Mike Shiplett was the crew chief who welcomed AJ Allmendinger into the fold when he arrived at Gillett Evernham Motorsports, now Richard Petty Motorsports, in October of 2008. After being let go before season’s end by Red Bull Racing and picking up a one car deal with Michael Waltrip Racing, AJ took on the challenge of qualifying and racing GEM’s #10 entry, which was not locked into the top 35 in owner’s points, a situation AJ was very familiar with.
AJ’s first race with the #10 team under Shiplett’s leadership was a great success compared to where the car had been running previously, and so were the remaining races that the two worked together that season. Then after the merger with Petty Motorsports in 2009, Shiplett moved to the #43 team of Reed Sorensen while AJ took on an underfunded fourth team with crew chief Sammy Johns at the helm.
Despite the obstacle of being a thrown together new team, the #44 group did a lot with the little that they were given. Then late in 2009 RPM made the move to switch the entire #43 and #44 teams around to try and improve performance for both of them. AJ ended up back with Mike Shiplett, a man that AJ has said many times that he respects greatly for his passion about racing.
Together again for the final fourteen races of 2009, the entire 2010 season, and halfway through this season, Mike and AJ have worked well with each other and made great strides in improving the #43 team. But the time has come to make a change with only a handful of races left to either get in the top ten in points or get enough wins for the coveted wildcard spots. Richard Petty Motorsports announced yesterday that Mike Shiplett has been replaced by Greg Erwin. Read the official announcement here.
Here are AJ’s words on the subject via Twitter:
“I'm out in Utah racing my kart. I'm excited to work with Greg and look forward to the rest of the season in the attempt to keep making....
Myself and the whole 43 team better. At the same time I am saddened at the loss of Mike. I really enjoyed working with Mike and I believe..
He is a great crew chief and even more important he's been a great person and friend to me. I wish Mike nothing but the best and will miss
Having him as part of the race team. I'm sorry we couldn't get the job done together.”
I think that most people will echo AJ’s mixed sentiments about Mike Shiplett departing as the team leader of the #43 Best Buy Ford. It’s sad to see him go but exciting to see a new era begin. Shiplett’s passion and drive to win has never been in question, and neither has his close relationship with his driver. Mike and AJ seemed to both be on the same wavelength through much of their working partnership.
In the competitive sport of NASCAR where a team’s worth is measured in statistics like wins, top fives and top tens, sometimes passion and heart just aren’t enough. The #43 group has struggled for consistency throughout the last two years, sometimes unloading with a fast hot rod and other times needing every second of practice to try and salvage a decent running car. Strategy calls from the pit box have been much the same – sometimes good, sometimes bad.
AJ and team had a strong start to the 2011 season and hopes were high for him to begin racking up top tens and maybe even have a shot to win a time or two. Unfortunately the #43 group seems to have plateaued in the last couple of months and haven’t been able to move up to the level that they have been striving to reach in order to contend with the top tier teams.
Over and over AJ has said in interviews that his focus this year hasn’t simply been getting in the Chase, but that they just need to work on improving the race team overall. Mike has done a great job getting the team to where it is today, but the improvement aspect has seemed to stall. So the team will now welcome in a new head man in Greg Erwin.
Greg comes over from an RPM affiliate, Roush Fenway Racing. He’s had five years of experience there with driver Greg Biffle and has led the #16 team to a handful of wins and three Chase berths. With this change in leadership, the potential is there to breathe new life into the #43 Best Buy team. Greg brings experience and a new perspective on setting up race cars that can benefit the entire RPM group greatly.
So for me, it’s sad to see Mike Shiplett walk away from a team that he has worked so hard to make better, but at the same time I’m looking forward to seeing what some fresh blood can do for the #43 bunch. I sincerely hope that this change is the shot in the arm that will put the Best Buy team in Victory Lane, because the driver, the sponsors, the owners, and all of the hard working guys behind the scenes deserve to see the fruits of their labor rewarded.