By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Stories about top-tier drivers getting a new crew chief are usually explosive news, but when Richard Childress Racing announced that Paul Menard would have a new crew chief starting this weekend in Pocono, there wasn’t much fanfare. However, I think bringing Danny Stockman Jr. over to turn the wrenches on the No. 27 Chevrolet SS was a smart decision.
Not to take anything away from Menard’s former crew chief Justin Alexander, but Stockman has quietly become one of the brightest development crew chiefs in the sport. In the past Stockman has guided Austin Dillon to championships in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series ranks. Overall, Stockman has recorded nine NASCAR National Series victories as a crew chief, and with other teams like Joe Gibbs Racing striking gold moving their crew chiefs from the Xfinity Series to Cup, it’s time to see what Stockman can do at the Sprint Cup level for RCR.
Menard, who made the Chase for the first time last season, has finished 17th-or-better in the point standings in four of the last five seasons, but through 20 races in 2016 he is mired 23rd in points. This above all else must have prompted the change at crew chief.
If you recall, RCR has had a lot of success throughout their history with mid-season crew chief changes.
The most famous of their changes atop the pitbox came in 1998. Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner were both struggling so the team opted to swap crew chiefs mid-season, sending Larry McReynolds to the No. 31 team and Kevin Hamlin to the No.3.
Earnhardt, who won just one race between 1997 and 1998 with McReynolds at the helm, went on to win three races in 1999, and two more in 2000 en route to a second place finish in the point standings all with Hamlin calling the shots.
Skinner also went on to see improved performance with his new crew chief as well.
That isn’t the only case of a crew chief change paying huge dividends for the organization. In more recent memory, Gil Martin was replaced as Austin Dillon’s crew chief mid-way through last season by Slugger Labbe. Since the change, Dillon has gone from a mid-pack runner to a Chase-worthy competitor on the verge of his first win. Dillon already has nine top-10 finishes this season, and he sits 12th in the championship standings.
Stockman should provide the same kind of boost to Menard and the No. 27 team going forward. But one thing is for sure: with RCR satellite teams Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing constantly outperforming the No. 27 team in the same equipment, something had to be done.