Why Rodney Childers is joining Spire Motorsports to work with Corey Lajoie

The winningest active crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series is excited to build-up the No. 7 team

A little more than a year ago, Rodney Childers wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay on the road as an active full-time NASCAR Cup Series crew chief.

Kevin Harvick, one of the greatest to do it, would soon be retiring and at 47-years-old with two young sons, it was a reasonable internal monologue that Childers could retire alongside his fellow 2014 champion. He said at the time that an opportunity to work with Josh Berry was the only thing most appealing to keep him on the road.

Childers had so much fun this year that it has reminded him of everything he enjoys about the job.

Even with Berry moving on to Wood Brothers Racing next season after the closure of Stewart-Haas Racing, Childers made the decision to continue atop the pit box with Spire Motorsports and the No. 7 team with driver Corey Lajoie.

“It’s been a lot of fun to work with a young driver again,” Childers said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “Working with Josh lit a fire to keep going and keep having fun. My kids are still young enough that they’re in school and I have to get them off to college and all those things too.

“There’s a business side to that, and personal too, but I still want to win races. I’m not satisfied with 40. I want to get to 50 and be right there with some of there ever was.”

Stated plainly, the winningest active crew chief in the sport was in high demand. Spire has spent a lot of money the past two years to bring in quality people. That includes president Doug Duchardt, formerly of Hendrick and Ganassi, to top level engineers and spotters.

Team owners Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr also hired veteran driver Michael McDowell for next season because he has overachieved at Front Row and is always a threat to win on superspeedways and road courses. Spire is attempting to maximize around the margins in an era where everyone is competitive under a spec platform.

“Rodney’s experience, obviously, and I say this a lot, Rodney knows how to make race cars go fast,” Duchardt said. “We know that. But really it’s the intangibles he brings as a leader for his peers, for his team and also for the drivers.

“Not just of the Cup team but as a resource for the drivers on the (Truck Series) teams as well.”

To wit, Duchardt says Childers is going to provide value to both the No. 7 team but also the No. 77 and No. 71 teams.

“We’re not going to grow overnight and have the resources of Hendrick Motorsports, Gibbs or Penske, so the differentiator for Spire is going to be how well our three teams can work together,” Duchardt said. “We can learn quicker than them and as we put this together, I see how quickly Rodney, Luke Lambert and Ryan Sparks have clicked. That’s going to be an advantage.”

It helps that Spire has hired a handful of former SHR No. 4 crew members as well, including Stephen Doran, through its partnership with Trackhouse Racing, who has served as the crew chief for the No. 71 this season.

“That’s also going to be an advantage that some of those people that have already come here know how we operate,” Duchardt said. “I think we’re building an environment where people will work hard, together, to get better but enjoy ourselves doing it too.”

Childers also sees a lot of Kevin Harvick and Josh Berry in Corey Lajoie. Childers raced with his dad, Randy in the Busch Series, and has watched Corey grow up in the sport. The chance to work with Lajoie was appealing as well.

“When we first unloaded these NextGen cars for that first organizational test at Charlotte, he was the fastest guy out there,” Childers said. “We were blown away, ‘like holy cow, this dude is way fast.’

“And we’ve seen that ceiling at various times and it’s just a matter of him putting it all together and making a race out of it. I mean, he had the second fastest lap of the race on Sunday at one of the hardest race tracks there is.”

Lajoie has followed up his best season at the highest level with his worst and Childers says there are a lot of factors that play into that.

“We’ve seen it with Josh at points this year too, that when you qualify in the back and get stuck back there because of the metric, that things happen that aren’t always your fault,” Childers said. “It’s hard to break that cycle.

“If you can just move up the ladder a little bit, take your car from a 20th place car to a 12th place car, once you get to 12th, there isn’t as much wrecking going on up there, and that’s where you start getting up there in points.

“It’s just a matter of finishing where your car should, finishing 12th with a 12th plac car, being there all day and not making any mistakes.”

Berry reunion was never realistic

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Early in their free agency process, Childers and Berry had hoped to stay together, pitching their entire No. 4 team as a packaged deal. But Wood Brothers moved quickly to hire Berry and they already have a team in place supplied by Team Penske.

It was a good deal for Berry and one he couldn’t refuse.

“Josh has been so great to work with but the biggest thing is that it came in pretty late,” Childers said. “For me, it would have meant waiting two months for them to make that decision to bring me in, and I had already talked to Spire, and didn’t want to be left with nothing because that’s not a good place to be in for my family.

“On the other side, I wanted to feel wanted and to feel like someone felt like I could make a difference. I didn’t want to be just another person and Spire immediately made me feel wanted and that I could be a difference maker and they felt like I was that guy.”

And while the No. 7 team has a full staff, Spire is growing and Childers also would not be surprised to see some of his crew guys from the SHR No. 7 make their way over to Spire as well.

“We haven’t gotten to that part yet and there’s already a lot of really good people on the 7 car and I’ve heard a lot of positive things from (Ryan) Sparks.

“So, we’ll get together and learn about their strengths and weaknesses and how we can go about making it better. Like I said earlier, I wish I could have taken the entire No. 4 group and put them somewhere together but that was never a realistic goal.

“But like Doug said, there’s some good people that are still out there and looking for jobs right now, at Stewart-Haas but also other places, and I’m going to do everything I can to help them too. But the number one priority is to figure out where we are with the No. 7 team, what it needs, and how it can be better.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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