their crew chiefs what changes to the car to make it do what they’re describing. “My car is loose in Turn 3 or my car is plowing in Turn 1 or 2.” That’s normal verbiage from a driver on his scanner to his crew chief during the race. But, they may not be able to tell you how to fix it to make it better.
The crew chief has to hear what the driver is assessing and know what ways to make the car better to drive. They have to be well versed and know the lingo with their driver to make the changes needed.
Without any practice for the final 32 races of 2020 and a majority of the races in 2021, you really have to be well versed with your driver to be sure you’re taking a car with you to the race track each week that has a shot to win. Then, you have to be able to communicate well over the course of the race to make changes as the day goes on.
Not many races now do you not touch the car all race. You have to make adjustments, even if they’re slight because the cars that aren’t perfect, well they’re adjusting and they can make enough adjustments that might make them better than you.
So, you’re racing the car you’re driving, the other cars on track to go along with the track and the conditions as well.
2022 is a new car. Another wrench thrown into the equation.
That’s why a driver-crew chief pairing is so integral in the sport to success. It’s not a fluke that the best drivers each season have the best crew chiefs for them. Why do the greats all have good sidekicks? Gordon-Evernham. Johnson-Knaus. Petty-Inman.
Well, a few years ago, we had Kyle Busch-Adam Stevens, Kevin Harvick-Rodney Childers, Martin Truex Jr.-Cole Pearn, Brad Keselowski-Paul Wolfe, Joey Logano-Todd Gordon to go along with Johnson-Knaus.
Now, those relationships have almost all changed.
There’s a reason why two of the four racing for a championship earlier this month in Phoenix were there for a second straight year and have there in the Championship 4 had combined to win the last three Daytona 500’s.