Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: Lame-Duck Crew Chief Follows Kasey Kahne

We’ve all heard about lame-duck drivers this season – but what about lame-duck crew chiefs? It was announced that Kenny Francis would be coming with Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports next season, as crew chief for the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. While Mark Martin’s plans have not yet been divulged regarding 2012 and beyond, what about current crew chief Lance McGrew?

McGrew was assigned the regrettable task of picking up the pieces from the split of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and cousin Tony Eury Jr. in 2009. He will finish out the season with Martin – still in Chase contention in 20th place in points after a season that has seen the No. 5 caught up in a number of wrecks not of their doing this season – and move into an R&D role with HMS getting the new 2013 Chevrolets up to speed.

While the No. 5 is essentially the No. 88 from last season, the car has arguably been about as competitive as when Earnhardt Jr. drove it. Martin has been in contention to win all but a handful of times this year after winning five races in 2009 and nearly winning the championship in his first year with the team and crew chief Alan Gustafson. That team and crew chief have resurrected the career of Jeff Gordon this year as they did with Martin just two years ago.

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The questions rage whether Joey Logano will be replaced by Carl Edwards in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing, with little indication of how things will play out one way or another for the driver deemed “Sliced Bread.” During his appearance on ESPN’s NASCAR Now Wednesday afternoon, there were some clues that Logano may have his nail apron revoked.

Logano looked liked he had about two hours of sleep with the kind of bags under his eyes that Clubber Lang would have had a field day with. Logano made sure to mention his Home Depot “Tie-Ota” more often than one would expect even a NASCAR driver too. Looks like Logano might actually be feeling the heat to keep his seat at JGR.

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One of the most unfortunate falls from grace in the Sprint Cup Series over the past few years has to be that of Robby Gordon. Gordon first appeared in the Cup Series in 1991 driving for legendary Ford car owner Junie Donlavey. In 1993, Gordon was tasked with stepping in for Robert Yates Racing following the death of Davey Allison at Talladega. His first full season abruptly ended in 1997 after verbal sparring and alleged physical confrontations between Gordon and car owner Felix Sabates. After a couple of seasons back in CART, Gordon brought his own team to NASCAR for 2000, running No. 13 Fords.

In 2001, Gordon joined Richard Childress Racing after an abbreviated stint in the No. 4 Morgan McClure Kodak Chevrolet. It was a tumultuous time for RCR, having endured the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr. as well as losing Mike Skinner to injuries and resulting surgery halfway through the year. Gordon took over and won his first career race at the real season-ending event at a rescheduled New Hampshire Motor Speedway – and would have won at Watkins Glen had NBC’s battery pack for the in-car camera not caught on fire.

Gordon would go on to record another pair of wins in the No. 31 Chevrolet at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. Gordon would leave at the end of 2004 to embrace his inner-Alan Kulwicki and go back to running his own team; something that had long gone out of vogue since the trials and tribulations of owner-drivers such as Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd and Darrell Waltrip. His best efforts to date were a 26th-place points finish in 2007 – which included a missed race after being parked by NASCAR for his refusal to heed race control instructions after an on-track altercation with Marcos Ambrose in the Montreal Nationwide Series race.

Gordon has finished 34th in points the last two years and sits 34th currently in 2011. Although his name is on the entry list for this weekend’s Brickyard 400, Robby Gordon occasionally takes weekends off now and has gone so far as to refer to Robby Gordon Motorsports as, “a marketing company that races.” For a driver who had four 24 Hours of Daytona class wins by the time he was 25 and came within a lap of winning the 1999 Indianapolis 500, it has to be a bit disheartening to have came so far and detoured what appeared to be the groundwork laid for a promising competitive Cup Series career just a few short years ago.

I know I’m depressed about it.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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