After a thoroughly disappointing start to 2009 for the No. 07 and No. 29 teams, two operations that secured Chase berths in 2008, news broke today that owner Richard Childress has swapped the crew chiefs and crews of both teams in an effort to improve chemistry and performance on the racetrack.
On paper, changing things up makes sense. Crew chief swapping has proven over the last few seasons to be just the spark a team needed. Just look at what happened to Kurt Busch in 2007 when Pat Tryson took over on the No. 2 car’s war wagon. Look at what happened to Carl Edwards and the No. 60 team in the Nationwide Series when Drew Blickensderfer took over. If Roger Penske and Jack Roush can make something like that work, there’s no reason that Richard Childress can’t.
On paper anyway. However, the decision to swap crews around in this instance is not a move that is going to return either the No. 07 or No. 29 to Chase contention, because such a move ignores the problem in both teams’ cases…the guys behind the wheel.
It doesn’t matter who is making the calls, changing the tires, or driving the hauler… Casey Mears is Casey Mears. In four years at Chip Ganassi Racing, Mears posted a woeful rookie campaign after getting a Cup ride based on his last name, not his performance on-track, following that up with two mediocre seasons in the No. 41 and a campaign in the No. 42 car that saw a borderline Chase team post fewer poles, top fives and top 10s with Mears behind the wheel. From there, it was onward to Hendrick Motorsports… but even after two years driving the sport’s best equipment, Mears had nothing to show but a fuel-mileage win and zero Chase berths.
In short, Mears in a perpetual underachiever… and if he couldn’t win or even perform consistently in the best Chevrolets in the field, why think he could do better in the rest at RCR?
As for Kevin Harvick, there is no debating the talent behind the wheel… it’s there. The focus, however, is not. And while that’s not intentional, it has to be said that Happy has a whole lot on his plate. Kevin Harvick Inc. is a great success story right now, but like with any success, it has its demands. Being a full-time Cup driver is demanding enough, but when you throw in running a full-time Truck and Nationwide team in a wicked economy, it’s amazing that Harvick manages to keep his routine going weekend after weekend.
It’s impossible, though, to see the No. 29 car and Harvick contending for a Cup title under these conditions. Look at the most recent Cup champions, and you’ll notice a trend… they weren’t big-time owners and they didn’t run big-time companion schedules. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t run 20-plus Nationwide and Truck races a season. Tony Stewart didn’t own big-time race teams in 2002 or 2005. Kurt Busch ran zero Nationwide or Truck races during his title season in 2004. Winning a Cup title is not something that can be part of a week-to-week grind… it has to be the week-to-week grind.
Swapping crew chiefs and crews may make a great PR release and sound significant, but it’s not going to make contenders out of RCR. The focus of changes in this shop needs to be behind the wheel. If Richard Childress truly wants to make contenders out of the No. 07 and No. 29 teams, the finger has got to point straight to his drivers. If Harvick is going to rise up and become a true challenger for the Cup, the weekend joyrides in the No. 33 car on Saturdays have to stop… and it’s going to take an ultimatum from his owner to accomplish that.
As for Mears, well, there doesn’t need to be any ultimatum. A simple promise to the crew guys that they’ll have a new driver in 2010… and a lengthy apology to sponsor Jack Daniel’s… is all that’s in order.