Steve Addington has left Penske Racing, it was announced this week following the final race of the 2011 season at Homestead-Miami - as the first of a number of end-of-season changes in team, crew and driver line-ups involving Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, David Ragan and Andy Lally started to emerge.
“Steve Addington is no longer with our organisation," said a terse statement from the Penske team. "We appreciate the successes we experienced together and wish him the best in his future endeavours."
Addington was crew chief for the #22 car driven by Kurt Busch. It's believed that he might already be signed up to replace Darian Grubb as Tony Stewart's crew chief for the #14 car in 2012, after Grubb revealed that he was out of a job after engineering Stewart to championship victory on Sunday.
However, Stewart said that all options were still open and no firm decisions had been taken yet. “We're looking at all of our options right now,” Stewart said on Tuesday. “After we get through all the media obligations, I'll get to go back to the shop and we'll sit down as a group and try to come up with a decision and figure it out ... We'll try to sit down and see what we think is the best option and decision for the company."
Grubb could still be relocated within Stewart-Haas Racing, either in an executive role or as crew chief for the #10 part-time entry to be driven by Danica Patrick.
Addington will likely be relieved to put behind him a torrid time at Penske with Busch, with their association coming to another stormy end at Homestead after the #22's driveshaft and transmission failed just four laps into the race. Addington also worked with Busch's younger brother, Kyle, at Joe Gibbs Racing where they won 12 races together.
Sunday's early exit was characteristic of a turbulent season for Kurt Busch at Penske, which has seen several on-air tirades against the team for poor performance directed at Addington and even at team owner Roger Penske himself. This time, the media was on the receiving end of Busch's fury: after he was forced to retire, Busch was lined up for an interview on ESPN with their pit lane reporter Dr Jerry Punch waiting for the studio hand over to him, when Busch became increasingly unhappy at being kept waiting and let loose with a series of expletives.
In the end, Punch finally had enough of being on the receiving end and walked away, telling his producers "never mind, never mind" - an exchange captured on camera and later uploaded to YouTube
. Penske issued an apology for Busch's behaviour on Tuesday, saying: "Penske Racing extends its apologies to Dr. Jerry Punch, our media partners and our sponsors and fans for Kurt Busch's inappropriate actions in Homestead on Sunday.
"These actions do not represent Penske Racing and are inconsistent with the company's standards for behaviour, respect for others and professionalism. This matter is being reviewed internally with no further comment at this time."
Busch had managed to get into trouble even before this, when he was accidentally caught on the in-car camera making a one-finger gesture to someone outside the car as he returned to pit road after his car suffered its technical failure.
More crew changes are expected across the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, with Kevin Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin quoted last week as saying that Richard Childress Racing was “dismantling the whole team.” Martin himself may be replaced on the #29 by Shane Wilson, who has been crew chief on the #33 this year but whose existing crew is expected to be disbanded with the departure of Clint Bowyer to Michael Waltrip Racing.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has announced that Chris Heroy will be joining the team as Juan Montoya's new permanent crew chief. Heroy has been in charge of the #5 for Mark Martin at Hendrick Motorsports, but Martin is now departing the team and the incoming Kasey Kahne is bringing his current crew chief Kenny Francis with him from the seemingly-defunct Red Bull Racing squad.
EGR's announcement about Heroy was also the first official word from the team that Montoya himself has re-signed with them for 2012, which Montoya had confirmed last week in interviews.
Over at Roush Fenway Racing, Jeff Burton may get Drew Blickensderfer as crew chief for 2012. Blickensderfer was David Ragan's crew chief this season, but with no sponsorship for the #6 car for next season it seems likely that the crew will be shut down. Team owner Jack Roush said on Monday that he wouldn't "put more than a 40 per cent chance of having something for [Ragan]", and admitted that he had been disappointed in the driver's development in the four years that he's raced for RFR.
"David was a frustration and a disappointment for all of us because he was not able to realise the potential that he had, given what his skill is and what the expectations of his sponsor were," he said, seemingly confirming that Ragan would be joining the ranks of NASCAR personnel looking for new employment over the winter as the team also confirmed that it was starting lay-offs of around 100 people as a result of downsizing from a four- to a three-car line-up next season.
Meanwhile the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup series rookie of the year Andy Lally announced on Tuesday on Twitter that he was going to be racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Series in 2012, although he insisted that "I will still be racing as much NASCAR as possible! I love it and will not be turning my back on it by any means ... Especially the road course races."
Lally had pulled out of the season finale at Homestead-Miami in the #71 TRG Motorsports after an agreement between him and the team had broken down in the days leading up to the race. “TRG and myself had an agreement and that agreement wasn't all the way kept up to. I had to stand my ground on principal and pull out of Homestead," he said last week.
Lally - who was Grand-Am Rolex Series champion in 2001, 2004 and 2006 - said that he would be now be racing for Magnus Racing with John Potter in the #44 Porsche in 2012, and suggested: "Maybe if I can pick up a Cup ride I can be the first to compete in 3 series in one year at Indy?"