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Blickensderfer Thinks Hornish Has Something to Prove

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EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – With the recent news that three-time IndyCar driver @SamHornish Jr. will be replacing @MarcosAmbrose in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer felt almost an immediate kinship and connection with the driver that he feels is not only hungry, but has something to prove.

“I was really happy to hear the announcement with Sam,” Blickensderfer told POPULAR SPEED. “He is someone I didn’t know that well before last week but I saw him afar as a guy who kind of got rushed into the sport and then had his chance to come back in the No. 22 car in 2012 and performed really, really well. He learned a lot from his first couple of years racing stock cars and applied that to 2012 very well.”

“I think Sam’s got a lot to prove and he’s hungry,” Blickensderfer continued. “He wants a second chance at this and he has obviously proven that he can drive race cars. Most recently, Sam has spent most of his days at the shop, talking and going to meetings with me. I went to lunch with him today and got to know him a little better.”

Although lunch was a start to the relationship-building, Blickensderfer is most looking forward to some upcoming testing where he can really get to know his new driver.

“We’re actually going to spend the day next week in Nashville to prepare for 2015,” Blickensderfer said. “The most important thing is to be at the race track. You can go to lunch with them and you can spend time in the racing environment with them, but the most important thing is to connect at the race track.”

“Getting Sam to Nashville will be a big help,” Blickensderfer continued. “Then we’re going to plan another test in two weeks after that to spend some time together and learn his likes and dislikes in the race car.

“We’ll get all that worked out and spending time at the race track is how you build that chemistry.”

The three-time Cup winning crew chief admitted that the testing ban for 2015 will be a challenge in the development of his chemistry with Hornish, however, has decided to approach the new relationship by going forward and not looking back.

“The testing ban really makes it so we’re going to have to learn as much as we can about each other the couple times we get to testing in the next five weeks or so,” Blickensderfer said. “And then after that, there are no more dry runs and it’s real life. Daytona is a long, drawn out couple of weeks for us usually so that will be a good preliminary feel for each other and we’ll go through that.”

“I don’t really look at past races too much or past performances,” Blickensderfer continued. “People can look at my career or a driver’s career or say someone was really good and the equipment changes or there are other changes that people can’t put their fingers on. I’ve talked to Sam about what he feels are his strongest race tracks and things like that. But besides that, there is no past history. We’ll go on and see if we can establish that new relationship.”

Blickensderfer acknowledges that the role of crew chief runs the gamut of being focused on the performance to being a mentor, coach and friend. The key to his success as crew chief, however, will be to be able to adapt to whatever Hornish will need in the race car next year, just like he adapted to both @MattKenseth and Carl Edwards, for whom he has crew-chiefed in the past.

“The crew chief/driver relationship changes with every driver and every crew chief,” Blickensderfer said. “For crew chiefs to be successful, you have to adapt to what your driver, your team and your company needs to get the most out of it. I think the most successful crew chiefs are the guys that can be put with multiple people and still run well. They have adapted to whatever the needs are of that driver.”

“Matt Kenseth was a guy that didn’t need much cheerleading at all while Carl Edwards probably needed more that Matt,” Blickensderfer continued. “I’ll get to know whether Sam Hornish will need that. My goal is give Sam whatever he needs on the other end of the radio, whether it be a calming, comforting voice or a fiery coach kind of voice. Whatever it takes to get the most out of Sam and the most out of the team is what I will do. I think sometimes it’s a straight, professional and business-like relationship and other times it is friend, mentor or companion.”

“It depends on what you need to get the most out of the driver.”

Blickensderfer is also doing all he can to help his new driver mesh with the entire No. 9 team, in spite of the fact that he still is in the process of closing out the 2014 season with outgoing driver Marcos Ambrose.

“Sam’s been received extremely well at the shop,” Blickensderfer said. “People are ready for Sam to drive the race car and they want to be a part of that. His first step is to get to mesh with the team and get them to work around him. There will be an interior guy who will take care of his helmet and his gloves and make sure everything is right when he sits inside that race car. And then we’ll have a motor tuner that he will have to know and one he can ask questions of to know what’s going on. And there will be a car chief and a shock guy that he will have communication with. Getting them all interacting with Sam before we get to the race track will be a big advantage going into 2015.”

“But Sam also knows that we still have a job to do this season,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s very professional amongst the group, knowing that this is the guy coming in and this is the guy leaving and there are no hard feelings.”

“The thing that we have to do for both Stanley and DeWalt and Marcos is to do everything we can to run successfully these last few weeks. We will put the same effort into these final weeks as we did at the beginning of the season.”

“And in the meantime, we will be run ragged trying to get to know Sam during the week when we’re not at the race track with Marcos.”

Blickensderfer acknowledges that there will be challenges in adapting to yet another change in driver, as well as with the changes in the team and the company. But he also is convinced that this newest relationship will be beneficial for both him and Hornish as they re-establish their place in the sport together.

“I think the challenges we have are not necessarily with Sam but more with the company, moving into a new building, taking on all the responsibilities ourselves,” Blickensderfer said. “Those are things that we look forward to as we create our own destiny where we can have more control and more hands-on feel of how the cars are being produced. That’s something the team, along with this new driver, is going to have to get used to in the next couple of months.”

“I think that the thing that I look forward to with Sam is re-establishing ourselves,” Blickensderfer continued. “I think both of us had success, myself in Nationwide and Sam in IRL, and we came to Cup and had spurts of success, but we both kind of got to a point where we needed to start something new.”

“And this is the chance for both of us to start something new and get that chemistry to where both of us can make this a long-term deal where we are having success together,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s one of those things when you get a driver and crew chief that hit it off and they can have multiple years of successful racing, it’s a neat experience.”

“So, with Sam it would be neat to re-establish that power that he once was in IRL and let him enjoy some of that success in NASCAR.”

“That would be a huge thrill.”


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Mary Jo Buchanan

Mary Jo Buchanan has been a race fan since her childhood, having grown up at a local Pennsylvania dirt track. With her experience in the pits, she has developed an interest and expertise in all levels of racing, from the local scene to the highest level of the sport. Many of her articles focus on the ‘behind the scenes’ and sometimes ‘off the beaten path’ stories about the world of racing. Buchanan also enjoys writing about up and coming drivers and the people that make NASCAR work on a daily basis.

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