Kenseth: 'We needed a spark'
FONTANA, Calif. -- No one got mad at Drew Blickensderfer. No one threw pens at him in a team meeting this week. No one hurled angry insults.
Some people were wondering because nobody saw it coming. Blickensderfer lost his job this week as Matt Kenseth's crew chief, a move so shocking it caught even Kenseth's teammates by surprise.
"I don't know what happened," Greg Biffle said Friday. "I had no idea."
And here's a bigger surprise: Jack Roush didn't do it. This wasn't a hasty decision by a panicked team owner. It wasn't a Roush decision at all.
This was Kenseth's deal all the way. The man who drives the No. 17 Ford decided to take matters into his own hands.
But why? What made Kenseth take such a bold step before the second race of the season?
Kenseth said he felt Blickensderfer was too much like one other person -- Kenseth.
"You guys always say I don't show emotion," Kenseth said Friday. "Well, I felt the whole team had gotten that way. And I'm not a very good leader. I admit that. I'm not the guy to do that."
Insert veteran Todd Parrott, a polar opposite of Blickensderfer in personality. Parrott, 46, gets things done the old-fashioned way -- drill sergeant style. He led Dale Jarrett to a Cup title in 1999.
Parrott takes over the crew chief role one year after Blickensderfer got the job.
"It's not a secret that Matt has a lot of talent," Parrott said. "I hope I can get the 17 team back to where it belongs in Victory Lane."
Kenseth was in Victory Lane one year ago with his rookie crew chief, winning the Daytona 500 and following up with a victory at Fontana one week later. At age 32, Blickensderfer was the talk of the garage, the wonder kid with the magic touch.
He wouldn't win again. And even worse, Kenseth missed the Chase for the first time in his career.
But two months ago, Kenseth felt Blickensderfer deserved more time to work it out. Roush asked Kenseth what he wanted to do, and Kenseth gave Blickensderfer a thumbs-up.
So what changed, especially after an impressive eighth-place finish last week at Daytona?
"The timing of this is 100 percent my fault," Kenseth said. "It doesn't make any sense for anybody. But I felt something needed to be done.
"It's hard to explain. I felt something was missing. I didn't feel like the guys were fired up to win races. I felt the guys were going through the motions. The whole dynamic of the team needed something to get the group motivated. We needed a spark."
So Roush acquiesced to Kenseth's wishes.
"I'm really conflicted about what we're doing here," Roush said Friday. "This is a performance business, but there's a human element as well. That's where the conflict comes for me.
I feel like I failed to help him enough. Drew has what it takes. The change was not about me and Drew. We're friends and will remain friends.” -- Matt Kenseth
"Drew was my choice and he was Matt's choice to lead this team. He has done everything we asked him to do. But the chemistry wasn't there. And that's my fault."
Kenseth also took the blame for things not working out.
"I feel like I failed to help him enough," Kenseth said. "Drew has what it takes. The change was not about me and Drew. We're friends and will remain friends."
This change is about style over substance. It's about selling the sizzle to improve the steak.
Blickensderfer and Parrott trade places at RFR, with Blickensderfer going to research and development.
Roush said Parrott still has the interim tag for now. And Roush admitted that he considered moving former crew chief Robbie Reiser back to the 17 team.
Blickensderfer had the difficult task of replacing one of the best in the business in Reiser, the man who led Kenseth to the 2003 championship.
Reiser was kicked upstairs last year as GM at RFR, but he will be on the pit box with Parrott this weekend.
"It's all hands on deck to get this thing going," Roush said. "Matt is as good a driver as anybody in the business is now or ever will be."
Clearly, Roush believes Kenseth can win another championship with the right man leading the team. Is Parrott that guy?
"Who knows if it's the right change," Kenseth said. "But our team was used to a strong team leader like Robbie. Todd is one of those guys when he talks, his voice goes through the room."
Parrott is more like Reiser. Rule by intimidation is the message here. That wasn't Blickensderfer's way of doing things.
"Todd's a champion and brings great strength to the 17 team," Roush said. "He has the experience to manage this band of pirates Robbie assembled over there. Maybe that was too much for a young man."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at email@example.com.
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