Richard Childress Racing
February 8, 2012
RCR gets benefit of 'great recruiter' Blickensderfer
Burton, Childress wooed Blickensderfer, who in turn pursued others for RCR
Author: Joe Menzer
Date: February 2, 2012
WELCOME, N.C. -- Driver Jeff Burton likes to call Drew Blickensderfer "a great recruiter" who has initiated significant and promising personnel changes on the No. 31 Chevrolet team at Richard Childress Racing.
But when it came right down to it last off-season, Burton first had to apply his own hard-core recruiting touch on Blickensderfer before Blickensderfer could begin working his own magic on the team for which Burton drives.
In the end, it has Burton excited and anxious to make amends for a disappointing 2011 season.
"Drew is the guy who if we decided we were going to do something, he's the one we wanted -- and we were lucky enough to get him," said Burton, whose 20th-place finish in the 2012 point standings was his lowest since his second full Sprint Cup season in 1995. "There are so many good things going on here at RCR, from top to bottom, that it's a really good time to be here. Everybody has stepped up and is working hard together.
"I'm more confident going into this year than I've been in a long, long time. You can see it in everybody's eyes. All the guys feel good about what we're doing, so I'm really looking forward to it. Last year pissed me off, and I'm ready to go make something happen."
He's ready to do it with Blickensderfer, who was left searching for a job when the No. 6 Ford team at Roush Fenway Racing shut down at the end of last season. Blickensderfer had served as crew chief for driver David Ragan on that team, which won one race at Daytona last July but finished 23rd in points.
Just as Burton left the Roush organization in the middle of 2004, Blickensderfer found a home at RCR. But it took some prodding from Burton and Childress first.
"I was pretty loyal to Roush Fenway Racing," Blickensderfer said. "But after talking to Jeff and talking to Richard -- and I think Jeff knew he had to put me in front of Richard -- there were some things that really hit home. Richard said that he's a racer and this is all he has, and that meant a lot. Coming into a place that's being run by Richard and a guy like [RCR competition director] Mike Dillon definitely made it easier to make the jump."
Burton said he got to know Blickensderfer better not so much around the Sprint Cup garage, but when their sons raced against each other at various venues.
"You find out a lot about a man when your kids are racing against each other. I mean, honestly, you do," Burton said. "People become very short-sighted sometimes when they're dealing with their kids."
Burton liked the fact that Blickensderfer was neither short-sighted in that regard, nor in what Blickensderfer saw from Burton and his team last year -- when 12 finishes of 20th or worse in the first 19 races brought about a change in crew chiefs from Todd Berrier to Luke Lambert.
Although Burton said the 28-year-old Lambert did a good job to help the team finish 2011 strong with four of its five top-10 finishes coming over the final five races, Blickensderfer was the man he wanted for the long haul heading into 2012.
"Listen, I'm 44 years old -- and I'm sure there are some people in the garage who think I'm here just to try to extend my career and that my best years are behind me," said Burton, who hasn't won a Cup race in three years but has 21 career victories in NASCAR's top series and had made the Chase for the Sprint Cup five of the previous six seasons heading into 2011. "Obviously I'm not here just to extend my career; whether or not my best years are behind me, I'll leave that for others to decide later in my life.
"But when I first talked to Drew, he said, 'Man, if I could come to work with you and Richard, I would be really excited about that.' I wanted him, and he wanted me. I don't think he would have left Roush had the opportunity not come up. But when he had some uncertainty come up where he had to look around, he picked us and we picked him. And I think that's extremely important -- because a lot of times people take a job because that's what's offered to them. And that's it. That wasn't the case with him because he had a lot of other options and he picked us."
Once Blickensderfer was on board, it was the new crew chief's time to do some of his own recruiting.
"Because of the way this company is structured, they do a great job of helping their employees," Blickensderfer explained. "If they've been here a long time and they want to do something different, they let them do it. I moved some guys around on the 31 who probably were overqualified for the positions they were in the last couple of years, to fill more important roles for me.
"That allowed me to go out and get two interior guys from Hendrick (Motorsports), and a tire guy who came from Hendrick as well. I think it allowed us to mix in some younger, fresher guys with the more experienced guys we already had on the 31."
Burton said he was immediately impressed with Blickensderfer's persuasive ways.
"Once we got him, Drew did a nice job of putting a good group of people together," Burton said. "We have a core group of people who are still on our team from last year, but we brought in some other people from other teams. What I learned about Drew is that he's a great recruiter. He went and got some guys from some teams I didn't think we could get. So we have a really solid team and we have high expectations."
Driver and crew chief are on the same page about those expectations.
"The deal is that we need to go out and compete to win races and win championships," Burton said. "I'm not here to extend my career. I'm here to attain a goal of mine -- and that's to win a championship. To do that, all things considered, I thought Drew was the right guy.
Blickensderfer added: "Our expectations are to be a Chase team that definitely has a shot at winning the championship. Two years ago he was leading the points going into the Chase."
To get different results this time around, Blickensderfer said the 31 team will take a different approach that will involve working more closely with RCR's other two Cup crew chiefs -- Shane Wilson (paired with driver Kevin Harvick) and Slugger Labbe (paired with driver Paul Menard). They all want to close the gap where if one car is running well, as Harvick's No. 29 Chevy did last year, the others can join the party.
"I think one reason they pushed for me is that I come from an organization where we were a lot more tightly-knit. We did things more as a group, including building the cars. That really wasn't the norm here at RCR," Blickensderfer said. "It's a crew chief-run company to the point where they're not told, 'Hey, you can't do that, you have to do this.' You can do whatever you want. But when I came in, Shane, Slugger and I all wanted to work together. We believe there are certain things that are better than other things, and we want the best. We just have to figure out what that is, and then we'll all three have similar stuff. That will lead us to running more closely together, and hopefully to getting us all three out front.
"And if we get lost on a weekend, hopefully we can drop back and punt and get back to home base a lot more quickly than they have in the past. That's one thing Jeff and Richard and the company wanted and are striving for; they wanted to be able to have more common race cars that show up on the track on Sundays."
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