Evernham leaves ESPN for bigger Hendrick role
February 05, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Cites potential conflict of interest as reason for vacating from TV job
Ray Evernham, one of NASCAR's most successful crew chiefs, is returning to the competition side of the sport in an expanded role with Hendrick Motorsports.
The former championship-winning crew chief will work closely with Hendrick Motorsports management and the organization's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams featuring drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
Evernham stressed that his new role is that of an advisor and not a participant, although he expects to attend a dozen or more races.
"Will I be building cars? No," he told NASCAR.com. "Will I be meeting with crew chiefs and trying to help them? Yes. …
"And I stick to the point -- you will not see me be a crew chief; you will not see me have an active role. You will see me at the race track because that's about the same number of races I went to last year (while working with ESPN). And I think if I'm going to interact and really understand and help the guys, I've got to dig down and see what they're going with at the race track.
"I look at myself as being a good textbook, a good resource, not only for the management team, but the guys as well and in order to do that I'm going to have to be at the track sometimes."
Evernham, 56, won three Sprint Cup titles and 47 races while paired with driver Jeff Gordon at Hendrick between 1993 and 1999. He left to form his own team, Evernham Motorsports, collecting 13 wins as an owner with drivers Bill Elliott, Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield.
Since 2011, Evernham has worked for Hendrick Companies, a management group that oversees strategic initiatives for chairman Rick Hendrick. Because his duties did not include Hendrick Motorsports at that time, Evernham also served as a race analyst for ESPN during its coverage of NASCAR events.
"I don't want to say nothing's really changed because obviously something has changed," Evernham said. "I've been doing a lot of work with the Hendrick Automotive group, I did a lot of work with General Motors and Chrysler and all the things that Rick has going on. This year, he's asked me to come over and help on the management side of motorsports. I'll be working closely with Doug Duchardt (executive vice president and general manager), Ken Howes (vice president of competition) and Marshall Carlson (president and CEO)."
Because he chose to re-join the competition side of the company, Evernham said he decided to relinquish his duties with ESPN.
"I can't put Hendrick in a compromising position, or ESPN," he said. "What do I want to do? Where do I want to be five years from now? I enjoyed (working at ESPN) a lot. But when I looked out to the future, I didn't see a spot for me."
ABC/ESPN is in the final year of an eight-year contract with NASCAR and is not a part of the new TV package that begins in 2015.
In a statement provided by ESPN, network officials said, "We appreciate the contributions Ray has made to our NASCAR coverage and have enjoyed having him as part of our team. We wish him all the best."
"I've been working for Hendrick Companies management for three years now but my umbrella got bigger," Evernham said. "And when that umbrella got bigger to assist with motorsports management, that automatically in my opinion would take away some of my credibility as an analyst and a media representative, and I had to make a choice."
Evernham will continue his duties with Hendrick Companies, as well as his "AmeriCarna" television series that recently debuted on Velocity TV.
"Ray has a unique combination of business, racing competition and media experience," Hendrick said in a statement provided by HMS. "We're having a lot of fun with the 'AmeriCarna,' and I'm excited about how he can continue to contribute to the organization in a variety of ways. We have a great friendship, and he's a valuable resource on a professional level."
Evernham said the goal isn't to sit down and discuss chassis setups with the various crew chiefs.
"This is more about philosophy and systems and helping continue that winning culture that Mr. H has got over there," he said. "Being an assistant to guys like Marshal and Doug, the guys that are really, really smart that don't have that race experience, crew chief experience.
"I'm there to help add to the systems they already have and help with that communication. … I'm not going to go in there and make the car go faster by rubbing on a template. … Those days are over. They've got a tremendous amount of resources. I need to be able to help them organizationally and philosophically use the people and tools that they have in place better."
Hendrick Motorsports teams have won 11 Cup titles and 218 races since debuting in 1984. Johnson accounts for six of those titles and is the defending Cup champion.
Gordon (four) and Terry Labonte (one) also won championships for HMS.
Evernham said is he is looking forward to helping keep the group at the forefront of the series.
"I said to them the other day, 'you know what's really cool about this? You all have dominated the sport for the past 20 years and we're sitting in here today talking about how to get better,' " he said. "And to me that's why I want to go back there, because it's never good enough."