Difference Makers for Hire

In most years Silly Season focuses on drivers swapping seats. While there was plenty of that this summer (Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin) many of the biggest moves will come this fall. Biggest doesn’t always mean headline-grabbing, seven-figures salary big. In this case it we’re talking about the nerve center of a race team, the crew chief. Crew chiefs like Chad Knaus and Greg Zipadelli are rare, most crew chiefs shuttle among teams several times, but that doesn’t demean their value at all. In the same way head coaches in other sports are often nomads, the same is true for a crew chief.

Two of the best crew chiefs left their teams earlier this week. Todd Parrott and Ryan Pemberton left Yates Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing respectively. Parrott won a Cup title with Dale Jarrett and has won races with other drivers and has overachieved with almost every team his worked with. Elliott Sadler won two races with Parrott in 2004 and hasn’t come close since. He helped temporarily turn around the #43 with Bobby Labonte in 2006, and at least giving Petty Enterprises the chance to run in the top ten on a regular basis. He won 2 poles with David Gilliland (if Parrott couldn’t make Gilliland successful, I don’t know who could), and also led Travis Kvapil to Yates’ best season in almost three seasons (4 top 10’s, 1 pole). He gets more out of drivers and the equipment than expected.

Like Parrott, Pemberton has taken several teams and overachieved. He and Joe Nemechek formed a solid partnership at MB/2 Motorsports, winning a race in 2004, twice finishing in the top 20 in points and racking up 20top 10’s in three seasons together. Pemberton nearly won the 2007 Daytona 500 with Mark Martin and posted five top 5’s and 11 top 10’s. After Ginn was absorbed by DEI, Pemberton left for Michael Waltrip Racing and hooked up with David Reutimann. The pair came on strong at the end of 2008, scoring 4 top tens while running much better than their finishing positions.

Now both crew chiefs have decided to move on. Reports have Pemberton reuniting with Jay Frye (both worked together at MB/2) at Red Bull Racing. For a team on the rise, Pemberton could be the perfect crew chief for Brian Vickers to break through for his first win with Red Bull. Meanwhile Parrott will find a job and some team will reap the benefits. One team that would be a good fit would be Richard Childress Racing. On the #29 team Kevin Harvick and crew chief Todd Berrier look like they’ve plateaued. Harvick is obviously an immensely talented driver, and not taking anything away from Berrier, the team has one win in its last 72 races. Sure, they’ve made three straight Chases and can consistently run in the top ten, but they aren’t close to competing with the top three Cup teams. Parrott could be the crew chief to squeeze more performance out of the #29 and return him to his 2006 form. It’s hard to see Childress making this kind of decision, but something obviously needs fixing on the #29.