By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When Rodney Childers joins Stewart-Haas Racing as Kevin Harvick's crew chief, the move should strengthen both SHR and Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies engines and chassis to the organization co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas. Childers is close to Kenny Francis, crew chief for Kasey Kahne at HMS, and that relationship alone could enhance the bond and the sharing of technical data between the two teams.
"I think it'll bring the two teams closer together, (help us) work together better, and hopefully it'll be better for everybody," Childers said Friday in an exclusive interview with Steve Richards of the Performance Racing Network at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After much soul-searching, Childers told Michael Waltrip Racing on Thursday that he wouldn't return to the organization's No. 55 team next year. That leaves MWR searching for a crew chief for driver Brian Vickers, who recently signed to drive the 55 full-time for the next two seasons.
The tipping points for Childers were the opportunity to work with Harvick and the close relationship with Hendrick and its stable of elite drivers. Not since Stewart fired crew chief Darian Grubb (a former mainstay at HMS) after winning the 2011 championship has there been such promise of the two organizations pulling in the same direction.
"When you've got Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick all sharing the same notes and run logs and everything else, that's what makes it so powerful," said Childers, who met with his MWR team members Friday morning to share the news of his impending departure.
"Going to SHR and working with Harvick is an opportunity that not many people will ever to get, and I was afraid that, if I didn't take it, I would regret it the rest of my life, and that's just not something I wanted to do," Childers said.
In addition to disappointing MWR and the crewmen he has worked with for five years, Childers expressed regret that Vickers, a long-time friend, had found out about the move before Childers had a chance to tell him.
"The part with Brian was probably the hardest part, even though I didn't get to tell him face to face," Childers said. "We had everything planned out to where we could talk last night, and then it got to him before I actually got to talk to him.
"So that part wasn't good. It's hard on both of us. We've known each other for a long time, and I think after a while it will blow over, and hopefully we'll remain friends like we've been our whole lives. He'll be in really good hands here. They've got a really good race team here, and there's no doubt that he can win races even when I'm gone."
RACING HIS OWN RACE
Even with a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on the line, Joey Logano can't afford to focus on the drivers he has to beat for one of the 12 berths in NASCAR's playoffs.
So don't expect Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon to alter their strategy at Bristol based on what their closest competitors might do.
"Todd and I have talked about what we need to do this weekend, and we just need to do what we've been doing and not worry about what other people are doing," Logano said. "Go out there and get the best finish you possibly can, not racing other cars.
"Don't focus on what the 16 car (Greg Biffle) is doing. Focus on what you're doing to get the best finish you can. If you do that often enough, you're going to pass him in points. But if you make a four-tire change because he made a four-tire change or only do two because of what he did, it's not going to work out."
Logano's victory last Sunday at Michigan put the driver of the No. 22 Penske Ford squarely in the mix for a Chase spot. He's 13th in the Cup standings, 17 points behind Biffle in 10th, the last guaranteed Chase spot, and seven points back of Martin Truex Jr. in the race for the second wild card berth.
The margin between Dale Earnhardt Jr. in seventh and Ryan Newman in 15th is 43 points, reinforcing Logano's view that there are too many drivers in the mix to warrant concentrating on other teams and their strategies.
Should the field narrow, however, and evolve into a head-to-head battle at Richmond for the last Chase spot -- as it did with Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch last year -- Logano's attitude might be different.
"If it comes down to you're racing only one car," he said, "you're going to keep paying attention to what that guy is doing and doing what you've got to do to beat him -- or if you have to stay really close to him to make sure you get in.
"It's going to be a crazy race."
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
Mark Martin hasn't raced at Bristol since 2011.
That means Martin hasn't raced at Bristol since the grinding of the top lane of the .533-mile short track, which took place after the spring race of 2012.
That means that Martin hasn't raced at Bristol since the outside lane became the preferred way around Thunder Valley, as drivers discovered that, once rubbered-in, the top groove was faster.
Accordingly, Martin had a lot to learn for his first stint in relief of injured Tony Stewart -- and very little time to learn it. Because Bristol is a two-day show for Cup teams, the schedule includes two practices on Friday followed by qualifying, with no more practice between time trials and the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday.
"I'm a little bit nervous about today," Martin said before Friday's first practice, "because I feel like it is an extraordinary challenge, because it's not like. ... I've switched around a lot, but usually you have a couple of months and a test or two to get together.
"Man, I see a lot of faces I'm not sure I can put names to just yet. This is going to be an action-packed two-and-a-half hours or whatever today."
Martin wasn't kidding. He subsequently ran 116 practice laps in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, most among Cup drivers in the opening two-hour session. Only five other drivers completed 100 circuits or more. Though Martin was 22nd fastest, his goal for the 12 races he'll run in Stewart's remains clear.
"I'm excited about the challenge," Martin said, "and I'm extremely committed to do a good job for this race team, for this group, for Tony -- and hopefully return his car back over to him in as good or better standing than when it was turned over to me."