Much of the Silly Season moves in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took place during the actual racing season this year, so with few driver moves left to make, crew chief shuffles came front and center after the season finale.
Stewart-Haas Racing made the biggest announcement of the first week of the offseason when it released Tony Stewart’s crew chief of two years, Steve Addington, two days after Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and signed Chad Johnston to be the crew chief for the No. 14 team in 2014, among several crew chief changes the organization made that include Rodney Childers to the No. 4 team with Kevin Harvick and Daniel Knost to the No. 41 team with Kurt Busch.
Johnston had been the crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team at Michael Waltrip Racing, but that job fell apart after the race-fixing scandal late in the Sept. 7 race at Richmond International Raceway caused full-time sponsor NAPA to leave the team at the end of the year.
The No. 56 team dissolved, as Truex and his pit crew will move next season to the No. 78 team at Furniture Row Racing, which finished 10th in the final points standings with the eldest Busch as the driver.
Addington did not find a job with a history of nearly as much success. He will be the crew chief of the No. 51 team at Phoenix Racing, which has not yet announced a full-time sponsor or driver for 2014, although it will likely by Brandt with Justin Allgaier in the driver’s seat.
That move is certainly a fairly steep drop from Addington’s position with the No. 14 team and his jobs with Busch in the No. 22 car at Penske Racing from 2010-11 and with Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team at Joe Gibbs Racing from 2008-09.
Addington began his full-time crew chief career at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005 with Bobby Labonte but went three years, including the next two with J.J. Yeley, before he got his first Cup series win in 2008 with Kyle Busch.
Busch won 12 races in his two seasons with Addington but never finished better than 10th in the points standings. Kurt Busch won four races in his two seasons with Addington but finished 10th both years.
In 2012, Stewart won three races as the Cup series reigning champion but fizzled in the Chase and finished ninth in the points standings.
Addington faced tough circumstances in 2013, as he had to work with four different drivers because Stewart broke a leg during a sprint car crash in August and missed the final 15 races of the season.
However, Addington’s career has been defined by missed opportunities, and those bygone chances now have him with a second-tier team that has not finished better than 25th in the Cup series points standings and had nine different drivers in a 2013 season that had former owner James Finch sell the team to Harry Scott Jr.
Both Busch brothers and Stewart were favorites to contend for the championship during their seasons with Addington because they often had successful regular seasons that put them in position to contend for the title, but they faded during the Chase every single year.
Addington could get those drivers, who have a combined four championships among them, into the Chase, but he could never have much success with them once they got there.
Regardless of the factors that contributed to those Chase swoons, Addington is now in the same spot as drivers who had opportunities with top teams but fell short of expectations.
Drivers such as Yeley, Michael McDowell, David Reutimann, David Stremme, Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson, among others, all had rides with large, multi-car Cup series organizations at least at one point in their careers, but they are now with underfunded teams, start-and-park teams or even Nationwide Series teams.
For now, those drivers languish in mostly bad rides with hopes of one day getting another chance at the big time, and now Addington is in that same spot.
He might have decent success with Allgaier in 2014 and could contend for a top 20 spot in the points standings with the would-be rookie driver, but those standards are far below those he’s had at any other point in his Cup series career.