Since the early days of NASCAR racing, the crew chief has grown in importance, not only serving as a mechanic and strategist, but sometimes also as a counselor or referee. While some driver-crew chief combinations don't last more than a few races, others go on to last for many years, through many series. One of the most recent driver-crew chief success stories is that of 2012 Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe, who served as Keselowski's crew chief during his 2010 Nationwide Series championship season. Here are a few others that have combined for greatness since 1980.
Dale Earnhardt and Kirk Shelmerdine - For 11 seasons (1982 to 1992), Earnhardt and Shelmerdine were at the top of the Cup Series. Among their accomplishments: four Cup Series titles (1986, 1987, 1990 and 1991), 46 wins, 246 top 10 finishes and four consecutive pit crew championships. Shelmerdine became both the youngest crew chief to win a Cup Series race and the youngest to win a Cup Series title. The duo split following the 1992 season, when Sherlmerdine decided to focus on a driving career; he has made starts in all three top-level NASCAR series as well as the ARCA Racing Series, where he has three wins.
Bill and Ernie Elliott - With the amount of time driver and crew chief spend together, they often become brotherly in a sense. In this case, it was true brotherhood: Bill and Ernie Elliott worked together, along with another brother, Dan, for a number of years early in "Awesome Bill's" career. The duo put together the near-dream season of 1985, when Elliott won 11 superspeedway races and finished second in points; they also won the Winston Million by winning three of four specified races. In 1987, the brothers combined for the fastest lap in the history of Cup Series qualifying, 212.809 mph at Talladega Superspeedway.
Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham - Gordon's rookie season of 1993 brought the "Rainbow Warriors" to pit road, led by Evernham, a former modified driver who left the wheel behind after an accident. The pair clicked from the beginning, and in their nearly-seven seasons together (1993 through September 1999) combined for 47 wins and three Cup Series titles (1995, 1997 and 1998).
Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli - Stewart and Zipadelli hold the NASCAR record for the longest consecutive team/sponsor/driver/crew chief combination - 10 years straight, from 1999 until Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season to field his own team. They combined for 33 wins and two Cup Series titles (2002 and 2005). Zipadelli stayed with JGR after Stewart's departure, working with Joey Logano until the end of the 2011, when he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing as the director of competition.
Ryan Newman and Matt Borland - From 2002 to 2006 and Penske Racing, Newman was known as "Rocket Man," collecting 36 poles with crew chief Borland on the pit box. The pair also added 12 wins to the impressive statistics, and now there is hope that they will add a few more: Newman and Borland reunited at the end of 2012 at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus - Johnson and Knaus have been together since 2002, however Knaus has missed some races here and there due to NASCAR suspensions, ending their bid for Stewart and Zipadelli's record. The pair has combined for 58 of Johnson's 60 Cup Series wins and five consecutive championships (2006 to 2010), and has the current longest driver-crew chief tenure in the series, 396 races through the end of the 2012 season.
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.