Publish date:

NASCAR Drivers and Crew Chiefs Talk Anonymously About 2015 Sprint Cup Competitors

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is set to begin with Sunday’s running of the Daytona 500. With the race to the Chase and the Sprint Cup Championship about to get re-started, Athlon asked crew chiefs and drivers to talk anonymously about the guys behind the wheel. Here are their takes on Athlon’s top 25 drivers entering the 2015 Sprint Cup season.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

(Number indicates ranking among Athlon's Top 25 drivers for 2015 season)

No. 1 – Brad Keselowski

Toward the end of the 2014 season, Keselowski was the subject of scrutiny and a common denominator in post-race scuffles. A driver who has competed regularly against him the last three years thinks that some other competitors feel unnerved and, possibly, intimidated. “This is a guy who wants to not just beat you, but also outsmart you. Brad ruffles feathers, he stands up for what he believes in and isn’t afraid to put his reputation and career on the line to be successful. In a lot of ways, you have to respect that. I’m not saying I cheer for him, but there’s certainly a reason he’s successful. He’s willing to do his job at a level where most drivers aren’t (willing to go). I happen to like that. He’s making his competition increase their workload, and I sense a lot of discomfort in that.” … The same driver went on to compare him to a popular NASCAR Hall of Famer. “He’s similar to Dale Earnhardt in a lot of ways, who toward the end of his career had universal respect from fans, drivers, everybody. If Brad were from the South, he’d be a hit right now with fans. Brad isn’t from the South — he’s from Michigan — but he’s had to work as hard as anyone to get where he is and isn’t afraid to let people know that he’s willing to put up a fight or do whatever it takes to stay there.”

No. 2 – Jimmie Johnson

A rival crew chief was shocked by the No. 48 team’s lack of innovation last season. “It’s interesting that they got hot at one point in the season and then we didn’t see anything from them until the third-to-last race (at Texas). Even then, we’re hearing that their skew was illegal. If you take out that race, then they really didn’t do anything in the second half of the year. It’s surprising that they didn’t show up in the Chase, especially since they have the notes from everybody else within Hendrick. There are rumors that Chad (Knaus) was distracted with his new girlfriend and wasn’t as focused as he once was. And that might just be a rumor — it’s what you hear — but you’ve got to wonder because up until this year, they seemed like the guys that were coming out with the forward-thinking stuff, pushing the boundaries on body stuff, pushing the boundaries on setup stuff. Last year, we never saw them jump out with anything that made us say, ‘We’ve got to chase that, because they’re dominant with it.’ They didn’t have the car advantage that they had in the past.” … “It wasn’t the year for them,” says a competing driver. “I think if you asked Jimmie or Chad they’d tell you they were disappointed. This massive rules change that we had didn’t suit them, and as the season wore on, you saw other teams catch up and surpass them. I thought that they’d get things together and turn it around come Chase time, but we never saw it.”

No. 3 – Kevin Harvick

“Everything that I’ve heard is that there are eight drivers between Hendrick and Stewart-Haas with access to all the same setups, and he’s the only one that can drive them,” says a rival crew chief. “What he does with the pedals and how he drives a tight racecar and makes speed is something no one else there can do. I heard that Jeff Gordon went to several tests with the intent of ‘Give me (Harvick’s) setup and I’ll try to drive it.’ It’s impressive that he is able to do something that the caliber of guys like Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) can’t.” … That crew chief also suggests that Harvick’s crew chief and the 2015 rules package should keep Harvick formidable. “Everyone thought he was carrying the cars at RCR. Before last year, when it was announced he was paired with Rodney (Childers), we all figured he would contend. With Rodney, it always seemed like the cars he built were faster than the drivers he had. 2015’s rule package should be similar to the Nationwide package of 2014, and we know how good Harvick is in those cars. He’ll be really tough again.” … A fellow driver gushes about Harvick’s unique driving style. “He charges the corners really, really hard, which isn’t supposed to work in Stock Cars. He makes it work. We look at data that says he uses the brake as a tool more than any other driver. Combine the way he drives with that equipment and Rodney Childers, and it’s no wonder they had the season that they had.”

