People are interesting creatures. Some mix well together and others do not.
Have you ever met someone who you did not like? Yet that person has friends and they like each other. There must be something appealing about the person you didn’t care for. That appeal just matches up to someone else.
NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs can bring out the best or the worst in each other. A very talented driver can be paired up with a very talented crew chief and together they can achieve… mediocrity. Why? The same reason we pick our friends. Personalities are different and that meshing shows up on the racetrack.
The last few years Matt Kenseth has not been in winning contention and was often outside of the top ten. This past week Kenseth trounced the Cup field in Texas.
When he was winning on a regular basis, his manner was not dominating. Kenseth has a David Pearson-like style where he would take care of his equipment and then make his move after the final pit stop. But as the saying goes, if you got it, you night as well flaunt it. Kenseth had a car so much quicker than everyone else there was no place to go but the front. Thank you cards are being sent to crew chief Jimmy Fennig for helping break Kenseth’s two-plus year winless drought.
Fennig has been with the Roush organization for many seasons working with Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, and David Ragan among others. Recently he returned from the research and development department back to the top of a pit box. The fine mixing of Kenseth and Fennig shined brightly Saturday night.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s results are certainly on an upswing with his new-for-2011 crew chief Steve Letarte. Earnhardt is a two-time Nationwide Series champion and 18-time Cup winner. But his results have been underwhelming after three seasons at Hendrick Motorsports.
Letarte and Junior have observers predicting his winless streak will be broken sooner rather than later based on their performance. Letarte was a guy that was moved up through Hendrick’s ranks from tire specialist, to mechanic, to car chief, and finally to crew chief. He is also the guy whose head Gordon’s fans wanted on a platter for not bringing their man to Victory Lane enough. This year it appears Letarte may be the combination Earnhardt has been looking for.
Jeff Gordon snapped his own two-year winless streak at Phoenix with new crew chief Alan Gustafson. Any early thought of yelling for another leader by Gordon fans was quickly quieted.
All of these drivers and crew chiefs never lost any of their talents. The combination of people is sometimes fine, but not quite right to step forward and excel.
The numbers put up by two of the all-time greats have a lot to do with their relationship and personalities. Richard Petty and Dale Inman have seven Cup Championships together. Inman has an eighth title with another laid back driver Terry Labonte.
There are very few of the same parts and car components that are not available to every team in the Cup garage. But no two people are the same. The right combination is even harder to find. Once it is found, hang on to it for as long as possible. Ask Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)