Gordon, Kahne welcome Evernham's help
February 13, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jeff Gordon hears it all the time on Twitter -- that Ray Evernham should return as his crew chief, a chorus that's grown louder amid recent news that the former television analyst will work with Hendrick Motorsports as an advisor.
"We talk about it and joke about it," said Gordon, who won three of his four NASCAR titles with Evernham on the No. 24 pit box. "On Twitter, they're constantly saying, 'Oh, Ray should be your crew chief, everything would be better.' Not necessarily, in all aspects. But just having him involved, and having him be a part of the organization again, is just exciting."
Evernham revealed last week that he had stepped away from his job as an analyst with ESPN to take an increased role with Hendrick, where he won 47 races and three titles as a crew chief from 1993-99. For the past two years Evernham has worked for Hendrick Companies, a management group focused on strategic initiatives for chairman Rick Hendrick that is not involved with the motorsports side. Now, Evernham is involved in competition with Hendrick for the first time since leaving the organization to form his own race team.
Evernham has said he will act as an advisor, attending approximately 12 races a year, and will work closely with General Manager Doug Duchardt, Vice President for Competition Ken Howes and President Marshall Carlson. He left his role with ESPN -- which isn't part of the new NASCAR television package beginning in 2015 -- to avoid any potential appearance of conflict of interest.
At Hendrick, Evernham is reunited with two drivers he's worked with quite closely -- Gordon and Kasey Kahne, the latter of whom won nine races as a part of Evernham Motorsports and later Gillett-Evernham Motorsports from 2004-08. Kahne said Evernham's penchant for zeroing in on areas of improvement can help even an organization that won its 11th premier-series title with Jimmie Johnson last year.
"When I raced for Ray, he always worked really well with his employees, with his guys about improving and always working on improving any way you can," Kahne said. "How can you improve? How can the engineering? How can the driver? How can the pit crews, the guys building the cars, the bodies? There are so many aspects and things to look at, and if he's always on you about improving, we got better that way. So I think he'll come in, kind of look over some of the ways we do things, maybe (how) the 5 and 24 (teams) work together, that kind of thing, a little bit here, a little bit there. Overall, I think it will be a good thing. It's tough to say how much it will improve us, but overall it's definitely going to be a benefit us, because Ray is good with people and he's done that kind of thing for a long time."
Evernham has long worn many hats throughout his career, branching out into television work and vehicle restoration in addition to his competitive exploits. Gordon believes all that accumulated knowledge can benefit Hendrick, particularly when it comes to divisions of the company potentially better communicating with one another.
"I love Ray. Ray and I obviously have had a great working relationship, but we've also maintained a friendship over the years. Ray's experienced a lot of things as a crew chief, as a car owner, as a businessman, as a TV (analyst) that can enhance what we do at Hendrick," Gordon said. "I think it's important to have somebody that has been in that position as a crew chief, that maybe doesn't understand the engineering to the level that some of our engineers do, but he's a quick study. He gets it. So I think anything Ray can do to help bridge that gap of communication between crew chiefs, engineers, the engine shop, the chassis shop, and the team aspect from the pit crews, all these things -- he just has a great way of analyzing things, looking at things, and giving good opinions to make it stronger."
Evernham's tenure as a car owner ended when the Gillett-Evernham team was restructured into Richard Petty Motorsports prior to the 2009 season. Gordon believes his friend and former crew chief has missed the competition.
"Absolutely I think he has. There's no doubt in my mind he has," Gordon said. "But he also knows being a crew chief today is a lot different than it used to be. If he were 30 years old and coming in, he'd still make an excellent crew chief, because he understands how to put a great team together and what it takes to go fast. That doesn't mean you always have to know everything about shocks to the level they have to know, or aerodynamics. You collectively bring all that together, so there's no doubt in my mind he would be an excellent crew chief. But I think what's happened is, if you step away from the sport for a period of time, and then you try to come back, it wouldn't work."
Evernham has been adamant that he has zero desire to return as a crew chief. Despite the pleas from his followers on Twitter, Gordon said don’t expect a sudden change of heart.
"It's not even a thought," Gordon said. "It's not on the radar in any shape or form. You can just put that to rest."