NASCAR – the importance of having a good crew chief

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Having a good crew chief on your NASCAR team is crucial to the success of the team. The best driver in the world still needs to have someone who can help them achieve their winning goals. The driver and the crew chief are a partnership, and when the right partnership is struck, it’s gold. Here are some reasons why a good crew chief is necessary.

1) Communication. Drivers are not all made out of the same mold, nor do they like the same setups or have the same ways of communicating issues. When paired with the right crew chief, a driver often finds his own shorthand to letting the crew chief know what is right, or wrong, with the car. Some drivers and crew chiefs may use a finely tuned scale, like 1 to 10 to describe how the car is handling. Others use a lot of charade-like movements. A good crew chief knows his driver and can interpret what a ‘three’ means as easily as they can what a ten-degree wiggle of the right hand means. The more they understand and comprehend, the better the communication between the driver and the crew chief, the higher the degree of success they’ll have. It takes time to develop these skills. Crew chief Greg Zipadeli and Tony Stewart worked together for years and understood each other perfectly. Now, Stewart has his own team, and Zipadeli is having to learn how to interpret and prepare cars for rookie Joey Logano, who drives differently from Stewart. It’s going to take these two time, but a good crew chief like Zipadeli knows he needs to let Logano be himself.

2) Respect/Leadership. The crew chief has to control the pit crew. These persons must be able to listen to instructions from the crew chief, and the crew chief has to be able to relay his words in precise and concise words. A good crew chief will oftentimes leave the tall pit box structure and go down to the actually pit area to confer with his team at crucial moments. He has to inspire them, commend them, and chastise them, when appropriate. The crew chief makes the calls, but it’s the pit crew who has to carry it out, so the crew chief has to be the leader that keeps them going, through the highs and the lows. Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, is often seen conversing with his crew, making sure they understand exactly what the game plan is during a crucial part of the race.

3) Motivation. Similarly, the crew chief is like a cheerleader to the driver. It doesn’t matter how much he exaggerates, he has to get his driver to believe him. His driver’s emotions are in his hands. He has to keep the driver from becoming too frustrated over a bad break in the race, and he has to get them to believe that they are the best in the world. I don’t like these two at all, but one of the reasons that Jimmie Johnson is such a success is because crew chief Chad Knaus feeds him a non-stop supply of ‘we’re going to fix that’ and ‘you’re the best driver out there’. True or not, Johnson now believes it. I sincerely doubt he’d be as successful with as he’s been with a different crew chief. A crew chief is a cheer leader, and his goal is to make his driver believe, and that’s exactly what Knaus has done.

The crew chief in NASCAR is often like a baseball manager. If things go wrong, he gets the boot, usually finding his way to another team. Car owner Jack Roush takes a different approach much of the time. He loves to shake things up for his drivers, moving around the crew chiefs among his drivers. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, when a driver and crew chief truly bond, it can lead to amazing success. Jeff Gordon and crew chief Ray Everham proved that early in Gordon’s career when he won three Cup championships. Likewise, the wrong pairing can take a successful driver and mess up his winning ways, as happened to Carl Edwards a couple of years back.

The driver and crew chief are partners. When they’re in the groove, they’ll also find their way to Victory Lane, which is the ultimate goal of any NASCAR team.


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