No. 4 – Joey Logano

A fellow young driver cites confidence as a big reason for Logano’s breakout season last year in the Cup Series. “To me, he didn’t fit the system at Joe Gibbs Racing, and it seemed like his confidence was down when he was over there. And from the outside looking in, they were invested in him, but they weren’t supporting him, if that makes sense. His crew chief (Greg Zipadelli) stunk, they didn’t build around him, and nothing ever seemed to work when he was over there. Now at Penske, it seems like he’s found a fit with Todd Gordon. It’s given him confidence, and now that he has that confidence, the talent has come out.” … One crew chief disagrees with the notion that Gordon is a factor in Logano’s success. “Joey is awesome, and you get the sense that he’s carrying that 22 team because everything Gordon does can easily be second-guessed. They had a lot of speed this year, which always helps, but I think if you took some of that away, you’d see a real difference in how Gordon calls a race and how someone like Paul Wolfe calls a race. I think Joey is succeeding despite his team, which does sound crazy considering how fast they were last year. What Joey was able to do at Richmond and Bristol, how well he conserved his stuff throughout the race, should tell you that he’s a legitimate driver in this sport now.”

No. 5 – Jeff Gordon

“I wouldn’t quite say the old Jeff Gordon was back, because we’ve never seen him like this before,” says a driver who competed against Gordon in 2014. “He was aggressive, like really aggressive, but at the same time, it seemed like other guys could rattle him pretty easily. I think he went into that Texas race frustrated about losing to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. the week prior (at Martinsville), and he had just lost to Jimmie Johnson (at Texas). Getting beat by two Hendrick cars that were out of the Chase at that point probably didn’t sit well with him. The (Brad) Keselowski thing was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. You could tell he got himself wound up and stressed out at the end of the season. That was easy to see. He was rattled.” … A rival crew chief points to Hendrick equipment as a key factor in Gordon’s strong year. “Like the 88 team, they benefited from having strong motors very early in the year. I don’t feel (Alan Gustafson) had strong mechanical setups, but they were very strong with aero. As for Gordon, he showed the ability to go and dominate a race. Without the issues he had in the Chase, he probably would’ve been (Kevin) Harvick’s biggest competition at Homestead. If he made it there, I could easily see him being the champion instead of Harvick.”

No. 6 – Carl Edwards

A Cup Series regular believes Edwards’s talent stood out in 2014, and could lead to big things with his new team. “Carl did a lot with a little last year. His wins the last few seasons came out of thin air. He took the 99 car far into the Chase, certainly further than I thought they’d go. Ultimately, the lack of speed affected him. But hey, he won at a road course and he won at Bristol, which speaks to his ability to elevate his situation. It’s going to be a big blow to Roush, now that they’ve lost him. He could end up having a Matt Kenseth-type season with JGR. That change in pace, in scenery, in equipment … I could see him being a challenger for the championship.” … A crew chief echoes that sentiment. “It’s going to be really interesting to see what he does in Gibbs equipment, because even though the Gibbs cars struggled a little bit in 2014, they’re light years ahead of where the Roush camp is. It’s funny — when you look at guys like Kenseth or (Kevin) Harvick that go to a new company that’s perceived to be a better company than where they were at, it’s almost like magic for a year. The honeymoon lasts for almost a whole season. Different ideas and different concepts with a very talented driver can lead to good results. I wouldn’t be surprised if Edwards is really good this year.”

No. 7 – Matt Kenseth

“It was the right call to keep him and Jason Ratcliff together,” says a current crew chief who previously worked with Kenseth. “They didn’t win last year, but they were still really consistent. They did a lot of the same things they did the year before, but the results were dialed down just because their engine program was down. But there was a good team underneath all that. If Joe Gibbs Racing or Toyota regains their speed, and I’m sure they will at some point, they’ll be winning again. (Kenseth and Ratcliff) are as smart and as in synch as any driver-crew chief team in the series right now. Matt has always been real good about his feedback. With good equipment, they’re tough to beat.” … “It was a disappointing year for him and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, really, in 2014. That 20 team just kind of sputtered after such a good first season together (in 2013). I guess it’s unfair to say that they were ‘off,’ since they ran in the top 5 a lot, but they just didn’t have the closing speed they did the year prior,” says a driver who has competed against Kenseth in the Cup Series and the Nationwide Series. “But there’s no doubt that he’s one of the top drivers in the sport, year-in and year-out, even with him getting older. He’s fit. He’s smart. He’s calm. And he’ll bounce back next year.”

