NASCAR Notebook: Stewart-Haas, Front Row Fueled by New Crew Chiefs; Driver Ryan Preece Earns Reserve Status

Before NASCAR national series teams wrapped up three days of tire and Next Gen car tests at the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway on Jan. 6, two Cup Series teams named new crew chiefs, and an aging driver earned a second chance.

The silly season continues.

New crew chief Drew Blickensderfer’s first order of business is rebuilding Aric Almirola’s confidence 

NASCAR premier series crew chief Drew Blickensderfer looks on during the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2009, in Dover, Delaware | Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

With the addition of Drew Blickensderfer, Stewart-Haas Racing trusts the veteran crew chief will be able to build the confidence of driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Ford squad.

Almirola, who has 10 years of premier series experience, suffered a down 2021. Of Stewart-Haas’ four drivers, Almirola secured the organization’s lone checkered flag, but his average finish of 19.94 was his worst effort in five years (23.31). He only registered five top-10 finishes, 13 fewer than 2020.

Former crew chief Mike Bugarewicz remains with the organization as a performance director.

Blickensderfer comes to the team from a two-year stint as Michael McDowell’s chief, highlighted by the 2021 Daytona 500 title.

A premier series boss since 2009, Blickensderfer also guided the teams for drivers David Ragan and Matt Kenseth. During 2016 and ’17, Blickensderfer and Almirola worked together for 35 events, posting three top-five finishes and seven top 10s.

“Drew has been in the sport a long time and knows how to get the best out of the people around him, and that’s really what the job of crew chief has become,” Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said, reported by nascar.com.

Michael McDowell to work with rookie crew chief Blake Harris in 2022

As his former crew chief, Blickensderfer, settles in at Stewart-Haas, McDowell welcomed his new boss, Blake Harris, to the team at Front Row Racing.

Harris, 34, is entering his first full season as a Cup Series chief.

He came up through NASCAR’s ranks at Everham Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing. He played a role in 25 premier series victories, including Martin Truex Jr.’s 2017 drivers’ championship.

“Blake has proven to be a championship leader who is ready to take McDowell and our No. 34 team to the next level,” Front Row Motorsports general manager Jerry Freeze said, reported by nascar.com.

Harris will be tasked with untapping McDowell’s potential. In 357 career starts, he has just one win and five top-5 finishes. Last season’s 16th-place finish in the drivers’ standings was a career-high.

“He’s young but has a wealth of knowledge and experience, …” Freeze said.

Ryan Preece receiving a second Cup chance as a reserve pilot

Stewart-Haas Racing tabbed 31-year-old driver Ryan Preece to serve as the team’s reserve driver, plus handle an assortment of other responsibilities.

Preece spent the past three seasons as a full-time Cup pilot and appeared hard-pressed to land other seat. But he did receive another chance, although in reserve.

Preece is scheduled to drive a 12-race schedule in all three national series: two Cup races, three Xfinity events, and seven Truck showcases for David Gilliland Racing. He will also create team data by driving simulator races and stand in if any organizational driver is affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

“This is a unique setup, but I feel like it provides me with the best opportunity to win races and contribute to a championship-caliber team while expanding my racing experience,” Preece said, reported by nascar.com. “I’m a racer, and Stewart-Haas Racing is a team built by racers.”

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