Crew chief left Penske South after seven years

Updated: December 12, 2006, 6:57 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Crew chief Matt Borland and driver Dale Jarrett discovered they had something in common after Tuesday's initial get-to-know-you meeting at Michael Waltrip Racing.

And it had nothing to do with gray hair.

Both left the four-hour session feeling they had something to prove after a 2006 season in which the struggles of their former teams led to their partnership.

Borland didn't sound at all like somebody ready to give up on his job as crew chief for Ryan Newman to join a new organization. He stopped short of saying he was the scapegoat for what was Newman's worst season since he ran his first full Nextel Cup schedule in 2002.

"I didn't really decide I needed a change," said Borland, who was named Jarrett's crew chief Friday. "Let's just say it was a mutual ... umm ... it was the best thing for all parties concerned."

Borland had been with Newman for seven years, helping him win the 2002 rookie of the year award. From 2002 through last season they had 12 wins, including eight in 2003, 52 top fives, 72 top 10s and 34 poles.

They finished in the top 10 in points each season.

This year they had no wins, two top fives, seven top 10s and two poles -- all career lows -- en route to 18th in points. It was so bad that Borland was replaced for the final two races by Mike Nelson, who has since been named Newman's crew chief for '07.

At the time Penske officials said Borland asked for a leave of absence to spend more time with his family. Newman said he hoped Borland would stay on in another capacity such as director of team competition.

Borland laughed.

"It wasn't necessarily an option," he said.

But Borland insists he left on good terms with Newman, who, like Borland, has a background in engineering.

"It's still good," he said. "We talked for quite a bit about it. Ryan's always supported me and vice versa. That whole team ... I'm still a hundred percent behind them and I hope they run real well next year."

Borland's focus now is on getting 1999 Cup champion Jarrett, 23rd in points last season at Robert Yates Racing, and his new Toyota team in the top 10.

He knows it won't be easy, particularly with the organization trying to move into a new building and build cars for a new manufacturer.

But he left Tuesday's meeting with Jarrett feeling re-energized and not so alone in the struggling department.

"To hear somebody else have the same experiences you realize it's part of a learning process," Borland said.

Borland believes he and Jarrett will be a good fit, noting one of Jarrett's complaints at RYR was a lack of engineering support and one of his strengths is engineering.

"Obviously, neither one of us was happy with the results we had this past season," Borland said. "It was just reinforcing our knowing those kinds of problems are out there.

"When you've got the same background, it makes it that much easier to find a solution to make it better," he said.

Borland is excited about the challenge of helping Toyota become a force in Cup and to work with a three-team operation that has no pre-existing problems.

One of the biggest complaints the past couple years at Penske Racing South was the lack of communication between the teams of Newman and the No. 2 team of Rusty Wallace ('05) and Kurt Busch ('06).

"It's nice to have a different set of challenges," Borland said. "I'm obviously going to miss all the guys over there. I had a lot of good friends and I'm going to miss that.

"The bottom line is you've got to get the results and we weren't getting them. When that happens, changes get made," he said.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter