Kirk Shelmerdin was the boxing boss for Dale Earnhardt’s 44 NASCAR Cup Series wins and four championships.
They were teammates for several races in 1981 and again in 1984-92. Earnhardt won championships in 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1991, and Shelmerdin steadily earned a reputation as a solid, intelligent crew chief, an expert in automotive engineering and racing strategy.
After all, Shelmerdin said as he prepared to join his former driver (Earnhardt) and team owner (Richard Childress) in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it was pretty easy.
“Dale said, “I want to be ahead of the other cars. This thing should be able to get in there,” he told NBC Sports.
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Of course, it wasn’t usually easy, but Shelmerdin, 64, said he and Earnhardt quickly came to a consensus.
“We knew each other well,” he said. “I knew what he liked in terms of settings. You had to have the right seat and the right steering wheel. Now a whole team of scientists is working on it. But then it was important for us to do it right. The races were long.
“We knew we weren’t going to go out on the track and fight the same thing every week. I understood his feelings and we valued the cars as best we could. When we unloaded, we were usually pretty good.”
Shelmerdin, Matt Kenseth and Herschel McGriff will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Friday night (8:00 pm ET, Peacock) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As Earnhardt accumulated victories and championship titles, achieving success became a matter of routine and repetition, according to Shelmerdin.
“Over time I have seen a huge amount of laps that this guy has done,” he said. “By the way he behaved in the corners, I could almost tell if the car was good or not, and what could be the problem. I already had a couple of ideas in the bullpen to use at the next pit stop.
“He built his cars for years and was well versed in the mechanics. It became easy to read each other.”
What made Earnhardt great?
“It’s hard to point it out,” Shelmerdin said. “I don’t care who you are – you have to trust the guys who collect the car for you and understand that they are on your side. It can be lonely there if the guys on the team don’t like you. We knew that he would work well no matter what, and he gave 100 percent. He inspired confidence. We won and lost together.”
And Earnhardt was in that group of people who are rarely wrong, Shelmerdin said.
“He could drive his van into someone in the yard parking lot and claim it was their fault they parked there,” he said.
Shelmerdin left pit road in 1992, saying he was “tired” and that he was pleased with the team’s accomplishments. Always interested in the driving part of the game, he won three ARCA races in sporadic starts from 1993 to 2008 and raced 26 times in the Cup and 13 times in the Xfinity without winning.
Bush, Reddick and Austin Sindrik competed in the Monday and Tuesday tire test at the Circuit of the Americas. This session marked Bush’s first official laps with his Richard Childress racing team. These were also Reddick’s first laps with his 23XI Racing team.
Busch, a two-time Cup champion, joins RCR after spending the last 15 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. Lack of sponsorship led to his relocation.
He takes over the No. 8 Chevrolet that Reddick drove the previous year. Reddick signed to join 23XI Racing in 2024 but was allowed to leave a year early with Busch taking his place at RCR.
Busch enters this season having won at least one Cup race in each of his last 18 seasons, tying him with Richard Petty for the overall Cup record.
Busch, who calculated he ran 200 laps in two days on the 3.41-mile course in Austin, Texas, was pleased with the session.
“I had a lot of fun,” he told NBC Sports. “I was able to work with the guys and really (have) good communication, give good feedback and be able to have a dialogue of ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s try this. What do you think about this?’
“(Was) able to talk about the car in the way I’m used to and to have them hear me describe things in a certain way so they can better understand where as you go on you can say fewer words and they will get what you say.”
Reddick said the session helped him settle into the No. 45 Toyota.
The session also proved to be beneficial for Toyota as it seeks to improve its performance on the road. Reddick won Road America and the Indianapolis circuit last year and could provide a key review for Toyota.
The manufacturer struggled on the first five road circuits last season, failing to finish in the top 12 twice. In the final race of the season, Toyota won the Charlotte Roval playoff race with Christopher Bell.
Reddick told NBC Sports that the goal of the session was “to try to close the gap between Toyota and Chevy and some other competitors last year on the road. I think we’ve made some progress, but we’ll definitely work hard on it.”
— Austin Athletic Commission (@sportsaustin) January 17, 2023
2. More tests in January
The key organizational test takes place Tuesday and Wednesday at Phoenix Raceway.
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s newly appointed senior vice president of competitions, said on NASCAR’s SiriusXM Radio Thursday that the sanctioning body will look at several things, including changes that could help short track racing.
While races on intermediate tracks last year were received favorably, riders were critical of races on short tracks and how difficult it was to pass them.
Sawyer said the sanctioning body will look into some changes to the underbody of the car.
Scott Graves, Team Leader Chris Buescher RFK Racing told NBC Sports that NASCAR will be reviewing some changes to the underbody of the car. These changes came about thanks to the efforts of Garage 56.
This is a specially modified Camaro that will take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. marking the return of NASCAR to the event for the first time in nearly 50 years. Hendrick Motorsports is preparing the car with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.
“Some of the things that they learn started leaking out on our side,” Graves said of the Garage 56 car. “They did some things on the bottom.
“As NASCAR strives to make short track a little better, we’re trying to rely less on the aero side of the body and more on the underbody, with the theory that it will be less affected by aero. movement.”
Graves said the plan is to have the Phoenix test rear spoiler smaller and the underbody of the car to create more downforce for the car. NASCAR is also looking to better direct air under the car with a diffuser.
Graves explained how a car’s large downforce generated underneath it can affect a race:
“When you look at lap times, the guys in front have a huge advantage, but when they get to the end of the group, they run at the same speed.
“It’s that everyone in the pack does the whole race, running at the same speed and having a hard time overtaking each other. Hope this helps with some where it’s not so dependent on the outer body. You get into turbulent air, dirty air (in traffic jams) (aero system on) the outer casing really disappears. The theory is that there will still be air underneath the car, so it will hold it a little better.”
3. Two Kyles doing a double?
Kyle Larson will try to race the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2024, driving in Indianapolis for the Arrow McLaren.
Could Kyle Busch join him? Bush has also expressed interest in doing a double, which his brother Kurt did in 2014.
“I think it’s great that Kyle (Larson) was able to kind of tap into that ahead of time and do it for himself to run the Indy 500 in 2024,” Bush told NBC Sports.
“I wasn’t so lucky (in the past). We had a couple of deals right here, right at the signing stage, I think you would say. It just didn’t materialize. The teams had other deals that were more important to them, that sort of…