Several weeks ago, two-time Daytona 500-winning crew chief Drew Blickensderfer left Front Row Motorsports after guiding Michael McDowell to victory in the 2021 edition of The Great American Race in order to pursue other options. Weeks later, the other option has revealed itself to be a move within the Ford camp and another opportunity to pursue the Harley J. Earl trophy with a familiar driver.
On Tuesday, Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Drew Blickensderfer has been hired as the new crew chief for the No. 10 team and driver Aric Almirola in 2022. Blickensderfer replaces Mike Bugarewicz, who has been promoted to the newly-formed role of performance director for SHR.
The hire of Blickensderfer reunites him with Almirola, as the two worked together at Richard Petty Motorsports during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Speaking to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Blickensderfer stated that his move to SHR was spurred by a desire to once again work for a top race team.
"When I left Richard Petty Motorsports, I went to Front Row because I didn't know if I'd ever get back with a big team. And the opportunity at Front Row was an opportunity to help build that. And I think we did," Blickensderfer said. "I think in three years we took that team to kind of a mid-major level, and that was a huge gain at Front Row. And that was an opportunity I really liked and enjoyed.
"But at my age and my commitment to the sport and everything that I have going on, I want to be with a team that can compete. That was goal number one. And when that opportunity presented itself, it was pretty easy."
"Drew has been in the sport a long time and knows how to get the best out of the people around him, and that's really what the job of crew chief has become," read a statement by Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli. "We have the same parts and pieces, but what we do with those parts and pieces will make the difference. Drew has worked with a lot of drivers and managed a lot of people. He already has a rapport with Aric, and that will make the learning curve in a season full of learning a little less steep."
A Cup Series crew chief since 2009, Blickensderfer's greatest success has been in engineering and setting up cars for superspeedway races: He won the 2009 Daytona 500 with Matt Kenseth in his very first race as a Cup crew chief, and followed it up with McDowell's 2021 victory a decade later. Blickensderfer also won the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona as the crew chief for David Ragan. After Blickensderfer's announcement on Wednesday, Front Row Motorsports announced Thursday that Blake Harris would take his place as crew chief for McDowell.
Blickensderfer's proficiency on superspeedways meshes well with Almirola's strengths as a driver. Two of Almirola's three career Cup wins have come at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and he was leading on the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500 before being spun out of a potential victory.
In 36 races together at Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola and Blickensderfer scored three top 5 and seven top 10 finishes with a best result of fourth in races at Daytona and Talladega.