Crew chief Rodney Childers supervised Michael Waltrip's first turns in the No. 55 during Talladega's practice. (Getty Images)
For Childers, three heads are better than one
Crew chief finds success managing Martin, Vickers or Waltrip in No. 55
By Joe Menzer,
May 04, 2012 8:19 PM, EDT
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Amid the sea of change that washed over much of Michael Waltrip Racing during the offseason, one thing has remained the same.
Rodney Childers remains a respected crew chief in the organization, and his reputation appears to be growing every day.
Childers is crew chief of the No. 55 being driven this season by the triumvirate of Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip. Friday's Sprint Cup practices at Talladega Superspeedway marked the first time Waltrip has driven the car.
2012 Cup Series results
You would expect this unusual scenario to stress out Childers, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
"It hasn't been challenging at all. Truthfully, the two short tracks that Brian ran [at Bristol and Martinsville], we ran a completely different setup and everything, so it didn't really matter as far as changing the car around," Childers said. "From a team standpoint, we've been fine with it. We just put in the car what we think is best, and so far it's worked out every time. Going into this weekend, the speedway race is such a different deal that it's its own animal, you know?
"I think it would be different if we had Michael running an intermediate race, then Mark running an intermediate race, then Brian running an intermediate race. Then there would be tons of confusion and it would be hard to deal with and all that. But the races are laid out to where they are so different, and where each driver really likes the tracks where he's running, it really hasn't affected anything."
There is another reason Childers isn't too stressed. Other than when he's chasing around his twin 3-year-old boys, he rarely stresses about anything.
That wasn't always the case. When he arrived at MWR in 2009 to serve as David Reutimann's crew chief, Childers said he was a control freak who had to learn he couldn't be crew chief, shop foreman, car chief and a thousand other things.
As Childers relaxed and began delegating some responsibilities, Reutimann won one race each in 2009 and 2010. They remain the only two wins in MWR's brief history. This season, Childers already has helped the No. 55 earn two poles, one with Martin and one with Vickers.
"I feel like since I've come here, I've made a difference. Isn't that what everyone wants in life?" Childers said. "Now it's kind of like home. All in all, I think they like piling stuff on my shoulders now because I can handle it and don't get too stressed out about it."
Scott Miller, vice president of competition for MWR, admitted he knew little about Childers when he came on board last fall. Miller quickly grew to respect Childers, and that respect has grown after watching how deftly he has juggled the multiple-driver situation.
"It is a challenge, there isn't any question about that, and the whole deal has gone much smoother than I expected it to be," Miller said. "That whole thing had some writing on the wall that led you to believe it could become a disaster. Instead, it's been incredible. Rodney Childers deserves a lot of the credit for that.
"Maybe a lot of people don't think of him as being one of the best in the garage because he hasn't really been in a position where he can show it. But he's fully capable, and I think he's one of the best there is."
Heading into Sunday's Aaron's 499, the No. 55 is 10th in the owner points standings. Despite having missed the two races Vickers ran, Martin sits 19th in driver points -- leading Childers to dream about possibilities that seemed impossible when the season began.
"In the beginning, when they told me how all of this was going to go down, you hate that you're not going to have a chance to win the driver's championship," Childers said. "But [MWR general manager] Ty [Norris] told me, 'Look, we're giving you the best opportunity to go out and win as many races as you can, and you can finish wherever you finish in the owners' points. That's really what you're racing for.
"And to be honest with you, if Mark keeps up doing what he's been doing, he might be able to stay in the top 20, win a race or two and make the Chase on his own without even running all the races. If he keeps it up, he'll have a shot at it."
Officials from NASCAR confirmed all of the above could happen. If the No. 55 remains in the top 10 in owner points, it will be eligible to race during the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the owner's championship and the paycheck that comes with it. And if Martin were able to stay within the top 20 and win a race or two, his chances of making the Chase as a wild card and running for the driver's championship would remain alive.
No matter what happens, Childers will be at the center of it all.
"Chad Knaus [Jimmie Johnson's crew chief] stopped me one weekend and said I had it perfect, that I could just pick which driver I wanted for each track and try to win the owner's championship that way. It's worked out good so far," Childers said.