Fresh off the heels of the largest team-wide group of penalties in NASCAR history, Hendrick Motorsports have revealed the replacement crew chiefs for the next four weeks beginning this weekend in Atlanta.
The subsequent three weeks for the remainder of the crew chief suspension will be: Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Richmond Raceway, and Bristol Dirt, respectively. All four Hendrick crew chiefs will see their return to action atop their respective pit-boxes for the spring race at Martinsville.
How will their teams fair in their absence? Only time will tell. But there are some familiar faces stepping in to fill their shoes and some proven winners, to boot. Their teams should be in good hands.
Now it’s time to meet the interim crew chiefs keeping the seats atop the pit-box warm for the next handful of weeks! As reported by Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports, of course.
Team No. 5: Kevin Meendering
With 2021 championship crew chief, Cliff Daniels, on the bench for the next four weeks, Kevin Meendering will assume the role of crew chief for Kyle Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Camaro.
Meendering is a long-tenured crew chief with Hendrick Motorsports developmental programs. He got his first break atop a pit-box for HMS’s feeder program, JR Motorsports’ No. 1 One Main Financial Chevrolet for Elliott Sadler from 2016 until Sadler’s retirement from full-time racing following the conclusion of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
Following his 3-year stint in the lower series, he was called up to replace Chad Knaus for the 2019 season. Knaus was then shuffled over to the No. 24 car of William Byron where he would stay only one year and Meendering was promoted to work with 7-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson. The million-dollar chance was short lived, however, as by the midpoint of the 2019 season, Meendering was relieved of his duties and replaced by current full-time crew chief of the No. 5, Cliff Daniels.
After this, Meendering remained employed by Hendrick Motorsports in an unspecified role. That was until 2022 when HMS announced the relaunch of their Xfinity Series program with the No. 17 car being shared by a slew of Hendrick Cup Stars and it was revealed that Meendering would oversee the team. He was tapped for similar duties again for the 2023 season, albeit it sharing those responsibilities with now-retired Cup crew chief, Greg Ives.
While the Xfinity team did not break through for a win during the 2022 season, they did finish second twice at Road America and at the Indianapolis Road Course.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Meendering and the No. 17 bunch, however, was this wild finish at the Glen which saw William Byron taking on the *other* HendrickCars.com entry, the No. 88 of Kyle Larson for JR Motorsports. Byron became then only the latest casualty of Ty Gibb’s 2022 reign of terror.
Clearly HMS still has faith in Meendering’s abilities atop the pit-box. Perhaps this misfortune for Daniels will be the golden opportunity Meendering needed after being handed an already struggling No. 48 team in 2019.
But, as predictable as it may be, not all fans feel as optimistic as the brass at HMS. Logan Bolton just doesn’t get it.
Team No. 9: Tom Gray
The No. 9 Napa Camaro has gone through a lot of changes the last couple of weeks. Temporary changes, granted, but still changes that have the potential to impact the team’s performance on any given week.
First, it was announced that Chase Elliott had suffered a fractured tibia in his left leg following a snowboarding accident. The incident occurred on a Friday morning when Chase was scheduled to be in Las Vegas the next day.
With the team being in a time pinch, Josh Berry jumped into the No. 9 mostly because he was a similar build to Elliott and, following a disappointing 29th-place finish, who would fill the ride was uncertain heading into the Monday before Phoenix.
It was later determined that Josh Berry would continue to drive the No. 9 Napa Chevy for the oval tracks during NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver’s absence with IMSA star, Jordan Taylor, taking the wheel at the upcoming COTA road course. Now, following the slew of HMS penalties announced this week, the No. 9 team is left without what is essentially their head coach as usual crew chief, Alan Gustafson (who won the 2020 Cup Championship with Elliott) will sit out for the next four races.
Replacing Gustafson atop the No. 9 pit-box, however, is his self-described “right-hand man”, chief engineer of the No. 9, Tom Gray. This will be Tom’s first stint as a crew chief for any team and it will be interesting to see how they do this weekend with Josh Berry. This could be his big break and we’re sure with him being a member of the team already that he’ll fit right in.
A couple of years ago, Alan Gustafson hosted a series on Hendrick Motorsport’s YouTube channel titled Behind the 9. In the series, Gustafson introduces some of the more background individuals that make those Hendrick Chevys so fast come Sundays.
In the video below, he introduces interim crew chief for his No. 9 Napa Chevy team, Tom Gray.
Team No. 24: Brian Campe
The No. 24 team for William Byron seems to be the Hendrick team less hurt by its recent penalties. With 2-straight Cup Series wins at Vegas and Phoenix, the team still sits well within the playoff picture while the other three HMS teams find themselves in a deep hole that will be difficult for them to dig out of.
The team is helped by NASCAR’s offseason removal of the top-30 rule for playoff eligibility. With them being the only HMS team with not only one win but two, they will be able to breathe a little easier as their crew chief, Rudy Fugle, stays at home for the next month.
Replacing Fugle atop the No. 24 team’s pit-box will be Brian Campe. Campe, like Gray, has never sat atop a pit box before as crew chief. His experiences within the sport include engineering jobs at Team Penske, JR Motorsports, and Hendrick Motorsports. In December of 2022, he became the new Technical Director for the engineering side of HMS.
Team No. 48: Greg Ives
And the interim crew chief of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet for Alex Bowman is, drum roll, please…GREG IVES! That’s right, long-time crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports will make his triumphant return to the pit-box this weekend at Atlanta and the next several races.
Ives began his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports all the way back in 2004 but it wouldn’t be until 2013 when he would get the chance that would forever change the course of his career. In 2013 he was named crew chief of the No. 7 Taxslayer.com Camaro for Regan Smith at JR Motorsports before moving over to Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Xfinity entry in 2014 where they would win the championship together.
Following a two-year stint in NASCAR’s lower series, Greg Ives was promoted to crew chief for JRM owner and HMS driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015 as he drove the No. 88 Nationwide car. With Jr., Ives won three races, including Jr.’s final career victory at a rain-shortened Phoenix fall race in November of 2015.
After Dale concluded his Fan Appreci88ion Tour in November of 2017, Ives remained with the team, teaming up with driver Alex Bowman. As the two remained together for five years through a number swap to 48 after ole 7-time’s retirement in 2020 and earned a total of 7 victories, Ives announced that 2022 would be his final season with the team.
Heading into the early weeks of the 2023 season, it was announced that Ives would be able to scratch that addictive itch of being a crew chief part-time for HMS’s Xfinity car, splitting those duties with the aforementioned Kevin Meendering.
Ives’ prior experience with the No. 48 crew should be fruitful to the team, though it isn’t under the most ideal of circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see if his presence on the pit-box will be just like riding a bike or if they’ll struggle. I guess we’ll see.
One thing is clear, though…the fans are loving this announcement:
Long-time Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan-turned Alex Bowman fan, Danny B, took to Twitter to tweet his support for Ives.
The next few races will be interesting to watch if you’re an HMS fan. Will they be able to keep up their dominance or will they falter with their head coaches nowhere in sight?