NASCAR Drivers Who Would Make the Best Crew Chiefs
There's a scene in the movie Days of Thunder where crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) tells new driver Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) what he needs from Trickle to make his race car go fast.
While Trickle knows how to drive, he readily admits to Duvall, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about" when it comes to the mechanics of the car.
"I really don't know. A turn here? A wedge there?" Trickle asks incredulously.
Trickle is completely lost from a mechanical standpoint.
But in the real world of NASCAR racing, there are drivers who are so in tune with what makes their cars tick that they could easily step out from behind the wheel and feel equally as comfortable atop a pit box, going from driver to crew chief roles.
They're also the same guys who still, to this day, love to work on their own cars and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.
Let's take a look at 10 of today's drivers in NASCAR who, if they lost their driving jobs, could easily make the transition to crew chief, if need be.
Tony Stewart is so mechanically proficient that he could probably put a race car together blindfolded.
Stewart learned early on in his life, when he made his living towing cars in and around Indianapolis, what makes them tick—and why they also break sometimes.
Even today, Stewart loves to get under the hood and twist a few wrenches, particularly when it comes to working on his hobby, namely dirt track cars.
While Stewart's future is likely set to continue as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing once his driving days are over, if he ever feels a need for speed outside of the cockpit, being under the hood or atop the pit box will be natural for him.
Kasey Kahne is cut from much of the same mold as Tony Stewart. When Kahne was coming up through the ranks in his native Washington and racing throughout the Pacific Northwest, he learned to do a lot of his own work on his car.
And again like Stewart, Kahne oftentimes likes to go play in the dirt in his free time. But rather than watching and letting others do the work, it's not unusual to see Kahne under the hood or even under the car to see what's what and what needs to be fixed.
Kahne is kind of in the best place any driver can be: He races professionally but works on cars for the fun of it. It doesn't get much better than that.
There's no way that Ryan Newman gets left off a list like this, particularly since he's the only current driver on the Sprint Cup circuit who has a true degree in mechanical engineering (from Purdue University).
When he previously drove for Penske Racing, Newman could be found working side-by-side with crew chief Matt Borland. Unlike some drivers who retire to their motor coaches and let the crew chief do the work, Newman was never afraid to roll up his sleeves and lend a hand.
He got away from that routine somewhat at Stewart-Haas Racing, but he was always ready to help out if the situation called for it. Don't be surprised, though, if he starts helping out quite a bit at his new home, Richard Childress Racing.
Newman is also known for his own personal collection of cars, many which he built by hand from the ground up.
If you ever have your car break down and you're friends with Newman, you might want to call him first before you call the motor club.
Much like other drivers Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer learned about the mechanical side of racing at an early age.
Long before he came to NASCAR, Bowyer was known for prepping his own race cars that campaigned on short tracks throughout the Midwest.
Not only did he drive the cars on the track, he typically drove the transporter to and from races and then did a great deal of work under the hood or under the chassis.
It's there that Bowyer developed his penchant for perfection with his race cars. And even though he has a great team around him at Michael Waltrip Racing, it's not unusual to see Bowyer picking up a wrench or screwdriver from time to time.
Mark Martin is one of the most technically savvy guys in the NASCAR garage.
He was one of the first drivers in the sport to learn how to fly (and own) an airplane, but he also has an uncanny knack to diagnose a problem with a car even before a crew chief can.
And even though he has stepped back from his long racing career to serve as a driving coach and mentor for Danica Patrick this season, Martin will be the perfect complement to Patrick's regular crew chief, Tony Gibson, as well.
Together, Gibson and Martin should help Patrick develop into a consistent top 15 or top 20 finisher, as well as teach her even more about the mechanical breakdown of a Sprint Cup car.
We've heard it ad nauseum: Jimmie Johnson would never have won six Sprint Cup championships without Chad Knaus as his crew chief.
While that may be true, Johnson's mechanical knowledge of his race car is a tremendous help—and helps ease the load at times—to Knaus.
Johnson first learned about mechanics while racing motorcycles in the desert early in his career. He graduated to off-road four-wheelers and eventually made his way to NASCAR, where he has become one of the greatest drivers in the sport's history.
Sure, Knaus makes most of the final calls to keep Johnson's car humming along, but if you ever get a chance to listen in on the team's radio conversations during a race, Johnson is a conduit of information about what's going on with the car.
Being a crew chief is not an easy job, but when you have a driver like Johnson, it definitely makes Knaus' job a lot easier.
Kurt and Kyle Busch
Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch were mechanical virtuosos in the early days of their respective racing careers.
Along with father Tom, they worked on their go-karts and eventually race cars. It's a passion that continues today, as Kyle and Kurt both maintain large collections of personal vehicles that they like to tinker with in their free time.
Kyle also likes to work on his late-model car that he campaigns around the country in various racing exhibitions.
Kurt, meanwhile, has been known as being tough on crew chiefs during his career. And while some of the swearing and public chewing out of his crew chiefs, particularly on the radio, could have been avoided, it is also a reflection of the elder Busch brother's competitive fire and his knowledge of what his car needs to be better.
While Kevin Harvick is known as a fiery driver, he's also a mechanical master as well.
In fact, if we didn't know better, we'd say there was a picture of Harvick next to the word "gearhead" in the dictionary.
How else can you explain the way Harvick built up Kevin Harvick Inc., taking it from an idea to one of the more successful trucks and Nationwide Series operations for nearly a decade before he decided to fold up shop three years ago?
Harvick is a thinking man's driver, very cerebral and driving as if he's playing a game of chess—always thinking two or three moves ahead.
He's also the same way mechanically. While he typically lets others do the work for him, Harvick has a keen knack for pinpointing what's wrong with his race car. He oftentimes can predict trouble even before it happens. That's definitely the sign of a guy who is one with his race car.
Dave Blaney has spent his entire racing career working on race cars.
From his days as a sprint car champion, barnstorming the U.S. and racing more than 100 nights a year to his time in NASCAR, it's hard to distinguish which comes first as far as Blaney's talent: Is he a race car driver first and mechanic second or vice-versa?
And now as Blaney's own racing career is starting to slow down while son Ryan's career is starting to blossom, it's a pretty safe bet that the elder Blaney will be as happy under the hood as he was behind the wheel.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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