Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Drivers Who Became Crew Chiefs

Josh Berry’s win in the Cook Out 250 at Martinsville Speedway last weekend in the NASCAR Xfinity Series has sparked quite the conversation about his future.

Is there room for Berry to go full-time Xfinity racing? Is there funding to go full-time Xfinity racing?

What about: Josh Berry, future crew chief?

This week, Berry told his team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr Download podcast that his racing expertise goes way beyond the driver’s seat and to the mechanics of his late model.

“I am more or less crew chiefing [my late model] myself when I race,” Berry said. “That’s how are program operates. I set up the car. When I take it to the racetrack, it is ultimately my responsibility.”

Despite demonstrating his talent in big league levels of stock car racing, opportunities to do so have been few and far between. Yet there have been some who have pointed that Berry’s knowledge could be advantageous in a crew chiefing role on down the road.

If he were to do so, Berry would not be the first driver-turned-crew chief in the sport. Here is the select group of NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs who have made starts in a national series.

Rodney Childers (Crew chief for Kevin Harvick)

Perhaps the most successful crew chief on the group, Rodney Childers’ career actually started behind the wheel at age 12. Before he became the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning crew chief, Childers won over a dozen championships in various go-kart ranks throughout the 1990s.

After his immense success, Childers then moved up into the NASCAR regional ranks, running in the Hooters Pro Cup Series and the Slim Jim All Pro Series between 1999 and 2002.

See also
Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers: A Match Made in Heaven

His lone national series start came in 2000 at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Longtime car owner Jay Robinson put Childers behind the wheel of an Xfinity car. Unfortunately, the effort was short-lived; Childers finished dead last after getting collected in a crash early in the event.

When his opportunities to drive dried up, Childers knew he had enough mechanical knowledge to still make a career in the sport as a crewman. Just like his racing career, Childers quickly ascended up the ladder and got his first taste of being a crew chief for Scott Riggs and MB2 Motorsports in 2005.

The now-44-year-old has been on top of the pit box ever since. After getting hired by Stewart Haas Racing and being paired with Kevin Harvick in 2014, the duo has been one of the most potent combinations over the last decade.

Matt McCall (Kurt Busch)

Long before he sat atop Kurt Busch‘s pit box, Matt McCall was tearing it up on small racetracks across North Carolina. McCall was a frequent competitor at Hickory Motor Speedway. He raced while simultaneously pursuing a degree in engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

His family even scraped together an effort to compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2003 shortly after he graduated. Their lone trip to the track resulted in a 21st-place result at Martinsville Speedway.

McCall went on to win the track championship at Hickory in 2004. That caught the notice of legendary NASCAR engine builder and team owner Robert Yates. Yates hired McCall and put him in his driver development program. McCall was tabbed to run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series and the ARCA Menards Series in 2006.

While he scored two top fives in ARCA competition, his Xfinity exploits did not turn out so well. McCall was released from Yates at season’s end.

With his engineering degree in hand, McCall went to work for Richard Childress Racing and was promoted to a substitutionary crew chief role for Jeff Burton in 2013. McCall’s big break came in 2015, when Chip Ganassi Racing made him its full-time crew chief for the No. 1 team and driver Jamie McMurray.

McCall has been in that same role ever since. However, the driving bug has still attracted McCall. He returned to the Truck Series in 2013 to drive a truck owned by Ricky Benton at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Trent Owens (Ryan Preece)

Trent Owens has been a Cup crew chief since 2010 and even won a race with Aric Almirola in 2014. What is more impressive is the he hails from racing royalty; Owens’ late father was Richard Petty’s brother-in-law.

Owens attempted to carve out his own driving career. He made 12 Truck starts between 2001 and 2002, including a handful for current Cup owner Rick Ware.

Once he stepped out of the driver’s seat, Owens transitioned into the garage, beginning as a mechanic in the ARCA Series. Owens later took a job at Braun Racing, which led him to the top of the pit box. In just his 10th race in the crew chief role, Owens helped Dave Blaney to his first career Xfinity win in 2006.

He was brought back into the Petty operation with Almirola in the mid-2010s before leaving to take his current job with JTG Daugherty Racing.

Peter Sospenzo (Josh Bilicki)

The longest-tenured crew chief on our list, Peter Sospenzo has been in racing for decades. Sospenzo got his first job in the sport as a crewman for DK Ulrich’s team in 1983 and has been in the garage area ever since.

While working in the Cup garage, Dale Earnhardt gave Sospenzo an opportunity to run an ARCA car at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1987 thanks to some previous racing experience in the Northeast. While his debut did not go so well, Sospenzo made five additional starts over the next few years.

In 1991, he patchworked an Xfinity team together. Although he failed to qualify for four races that year, he did manage to make the field at Richmond Raceway. It would be his only national series start.

Rich Bickle hired Sospenzo to be his crew chief in 1994. In the nearly three decades since, he has worked with the likes of Terry Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield, Brian Vickers and Lake Speed.

However, his greatest career highlight happened pretty recently. Sospenzo pulled off an upset at Daytona International Speedway in 2019 with driver Justin Haley by playing strategy with inclement weather approaching the track. It was a surprising result for the tiny first-year Spire Motorsports team.

But it was not his first win in Cup. Sospenzo picked up two wins with Mayfield in 2000 and another with Joe Nemechek in 2003.

Paul Wolfe (Joey Logano)

You might know Paul Wolfe from his long and successful tenure with Brad Keselowski. The pair was one of the most successful duos last decade, which included winning over 30 times and nabbing the 2012 Cup championship.

As a driver, Wolfe campaigned in the ARCA Menards Series East between 2000 and 2004. Although he never won in that series, he had scored some impressive results nonetheless, including four runner-up finishes.

See also
Tech Talk with Paul Wolfe - Going Into the Old, Familiar Bristol...Blind

Between 2003 and 2005, he also competed in the Xfinity Series. This included stints at Tommy Baldwin Racing, Evernham Motorsports and FitzBradshaw Racing. After competing for three teams in just as many years, Wolfe made a change.

Fitz kept Wolfe on once his driving duties were no longer needed at the team. He served as crew chief the next season for part-time drivers Carlos Contreras, Mike Bliss and Scott Wimmer.

Others in Lower Series

Richard Boswell has been a crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity program for the last several years. Boswell’s story emulated Berry’s current career path; he was once in Earnhardt’s late model program (the same program the Berry has driven for). He made just one national start, but this one-time Earnhardt protégé has been racking up wins for quite some time as crew chief.

The Xfinity Series is littered with former national drivers-turned-crew chiefs like Boswell. They include Alex Yontz, Daniel Johnson, Jeff Spraker, Tyler Young, Tim Brown and Mario Gosselin, among others. The same is the case in the Truck Series for folks like Jeff Hensley, Doug George, Brian Keselowski and Shane Huffman, another protégé of Earnhardt.

About the author

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Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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