NASCAR: Keith Rodden replaces Kenny Francis as Kasey Kahne’s new crew chief

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The announcement of Matt McCall as new crew chief for Jamie McMurray in 2015 always seemed a trigger to further news, and today that news has come.

McCall’s being named as crew chief for the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet will see Keith Rodden return back to Hendrick Motorsports after a one-year sojourn to CGR, where he helped bring McMurray’s No. 1 team forward performance-wise (even if the results didn’t show it).

Rodden will take over as Kasey Kahne’s crew chief in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, while Kahne’s longtime crew chief Kenny Francis will be reassigned to the new position of vehicle technical director, the team announced Wednesday.

From the team release, Francis, 44, will oversee organization-wide car design and development with day-to-day management of Hendrick Motorsports’ chassis, body, research and development, on-track testing, vehicle engineering and simulation programs. Reporting to general manager Doug Duchardt, he will serve as the primary liaison between Hendrick Motorsports’ crew chiefs and its vehicle group.

Rodden will return to Hendrick Motorsports where he worked alongside Francis in 2012 and 2013 while the lead engineer for Kahne and the No. 5 team. For 2014, he was named crew chief for the No. 1, where he won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, earned two pole positions and helped McMurray set a career-best season in laps led.

He’s much younger than Francis, at age 33, and has a long history with Kahne. Rodden joined Evernham Motorsports in 2004 to support Kahne’s NASCAR XFINITY Series effort before moving in 2006 to the No. 9 Sprint Cup team, which began an eight-year stint under the tutelage of Francis.

“Opportunities like this don’t come around often,” said Rodden, who grew up in Denver, North Carolina. “The people at Hendrick Motorsports are like my family, especially in the 5/24 shop. I expect we’ll have great chemistry right off the bat, which should make for a smooth transition. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running with the No. 5 team and everyone who supports us. There’s no better resource than Kenny, so I hope he’s ready for some late-night phone calls.”

Kahne expanded on the change.

“I’m so grateful to Kenny and happy for him and his family,” Kahne said. “He’s one of my biggest supporters and best friends, and I’m excited about his new role. It’s going to give all four Hendrick Motorsports teams the best possible opportunity to win races and compete for championships.

“Bringing Keith back is big for us. We spent 10 years together, so we have a very strong overall relationship and understanding of how to communicate. There’s a great friendship and a lot of mutual respect, but at the same time I know he’s really going to push me. I trust Mr. Hendrick to put the right people in the right places to make us successful, and I know these decisions will do that.”

Michael Schumacher’s son to make F1 practice debut at Nurburgring

F1 Mick Schumacher
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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MARANELLO, Italy — Mick Schumacher, son of the legednary seven-time champion, will have an official Formula One drive during an F1 race weekend for the first time next week at the Nurburgring, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari said Tuesday.

Schumacher gets the practice drive in an Alfa Romeo on Oct. 9 on his home track in Germany as a member of Ferrari’s young driver program, taking over Antonio Giovinazzi’s car for the first session of the weekend.

“I am overjoyed to get this chance in free practice,” Schumacher said in a statement. “I’m going to prepare myself well, so that I can do the best possible job for the team and gain some valuable data for the weekend.”

The 21-year-old Schumacher leads the Formula 2 standings after winning races in Monza and Sochi. He won the European Formula 3 championship in 2018 and tested a Ferrari F1 car in Bahrain in April 2019. He also has done demonstration runs in his father’s old cars, most recently this month ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix in a championship-winning 2004 Ferrari.

Michael Schumacher holds the F1 record with 91 victories, which Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of tying.

Ferrari said two other drivers in its academy program will also get practice drives in Formula One.

Callum Ilott, a British driver who is second to Mick Schumacher in F2, will drive an F1 Haas at the Nurburgring on the same day as Schumacher. Russian driver Robert Shwartzman will drive in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Dec. 11, though Ferrari hasn’t said for which team.

The German round was added to the F1 schedule after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season and will be officially known as the Eifel Grand Prix after a nearby mountain range. The Nurburgring last hosted F1 in 2013.