One of the few lasting driver-crew chief pairings left in the NASCAR Cup Series from the start of the 2019 season will be no more. Front Row Motorsports announced on Friday that Drew Blickensderfer will leave the team and pursue other options.
Blickensderfer, helped lead Michael McDowell to a Daytona 500 triumph last February and has been with FRM since the start of the 2019 season. Prior to that, he worked for Richard Petty Motorsports which began in 2013 when he joined them with on a two-year stint with Marcus Ambrose. In 2015, the driver of the No. 9 Ford changed to Sam Hornish Jr. That all came before moving to the 43 car from 2016 through 2018. Aric Almirola was his driver in 2016 and most of 2017 before his injury and Bubba Wallace in 2018.
In 2012, he was with RCR and Jeff Burton. For 2010-2011, he was with Roush Fenway on top of the pit box for David Ragan. Prior to that, he was with Matt Kenseth in 2009 for his debut season as a Cup crew chief.
The team didn’t have an announcement on who would take over next.
Now, we have just five driver-crew chief pairings left in the Cup Series that was around in 2019.
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.