No. 8 – Kyle Busch

“Kyle Busch has continued to show us that he’s not mentally mature enough to challenge for a championship,” says a rival driver. “We’ve seen the blowups and the unhinging in the racecar. He’ll continue to win races. He’s an amazingly talented driver. No one doubts that at all. But until they find a way to get him mature, keep his emotions in check and focus on the task at hand, I doubt he’ll win a championship, no matter what crew chief he’s with.” … A crew chief from a championship-contending team believes that a change atop the pit box and in the car’s setup could do wonders for a raw talent such as Busch. “He has so much talent that you have to figure if they get their setups on par with everyone else, that he would rise to the top. The rules changes could certainly play into his hands. It was surprising to me that he was just average this past year. Take away that one win they had, and it wasn’t much of a season for them at all.” … Another crew chief suggests that Adam Stevens is a downgrade from Dave Rogers. “I watched those Nationwide races last year and laughed whenever the TV crew complimented Stevens. Strategy-wise, he just doesn’t get it, and it’s not like he didn’t have Kyle Busch driving his car. Kyle Busch in a Joe Gibbs car in the Nationwide Series will make just about any crew chief look really good.”

No. 9 – Kyle Larson

“To me, this is the next real-deal superstar,” says a crew chief for what will likely be a title-contending team in 2015. “You hear the observations on what their setups are and where their cars are at and the comparisons to him and (Jamie) McMurray … the kid’s been awesome. Just in the garage, I’ve never seen somebody come in and get everyone on every team — across the board — excited about watching him. He’s made fans of other teams’ members. There are guys on our team that get pumped up about what the kid does. I haven’t seen that. Ever.” … “I was impressed,” says a competing driver. “That first strong run he had in Fontana was all him. The number of top-5 and top-10 runs he had … and he had more consistency in the Cup Series than he did the year prior (in the Nationwide Series). It seems like when he wasn’t able to find ways to win or finish near the front, he’d find ways to finish seventh, sometimes with a car that wasn’t exactly seventh-place material. He’d finish in the top 10 when he didn’t have a top-10 car. Heck, he almost made the Chase by doing that. And it seems like Ganassi did give him some good racecars, especially in the second half of the season. Because of him, there has been an infusion of funding into the team. They’ll be really good for the foreseeable future.”

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

No. 10 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR’s most popular driver invokes differing opinions. A crew chief for a competing team believes that Earnhardt’s 2014 success had more to do with the team than the driver. “Looking at the places he won (last) year, they came at the places where Hendrick had a clear advantage in horsepower, and I think that played into his hands to some degree. I think that’s true about a lot of Hendrick cars. Jeff Gordon won at Kansas and Michigan … the motor advantage helped them a ton. Their aero department has been very strong, but I don’t know that I feel like their mechanical setups have been that great. Compared to what Jeff did and what (Kevin) Harvick did with similar equipment, I wasn’t overly impressed with what (Earnhardt) did this year, even though it was a great year for him personally. That might have been his peak.” … One of Earnhardt’s closest competitors believes that we’re witnessing rejuvenation. “I was happy for him and that team this year, although I thought they would be more serious title contenders than they were. Steve Letarte did a remarkable job with him. In the last three years, he took a driver who had lost his confidence, lost his belief in his ability, and turned him into a guy that could sweep a place like Pocono, contend for wins week in and week out, qualify better … we haven’t seen those things from Dale Jr. in a while.”

Recommended Articles

No. 11 – Tony Stewart

A crew chief from outside the Chevrolet camp is convinced that a leg injury suffered in 2013 played a pivotal role in Stewart’s ineffective 2014 season. “I’m not convinced that his leg was fully healed last season. I’ve seen similar injuries, maybe not that bad, but still broken legs, and it took a full year just to heal. At his age and his fitness level, I don’t think he was fully healthy. He tried to make that comeback in a span of a few months. Also, this isn’t a typical sport in which he can make his left leg better to compensate for his injured right leg. He needs that right leg (for throttle and braking), and I’m concerned whether that right leg will ever have the same fine motor skills it once did. Having said that, before the injury, he was as talented as anyone in the series, so a 90 percent Tony Stewart is probably better than most other drivers and good enough to win a lot of races.” … “There’s still something left in the tank,” says a rival driver. “He might be getting up there in age and that showed even before the injury, but he’s still damn good. When he’s back to full health, I won’t be surprised to see him again contending for wins. An aging Smoke is still a top-15 driver, easy, and it’s obvious that Stewart-Haas has some things in the competition department figured out.”

