Kevin Kidd Interview
Quote:NEW KIDD ON THE BLOCK
By design, the NASCAR Nationwide Series is a development series. The Nationwide Series remains the last stop for most drivers on their way to the Sprint Cup Series, despite the fact that many full-time Sprint Cup drivers are also Nationwide Series regulars.
The same holds true for crewmembers and team personnel.
One of the most successful teams in the Nationwide Series over the past couple of years was the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota operation led by crew chief Dave Rogers. The team won a total of 14 races over the 2008 and ’09 seasons and brought JGR its first Nationwide Series owner championship in 2008.
It stood to reason, then, that when the Gibbs team needed a new crew chief for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 M&M’s Camry in the Sprint Cup Series, it looked within and chose Rogers. But that move, of course, left JGR’s No. 20 Nationwide team in need of a new “man on the box.”
Enter 30-year-old Virginian Kevin Kidd.
When Rogers was made the crew chief of the No. 18 Cup team, Kidd had not yet started working for Joe Gibbs Racing. He worked for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009, but fell victim to that team’s downsizing at the end of the year. He was quickly snapped up by JGR, though his role hadn’t yet been defined.
“It was being debated on what team I would end up on over here or whether I’d be in the shop or on the road,” Kidd says. “There were several different scenarios being tossed around. At this point, I’d interviewed with Dave Rogers, knowing that the crew chief role over here was open. For some reason or another, he thought I would be a good fit for it, so he started a campaign to at least have me be considered for that position.
“So, after I’d already been hired at Joe Gibbs Racing – I’d not started yet, but we agreed that I was coming over here – then we started a totally different interview process, which was basically interviewing for this position. It all ended up working out.”
For the first time in his career, Kidd would hold a full-time position as a crew chief. It wasn’t a totally foreign experience for Kidd, as he did serve as a Nationwide Series crew chief in a handful of races with driver Chase Miller and Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2008 and he also had spot duty as a substitute crew chief, but this would be a new experience. That said Kidd has confidence that his prior training gives him the tools to be successful.
“Pretty much my entire career, I’ve either been a car chief or a race engineer, which are kind of the two main roles that lead into the crew chief position,” Kidd explains. “Both of those roles give you a different perspective on how the crew chief role should be. Being really the closest support roles to the crew chief, you kind of understand – without actually having done the job – you understand a lot of the things the crew chief needs to do his job well.”
Of course, Kidd has a few other tools at his disposal that will help him do his job well. One is the fact that the No. 20 team is a proven winner in Nationwide Series competition.
“I kind of look at it as, coming to Joe Gibbs Racing with a successful team, what better situation could I put myself in as a first-time, rookie crew chief?” Kidd asks. “At least it’s proven that the tools are here to get the job done. You can put yourself in other situations where they might be startups or teams that need to get built up a little more than what they are and those deals are tough. It’s tough to turn something like that into a winner. When you come into a winner, hey, you’ve just got to figure out what they’ve done to get here and then continue on with it.”
Kidd also still has the considerable knowledge base of guys like Rogers and JGR’s No. 18 Nationwide Series crew chief Jason Ratcliff to draw from. Joe Gibbs Racing is obviously all about teamwork, which both men very clearly understand and have been more than willing to help.
“Jason’s been phenomenal,” Kidd says. “He’s really taken me under his wing, so to speak. Any time I have a question or something that pops up that I don’t know the whole history behind, I can always go to him and say, ‘Hey, why is this this way?’ He’ll say, ‘Well, two years ago, we were doing this and we learned this, so we changed this around to be like this.’ He’s just been – in terms of being able to answer questions and help me out and get me up to speed quick – he’s been by far the greatest asset.
“Dave Rogers, I think he’s looking at me as sort of his protégé. He’s really hoping, I believe, that I work out, because I think he has his name and stamp of approval on me. Needless to say, he’s been working really hard with me behind the scenes to kind of coach me along and give me good tips and advice along the way to make sure that I can enter into this deal and be as successful as I can.”
Another component that Kidd sees as an advantage is Toyota. While Kidd has 10 years of experience in NASCAR, this is his first time working with Toyota. So far, he certainly likes what he sees.
“I feel like they have the strongest program in the business right now in terms of manufacturer support,” he says. “I felt that when I was not a part of the Toyota organization and now that I am a part of it, all of my feelings have been confirmed. Toyota provides a substantial effort to making Cup cars and Nationwide cars and Trucks go fast and win races. It’s been amazing to see the resources and tools that they make available to us to perform at a high level.”
The most important tools in Kidd’s toolbox, however, are the drivers he gets to work with on the No. 20 team. So far this season, he’s done four races with JGR Cup drivers, three with Joey Logano – who will drive the Lion’s Share of the Nationwide races in the No. 20 Camry – and one with Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin posted the team’s best result thus far with a second-place ride in Round 3 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Logano has finished 14th or better in all three of his starts topped by a best run of fifth at California’s Auto Club Speedway last month, a race he was leading late before a ‘green-white-checker’ finish that may have robbed Logano and the team of a victory.
The performance of Logano and Hamlin puts the No. 20 team fourth in the Nationwide Series point standings heading into next weekend’s first “standalone” race of the season at Nashville Superspeedway. Logano will drive the car again at Nashville, with Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto slated to race the No. 20 machine later this year.
“ “I’m a firm believer that our sport is weighted more in the direction of drivers than it is car,” Kidd says. “I do believe that good drivers can take subpar cars and win with them. In other forms of motorsports, specifically Formula 1, I don’t think it’s that way. It’s probably all machine and the driver is just along for the ride. But in our sport, drivers mean a lot. When you have a talented driver, a guy that can definitely get it done, it makes a lot of things easier. Fortunately, I have three pretty good drivers to work with this year.”
And according to Kidd, the goal is simple for those three drivers and the rest of the team.
“What I told our guys is, ‘We should enter into every weekend with the desire to win everything we do,’” Kidd says. “If that means being the first car to get our stickers through tech, the first car to be in line for qualifying practice or being the first one to win the pole or to win the race, it’s those kinds of things. Everything we do, we’re going out to be number one. We won’t always do that, but if we have that attitude about ourselves, then I think what we’ll find is we’ll get our fair share of victories along the way.”
And if that happens, look for Kidd to someday move up to Cup as well.