Drew Blickensderfer Continues His Winning Ways with Roush Fenway Racing
Drew Blickensderfer could retire right now and he'll be remembered as a Daytona 500 winning crew chief and undefeated in the Sprint Cup Series.
Blickensderfer left Homestead in 2008 by promising Carl Edwards in the Nationwide Series garage after finishing second in points, that they were going to build better cars and win every race in 2009 in pursuit of the championship.
Well, he's off to a good start but it's in a different series with a different driver.
Blickensderfer was prompted to crew chief of Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Ford Fusion after Kenseth and his team went winless in 2008.
He replaced Chip Bolin who only spent one season atop the 17 pit box and led the team to the Chase. However, that was all the team accomplished last season and Jack Roush was not satisfied.
After admitting that he didn't give Kenseth all the tools he needed to win, he told Kenseth a few days before Christmas that Blickensderfer would be his new crew chief. Unbenounced to them, their Christmas present would come in February.
Blickensderfer is no stranger to crew chief duties. He led Carl Edwards to seven wins in the Nationwide Series and second in points. Even though he started 2008 as a Nationwide Series crew chief for another driver.
With the two already knowing each other, it took any awkward introductions and getting used to each other on the radio, out of the way for Speedweeks. "I had a chance to work with Drew for a couple of years in the Nationwide Series and he is one of the hardest working guys in the garage.
He has a passion for the sport and I know he will be a great addition to our No. 17 team," Kenseth said.
So far, so good.
Blickensderfer started in NASCAR in 2002 when he was a mechanic and tire changer for the No. 1 team at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Eventually he moved to Bill Davis Racing where he continued to change tires.
Then three years later he started working his way through the ranks at Roush-Fenway Racing.
By 2006 he got his first crew chiefing job, as he guided the upstarting Danny O'Quinn Jr., who even though he never won a race, he took home Rookie of the Year honors.
But is was last season with Carl Edwards that he started tasting success.
By the time the No. 17 team rolled into Daytona, Blickensderfer was already on a winning streak, having ended the 2008 season by visiting victory lane at Phoenix and Homestead in the Nationwide Series.
He brought his luck and hard work with him, even though no one would have guessed that Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush would end up in victory lane after the biggest race of the year. Matt Kenseth even admitted in victory lane that he didn't think it would happen.
But the team got to work and never gave up during Speedweeks. And they didn't set the world on fire either, but that's how you win the "Great American Race."
They had a quiet and solid run in the Budweiser Shootout, finishing eighth after missing the last lap wreck. It was a sign of things to come—both good and bad.
Kenseth started 11th in the Thursday Gatorade Duel race but would finish 26th after being collected in a wreck.
That meant that not only would the 17 be starting last in the Daytona 500, 43rd, but he would do so in a backup car. The odds against the Roush-Fenway team kept growing and growing. But Blickensderfer says that the team was "very optimistic about the car used on Sunday."
On that Sunday in the Daytona 500, Kenseth ran a very Matt Kenseth like race: quiet all day, logging laps until the pay window opened.
"The car handled better than most, and Matt was able to work his way through quite a few people. And we had great pit stops. We would ratchet ourselves up four or five spots every stop," Blickensderfer said.
"We were in the right place at the right time in the big wreck and we had the fastest car of the group fighting for the lead when the rain came."
Kenseth only led seven laps, the seven that were run under caution just as the rain started to fall. He only led under green flag conditions for about 20 seconds which was when he made the pass for the lead on Elliott Sadler in turn one.
As he led the field down the backstretch, a wreck occurred behind him and that sealed his win. The race never restarted.
Perhaps the hardest part of the week was waiting and wondering during the red flag condition.
"It was kind of surreal," Blickensderfer says. "Radar showed it was going to rain, and once it started, it wasn't going to end for a while. You knew (the race would be shortened) and you wanted to pinch yourself."
He can now pinch himself for the rest of his life, he has won the Daytona 500.
"There are a lot of people who deserve to win the Daytona 500 that didn't have a chance. I'm blessed to be with caliber of team that I am that I was lucky enough to do it with a team my first time out."
That is something that is not lost on his boss Jack Roush, who had to wait over 20 years to win it. Blickensderfer only had to wait 152 laps or more specifically, about 16 minutes of sitting on pit road.
"It can only go downhill from here," Blickensderfer says.
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