Uneasy lies the head that wears a ... headset.
Crew chief shifting, swapping and expunging, and the back stories behind them were positively Shakespearean this Sprint Cup season. Several men in the comfortable yet uneasy chairs atop the war wagon were removed for not attaining the ultimate goal, a championship. One was removed despite attaining it. And some simply left on their own for preferred jobs elsewhere. The latter are in the minority.
Crew chief job security continues to dwindle in this reputedly ultra-competitive era -- both on the track and in boardroom negotiations for precious sponsor dollars -- and decisions are made quickly and ruthlessly in a sport where missteps can require years to identify and correct. So scenes such as the one that played out following Tony Stewart's claiming of a third championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, while unprecedented, shouldn't seem so stunning. There sat Darian Grubb, surrounded not only by the men with whom he had just won a championship, Tony Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas, but those who had signed off earlier in the fall on his dismissal following the season. The title wouldn't save him, but maybe it would help him land the next gig. It was sublime. It was modern NASCAR.
Here are six other crew chief changes that will impact the 2012 Sprint Cup season:
1. Steve Addington to Tony Stewart: Outwardly stoic, Addington emerged from the gauntlet that is running programs for both Kyle and Kurt Busch to finally land with a centered, calm professional. Oh, wait. Stewart has, undoubtedly, displayed loathsome behavior in his NASCAR tenure, but he's never been the source of as much derision as the tempestuous Busches, who each managed to break new ground in bad behavior in 2011. Addington, who worked at Joe Gibbs Racing during Stewart's time there, slides into a program coming off a championship, which will not only provide a dream scenario professionally, but an opportunity for heavy scrutiny. His chill-out-driving-home iPod playlist would be worth seeing.
2. Shane Wilson to Kevin Harvick: An uneven and eventfully unfulfilling season prompted Harvick to ask team owner Richard Childress for a change in leadership. The shuttering of Clint Bowyer's No. 33 program provided a simple in-house remedy. Harvick had angrily suggested the need for personnel changes over team radio during races, and he is reunited with someone that has brought him a title before. Wilson and Harvick combined to win 10 races and the Nationwide title by a record 824 points in 2006. Harvick and former crew chief Gil Martin, who had worked together since May of 2009, won three of the first 12 Cup races this season but stagnated, much to the driver's irritation, by experimenting through the summer. He finished the season third in points with four wins after starting the Chase on top. Martin will move to an administrative role. The expectation for Harvick and Wilson? A championship.
3. Brian Pattie to Clint Bowyer: According to reports, the former Juan Pablo Montoya crew chief will run the new program for Bowyer at Michael Waltrip Racing. Pattie had a win and one Chase appearance since taking over Juan Pablo Montoya's team in 2008, but he appeared to lose his driver's confidence near the end of their term. His hiring would also appease the uprising in Zephyrhills, Fla., home to both Pattie and David Reutimann, who was fired by Waltrip at the end of the season.
4. Drew Blickensderfer to Jeff Burton: Blickensderfer, a Roush Fenway company man for nearly a decade, won his first two races as a crew chief -- including the 2009 Daytona 500 -- with Matt Kenseth and then cratered, losing his job one race into the 2010 season. Burton would likely take that deal right now, having gone winless since 2008. Blickensderfer, who helped David Ragan win one race -- but couldn't help him keep a full-time ride -- this season, replaces Luke Lambert.
5. Chris Heroy to Juan Pablo Montoya: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing turns to an engineer with an open-wheel background who has been successful in NASCAR in an attempt to spark the career of a former open-wheel driver still trying to exploit his massive potential in stock cars. Heroy, who moved from the open-wheel developmental Atlantics Series to Hendrick Motorsports in 2004, has worked as an engineer at Hendrick Motorsports for Mark Martin (including in his nine-win 2009 season) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. He replaces interim Jim Pohlman, who replaced Pattie midseason and oversaw the back end of Montoya's slump to 21st in the driver standings. Montoya, who finished eighth in 2009, has seen his final ranking worsen each of the last two seasons.
6. Extremely patient person to Kurt Busch: Just as some plucky soul will always step forward to coach the Cleveland Browns, some enterprising and career-minded individual will agree to direct the No. 2 Dodge program. It will be a job with Penske Racing, of course, with the cache of a former series champion, and one of a precious 43-plus who serve as crew chief at NASCAR's highest level. It will at times be a thankless job. And the other five hours a day they'll be asleep.