Keys to the Championship: No. 9 BurgerFi/Armour Team

Ron Lemasters | JR Motorsports | 2/9/2018

Armour BurgerFi News Tyler Reddick XFINITY Series

The Keys to the Championship series concludes with Tyler Reddick and the No. 9 BurgerFi/Armour team.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2019) – About the only constant for the No. 9 team at JR Motorsports is, there really is no constant. What was the No. 88 team in 2016 became the No. 9 in 2017, just in time for William Byron to win four races, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award and the NASCAR Xfinity Series title. Fast-forwarding to 2018, there’s another new driver in Tyler Reddick, a different slate of sponsors (with more to be named later), and a couple of roster changes.

All that is just a normal day in the life of Dave Elenz, who has been the crew chief the last three seasons—which encompasses 12 drivers, eight victories, 31 top-five and 63 top-10 finishes. It seems that the Michigan native never gets the same cards to play from year to year, yet still manages to pull in the big pots at the end of the game. Elenz takes it in stride. “It’s fun,” he cracked. “It’s always different.”

Managing the new pieces to his team is par for the course, given his and the remaining team members’ acuity in managing the turnover year-to-year. Last year was the same kind of deal, with Byron coming in along with some new pieces in the crew. This year, he’ll have the same exact scenario: a new driver in Reddick, a new second engineer and underneath mechanic. Given that Elenz has been down this road before, it’s kind of business as usual.

Keys to the 2018 NXS Championship for the No. 9 Burger Fi/Armour Chevrolet team are, obviously, to jell into a cohesive unit, manage both the rule changes and expectations and compete for the championship. If those sound remarkably similar to this time last year...well, they ought to.

CHANGE CAN DO YOU GOOD: If there’s anything about the No. 9 team that remains constant from year to year, it’s success. In three NXS seasons, with Chase Elliott in the No. 9 in 2014 and 2015 and Byron in it in 2017, the team has amassed 99 starts, eight victories, 39 top-five and 75 top-10 finishes. Its average finish in the series points is 1.33, with two titles and a runner-up finish. Not much to improve on with those numbers, but it won’t keep Elenz from trying.

“I predict we’re going to work hard all year, and constantly improve the car,” Elenz said. “Our goal at the end of the season remains the same.”

GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER: There’s a lot of experience coming back for the defending champions. The only team losses from 2017 were Byron (to Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series), secondary engineer Phillip Bell (to the No. 5 car at JRM) and Gregg Buchanan, the underneath mechanic (working in the shop full-time). Josh Graham came over from the No. 5 for Bell, and Joe Smith takes over for Buchanan.

“We definitely had a lot of changes on our team, with personnel including a new driver, and the new rule changes,” Elenz said. “The keys to the championship aren’t any different than they were last year. That is getting a good foundation to start the year out, trying to get top-10s, start working on your top-fives. Hopefully, as we get used to each other and Tyler gets used to running our cars and I get used to Tyler, we start clicking off some wins toward the middle of the season.

“Once you get into the Playoffs, it’s really a lot of the same. You have to progress into being better through each round. The first round is not as high-pressure, your top-seven or -eight finishes get you through that round, and the next round you need top-fives to get on to Homestead. Once you’re there, you’re looking to win the race and win all of it. The key for us is to progressively get better through the season, whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs.”

NEW SHOE: The arrival of Reddick is obviously the biggest change, as Elenz said. The differences between the two youngsters are formidable. Byron’s style and Reddick’s are different in many ways, and that’s something that has Elenz keen to begin the season with the Californian in the seat.

“I think he’s the 15th or 16th driver we’ve had,” Elenz said. “We have changed drivers a lot, and our group does a good job continuing our same process no matter who it is. We try to be accommodating to whoever is driving and suit their style the best we can. The challenge is the same as it was last year and the year before, when we had nine drivers in one season. You have to figure out what they want and try to exploit that the best.”

Elenz said that Reddick’s style difference is something he’s eager to learn. “Everybody drives differently, but my early thoughts are, we won’t be hurting for speed,” he said. “He (Reddick) is going to get everything our car is capable of and maybe a little more for us. I’m excited to have that behind the wheel for us, to work with him. It will be a little different than what we had last season, but I am excited to adjust to a different mentality.”

Byron is most often compared to Jimmie Johnson for his calm, factual approach to his craft. Reddick is more of a get-up-on-the-wheel-and-make-things-happen type. Those differences will require some adjustment.

For his part, Reddick relishes the opportunity.

“We have a lot of goals,” he said. ”We’d love to lead laps and win races, but in my mind there’s only one ultimate goal, and that’s to win a championship. They (the No. 9) did it last year with William and they’ve done it with Chase Elliott, so there’s no excuse not to do it. There’s no pressure...there’s a lot that could go wrong, but there’s a lot that can go right, too.”

NEW RULES: The new composite bodies will be the talk of the series for the first few weeks, as will the Hawkeye scanner and the new pit crew and team member regulations. Elenz has that figured out already.

“The body changes are a lot to get used to, building it on the shop side,” he said. “It’s not going to be that big a difference at the track, just in prep here in the shop.”

As for the pit crew limitations (which remove one over-the-wall participant and restrict fuel men to fueling only, no adjustments), Elenz shrugged. “It’s going to be interesting watching four guys do a pit stop,” he cracked.

TURNING THE PAGE: Last year’s title run was surprising, Elenz said, but only because of the way it happened.

“The fact that we won Indy, Daytona, Phoenix and Iowa, four race wins in his initial season to set the record for wins by a JRM rookie in the series, that part was surprising,” Elenz said. “When you get in the Playoffs, we had enough time to get used to each other that I knew what he was capable of, so it was less surprising when you get to that point. Take the first couple months of the season last year, and to think you would have those results, at that point you’d be very surprised after Texas last year to do what we did.”

With another talented rookie driver and the championship-winning team returning nearly intact, it would be surprising if the No. 9 was not firmly in the championship hunt from the drop of the green flag at Daytona.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • February 24 02:00 PM ET
    Rinnai 250Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • March 3 04:00 PM ET
    Boyd Gaming 300Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • March 10 04:00 PM ET
    DC Solar 200Phoenix International Raceway
  • March 17 05:00 PM ET
    NASCAR Xfinity Series at Auto ClubAuto Club Speedway
  • April 7 03:00 PM ET
    My Bariatric Solutions 300Texas Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After PowerShares QQQ 300

Daytona International Speedway | 2/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick #500
2Elliott Sadler41-9
3Spencer Gallagher39-11
4Ryan Truex35-15
5Ryan Reed34-16
6Kaz Grala #33-17
7Garrett Smithley32-18
22Justin Allgaier15-35
28Michael Annett5-45