No. 12 – Denny Hamlin

A fellow driver says Hamlin is talented, but questions his commitment. “It’s obvious to me that he’s fast. He has his tracks that he’s very good at, but for whatever reason, he zones out some weeks and isn’t a factor. I don’t think we’ve seen him plugged in for a full season yet. It’s almost as if he only gets up for the races he feels he’ll be competitive, which I sort of understand. But to become a guy that’s capable of seriously competing for a title, he has to make a more concerted effort at the tracks that aren’t so good for him. Dave Rogers seems like a bright guy, but his results in Cup aren’t all that impressive. But maybe that’s the combination that clicks? I don’t think Denny has had an elite crew chief yet. It’ll be interesting to see how he does if he ever gets one, or if Rogers is that guy.” … “Denny’s tough to judge,” says a competing crew chief. “He ranks right up there with the other drivers they’ve got. None of them were very successful last year. It’s interesting that he was the one that rose up. I expected the 20 car to be the one to step up in the Chase. And in terms of raw talent, I’d rank Kyle Busch ahead of him, but (Denny) was the one that carried the car deep into the Chase. Obviously with the crew chief change and the rule change, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they pick up on everything.”

No. 13 – Kasey Kahne

“I struggle to understand what’s been going on the last couple of years with him,” says a crew chief who competed against Kahne’s No. 5 team in the 2014 Chase. “He was an elite-level driver for such a long time. Now, compared to the other drivers that are over there (at Hendrick), they look like they’re in a completely different ballpark, speed-wise. Kasey looks slow and out of place. Now, it was interesting what Keith Rodden did with the 1 car. They took a step forward in just about every facet of competition. Him going back to the 5 could be a game-changer.” … One fellow driver points to the crew chief change as a sign of desperation. “You only have to look at the fact that they changed their crew chief to know how last season went for them. Kasey and Kenny Francis had been together for a long time. Kasey took him from RPM to Red Bull to Hendrick, and I think they thought it was another Chad (Knaus)-and-Jimmie (Johnson) situation. They got along; I know they were really close. But they had one really bad season and that was it. They moved on. You hope for his sake Rodden works out.  We’ve all seen how one of Hendrick’s four cars usually is down from all the others. This was that team in 2014. To me, there’s no excuse not to have all four cars seriously contend for a championship.”

No. 14 – Ryan Newman

A fellow driver suggests that Newman’s career was rejuvenated with his move to Richard Childress Racing. “I felt Ryan was on the down slope of his career over the last few years. He was complacent in a lot of ways. He was at Stewart-Haas the year Tony Stewart went on to win a championship and he was barely even a factor in the Chase. They tried stuff, like bringing (Matt) Borland back to rekindle the success they had at Penske. It didn’t work. Now at RCR, he’s the number-one guy. You know (Paul) Menard is never going to be that driver and even though Austin (Dillon) is the grandson (of owner Richard Childress), he isn’t the guy that’s going to fight for a championship. So that confidence from being the top guy and having Luke Lambert, who is probably the best up-and-coming crew chief in the series, allowed him to end up where he did, fighting for a championship.” … One crew chief admires the way Lambert has brought an engineering approach to an old-school team. “You have to hand it to them, they did a lot of things we didn’t expect. The whole year they weren’t flaring the side skirts, and come Homestead they flared it on the first stop, and Newman ran fast that whole race. It was their best race. That team and that car looked like it belonged. I know some of the things they are doing now with aero and setups, they didn’t used to do. Lambert is making that whole organization better.”

No. 15 – Clint Bowyer

A crew chief who has competed against Bowyer and his MWR team in the Chase points to a communications problem that might have hampered their 2014 season. “I’ve listened to them on the radio. From what I can tell, the feedback he gives when things aren’t going well isn’t strong enough to make the car better. I think when he’s on, and everything is going good with the team and the car, he’s good and they can compete for championships, as we’ve seen in the past. It seems like the whole team struggled this year, and at times this year, especially during the Chase, they would stand out — their end-of-Happy Hour sticker runs would stand out and you’d be like, ‘Man, they’ve got a really good car today.’ But then you wonder whether there’s something about their setups that are only good in clean air, or are they making bad changes overnight? Or is it a thing where during the race he leads them in the wrong direction, setup-wise or change-wise? Is the feedback not strong enough in the race to keep a good car from practice a good car in the race? They showed speed at the end of the year.” … “Bowyer and Brian Pattie seemed like a really good pairing three years ago, but they’ve just gotten further off with each passing season,” says another crew chief. “Individually, that’s still a good driver and a good crew chief, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they right the ship.”

