AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Richert, Skinner combine to make No. 5 Toyota a factor againA crew chief will tell you it is a helpless feeling, those final few laps of a race when it's all in the driver's hands to win or lose. He has done all he can do during the course of the event as far as adjustments and strategy. But in the final laps, he's a spectator. Or, in Doug Richert's case Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he's a spectator and a commentator. Richert had worked all day on the Bill Davis Racing No. 5, helping Mike Skinner with a Toyota that was loose but racy. It grazed the wall in practice and nearly spun in qualifying, but ended up third on the grid and was a factor to finally get an elusive first win of '08. With that, the crew chief's work was done. Richert moved up to the Speed TV booth for the race, Slugger Labbe climbed atop the No. 5 pit box and Skinner buckled into his car. Everyone had a job to do, although Richert couldn't help himself. "As you're sitting there, talking about the race, out of the corner of your eye you're really looking how to see your truck is doing," Richert said. "You're not thinking about the commentating side. You want to say, 'Look at that 5! It's looking good!' It's kind of different, trying to be smart about each job individually." Richert had his objectivity pushed to the brink and maybe a little beyond when he watched Skinner win a green-flag-checkered finish by a few feet (.020 of a second) ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Erik Darnell ("Yes! How about that finish!" Richert said). But he won't be conflicted anymore because he has fulfilled the booth portion of his broadcast contract. Now Richert is working daily at BDR, trying to return Skinner to the consistent power he enjoyed last year in a five-win, second-in-points season. This year the 1995 champion had struggled with only three top-5s in 18 races while the rest of BDR thrived, from points leader Johnny Benson (four wins) to even part-time rookie Scott Speed (a winner in May at Dover). The team made a crew chief change in June, replacing Jeff Hensley with interim crew chief Joe Lax, but that didn't turn the tide. BDR made a run at hiring Wally Rogers, the crew chief of the No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Nationwide car, but that also came up short. "We just went through a lull since Jeff Hensley's left. We've just not had the depth in this race team that I feel like it takes to win races," Skinner said. "Doug Richert was kind enough to take the job, and he's done a phenomenal job." Richert took the job two weeks ago before the New Hampshire race and has been getting up to date quickly, although the 48-year-old is no stranger to the Craftsman Truck Series. He's seventh on the all-time crew chief wins list. He was Ron Hornaday Jr.'s first crew chief in the inaugural 1995 season and won seven races from 1995 to midway through 1996 with the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team. He was let go in the middle of what became a title year for Hornaday. ("First job I ever lost while leading the points," Richert said, laughing.) Richert returned to Victory Lane three times with Carl Edwards in 2003, the driver's rookie of the year season with Roush Racing. Then Richert moved up to Cup racing and won 10 races with Greg Biffle between 2004 and 2006. He stayed in the Cup garage through this past May, when he was released from DEI again, this time as Regan Smith's crew chief. Television then beckoned, and it still will be a part of Richert's repertoire the rest of the year as he analyzes Cup races on Sunday evenings for Speed. But he also has renewed his competitive juices at BDR. There, he has a peer in Skinner, 51, who also has plenty of fire left. "I think what he had in me was just confidence that I was current enough to come in and understand how things were doing," Richert said. "Obviously, that confidence could have went 180 degrees the other way if we'd have flopped our first two races. "It's like when you're buying a house and you drive up and the lot's brown, or you drive up to a house whose lawn is perfectly mowed and lush green, that first impression of that green grass is really good. How you start these relationships is like that, it's important. What foot you get off on is really important." It's safe to say the combination at the No. 5 is starting out well. You could hear the enthusiasm from the broadcast booth Saturday night. John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Surreal day for No. 59 ends early