No. 16 – Kurt Busch

“Kurt Busch is immensely talented, but the off-track stuff has affected his ability to perform, probably more than he’d like to admit,” says a fellow driver. “But he has the best opportunity of his entire career right now (with Stewart-Haas), in my opinion, even more so than when he was with Penske. He’s with an organization that just won a championship. They have talented drivers and are growing their engineering staff. They have an affiliation with Hendrick. They have the means to produce really fast racecars. You have to imagine that (new crew chief) Tony Gibson will provide a calming influence for him. You’d love to see what he could do if the distractions go away, with him just focused on the driving. I think this is a guy that could have won more championships by now, had he not had some of the off-track issues.” … A crew chief from outside the Chevrolet family suggests that Busch will benefit from the crew chief change: “You could tell Daniel Knost was a deer in the headlights when it came to strategy and finding speed. And Busch probably didn’t help that, because he’s harsh on crew guys. But Tony (Gibson) will be so good for him. Busch works well with old-school guys. He won the championship with Jimmy Fennig and won races with Steve Addington. Tony is in line with those guys. This was a good move for them.”

No. 17 – Jamie McMurray

A rival driver asks, “We have to be watching the last few years of his career, right? He’s filling a void, I guess, at Ganassi — he’s an okay driver that doesn’t cost them too much. To me, he’s not ever going to be a championship driver. He’s like Brian Hoyer on the Cleveland Browns. Just filling a void until a younger guy comes up and eventually takes the job, like Johnny Manziel.” … “I think he’s a safe driver for them,” says another driver. “Once they get the team around him sorted out, they’ll probably go after somebody better, but right now they aren’t in position to win a lot.” … A competing crew chief cites Keith Rodden’s departure. “I felt like with Rodden, there was a plan and they were going somewhere. The way they ended last season … they looked like a Chase team for this upcoming year. (New crew chief) Matt McCall is a really smart guy, and he’ll end up being a good crew chief in time, but he’s never been the main guy before.”

No. 18 – Greg Biffle

“I guess he’s good,” says a crew chief. “I mean he still has a job, doesn’t he? In all seriousness, I do think he has the talent to compete at a high level, but I don’t know that Roush does. From just watching him over the course of a season, it seems like he runs really solid, really smart races. But the team he’s with just can’t do anything with that. The 16 was in the same boat as the 99 (driven by Carl Edwards) last year, where at the beginning of the race they’re nowhere and then all of a sudden, at the end of the race, they’re in the top 10. They’ll go from struggling to stay on the lead lap to getting a good finish out of it. I think where Roush is at right now is what’s holding him back.” … A rival driver believes that time may have passed Biffle by. “It seems like five years ago, six years ago he had more potential. Biffle is a fine driver, but I think he missed his window to do something really special in the sport.”

No. 19 – Austin Dillon

A crew chief saw improvement in Dillon during 2014. “At the beginning of last year, I didn’t want our car racing around him. Toward the end of the year, he started running smart races and made a step forward to where instead of a 20th-place guy I hated to pass when we were lapping him, he’s a top-15 guy where if we got back in traffic, we’re going to have to legitimately race with him. The question now is whether he can make enough gains to where he can carry RCR equipment, or is ‘Pop-Pop’ (Richard Childress) going to put enough money into it to make it good equipment?” … “I wouldn’t be surprised if Dillon requested a crew chief change (from Gil Martin), to get someone in that’s an engineer,” says another crew chief. “It’s probably tough to swallow seeing what Luke Lambert is able to do with the 31 and seeing that (Paul) Menard just got an engineer as a crew chief. I’ll bet Dillon is next. And I’m sure he’ll get one if he wants one. He’s the future of the company, after all.”

No. 20 – AJ Allmendinger

“I thought (2014) was the breakout season that we’d all seen coming,” says a fellow driver. “Obviously that’s outside of the road course win, which was inevitable. What I saw from him that I hadn’t seen before was that he showed a lot of promise on mile-and-a-halfs. In the past, and maybe this is because he has a road course background, he tended to want to overdrive the car into the corner and use a lot of brakes while in the corner. This year, though, he showed promise. He ran really well at Charlotte. He was good at Kansas. … This is a team that’s kind of allowing him to develop his style because he’s the only guy there, they believe in him and that’s giving him confidence to change the way he is used to driving these cars.” … “He’s a really likable guy,” says a crew chief who has worked for a team that employed Allmendinger. “It’s good to see him embraced by a team. He’s the No. 1 guy at that team, because he’s the only guy, but that’s what he needs.”

No. 21 – Martin Truex Jr.

“On a per-team basis, this might be the richest team in the sport,” says a competing crew chief. “They put so much — I’ve heard something as crazy as $20 to $25 million — into the RCR alliance. I don’t think you could say that they’re taking advantage of it. They didn’t win a single race when they had Kurt Busch, and they got worse last year with Truex. I know Truex had a lot of personal things going on, but even in the beginning of the season they were just off. I don’t know if that’s a team thing or what.” … “(Truex) and that team were hard to watch in the first six months of the year, just really pretty lousy,” says a fellow driver. “Those inside the garage know that the Furniture Row team puts in a tremendous amount of money and resources into that one car. Todd Berrier was a smart crew chief. I think everyone expected so much more. Truex is pretty much a stopgap at this point, until they can find someone else that can take advantage of everything they offer.”

No. 22 – Paul Menard

“A lot of people look at Paul Menard and say, ‘Oh, his dad’s paying for him to race — he doesn’t care about being there and it’s just a hobby.’ But you don’t improve as much as he has improved over the last few years without putting something into the sport on the mental aspect,” says a crew chief. “I’ve listened to him talk in team meetings, and he’s actually a bright guy with some pretty decent feedback. I don’t know what all happened between him and Slugger (Labbe), but before the relationship got rocky, that was a halfway decent race team.” … Another crew chief believes that Menard lacks the fortitude to carry a team. “They made that crew chief change (to Justin Alexander) with what, five weeks to go? Since then they showed a little bit better speed, but there just isn’t that next level or killer instinct in him to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got a top-5 car, I’m going to turn it into a winning car.’ And I don’t see where RCR has the equipment or the resources to get their cars to that point.”

No. 23 – Aric Almirola

How Almirola pieces together a race, says one crew chief, is cause for praise: “I hadn’t paid much attention to him, until my driver said, ‘You know, he runs some really smart races.’ And sure enough, I’ve never really seen him do anything dumb. He’s just racing. Whatever the car’s got, he’s racing to that level. I do think he runs smart races. I’ve never seen him showcase lights-out speed, although I’m not sure if those RPM cars have the capability of doing that. But he certainly does run smart races. Put him in better equipment, I could see him being a top-10 guy most weeks. … “All I have to do is look in my mirror or look to the side on a restart to know where he is,” says a fellow driver. “He’s always running toward the front. I don’t know what more you can say about him or ask from him. The last two years, he’s running toward the front with that car. That’s exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. If he ever got a better ride, he’d be winning races.”

No. 24 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

A fellow Cup Series driver has been unimpressed. “He’s been very underwhelming. I know he won championships in Nationwide, but he’s sort of lost out there in the Cup car. I don’t believe there is anyone that can say they’ve been impressed. It might be the crew chief. It might be the team. He might need to move away from Roush in a year or two to see if he can contend for a better team.” … One crew chief blames the knee-jerk change atop the pit box. “He and Scott Graves were fast in the last 10 races of 2013, and for some reason, Roush split them up. I think that was a mistake. Mike Kelley doesn’t strike me as a Cup Series crew chief. I don’t know, maybe Ricky isn’t the guy, but I don’t know that Roush is doing all that much to help him either. I can’t really think of one positive thing that happened last season. They finished outside the top 25 in points, right? Yeah, I’d imagine that for a Roush car that’s unacceptable.”

No. 25 – Brian Vickers

“So overrated,” says a fellow Cup driver. “And such a disappointment last year for MWR. They needed him to be good after everything that went down with Richmond and losing their sponsor (in 2013). I do feel like the organization took a step back, as you saw with Clint Bowyer’s performance. But Brian is in a place where, if they can hit a good year equipment-wise, he can make the Chase.” … “There have been times where they stood out in practice, but I can’t remember a time in a race where I thought they looked good,” says a rival crew chief. “In my mind, Bowyer has more talent and can bring a good finish to a bad car. I’m not sure Vickers is capable of that. But that being said, how often has Vickers been in position at the end of the race to where he can see the front?” … “The departure of Rodney (Childers, his former crew chief) was a major blow,” says another crew chief. “They might not ever recover from that.”

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.