Doug Richert is out at Roush Racing, leaving the team to take a new position with Team Red Bull. Richert will serve as crewchief for driver Brian Vickers and the #83 Red Bull-sponsored Toyota Camry, after finding himself the odd man out in a post-season personel shuffle at Roush. He sat atop the pitbox for Greg Biffle since 2003, and the pair fell just 35 points short of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship in 2004. They struggled this season, however, ending the year 13th in points, with a pair of wins and 15 Top-10 finishes.
In an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview, Richert spoke Wednesday about his departure from Roush Racing, and the task that faces him at Team Red Bull:
Dave Moody: Before we talk about the future, we need to talk about the past. What can you tell us what led to your departure from Roush Racing?
Doug Richert: Well, let’s just say that at a certain point, it became obvious that I was not going to be with Greg Biffle anymore. I still had a position with Roush Racing, but it was leaning toward the kind of role that Jimmy Fennig played over in the Busch and Truck shops this year. I really wanted to stay in the Nextel Cup Series if at all possible, and that’s the thought process that led me to where I am now.
DM: There has been speculation that you were offered a crewchief position with the #26 car and Jamie McMurray, but turned it down. True?
DR: There might have been somewhat of an offer there. Not taking anything away from Jamie or anyone on that team – because we all had equal stuff – but it was probably more of a mental thing for me. I thought we had one of the best deals going, and to have it taken away because we only won two races and were 13th points, that hurt. We’re still the same people we were in 2004 when we came 35 points from winning the championship. So maybe I was a little sour (about it). I know that going into a situation like that, your head has to be in the game. I didn’t feel like my head was in the game to do myself, Jamie McMurray or that team any good.
DM: Do you feel like you were made the scapegoat for the problems the #16 team had this year?
DR: Well, if you were going to look at it from the outside, I guess you could say I was the guy that took the heat for not being in the Top-10. But this stuff doesn’t get handed to you on a silver platter. You have to go out and work for it. If there were problems with communication, a situation between myself and Greg, or something that Greg wasn’t liking, it needed to be worked on. It’s not going to fix itself, and I don’t feel like we had the opportunity to fix it and make it better. That was frustrating.
DM: Greg Biffle told us a week ago that he couldn’t believe Jack Roush would let you get away. He certainly wasn’t laying any blame at your feet.
DR: It’s hard to say what triggered the whole thing. I’m sure there was some discontent in some area somewhere that led to the process of making the change. Something started it somewhere, and maybe we’ll never know what. I have my suspicions, but it’s time to move on. Toyota and Team Red Bull look to be very exciting options for me, and they will be an exciting team to watch in the future.
DM: How did this new deal come about?
DR: There was a point in time where I spoke to Jack Roush and said, `Give me an opportunity to go out and talk around. Let me see what’s out there.’ And through talking to people, word got out around the garage. I’ve always known of this Toyota program, and new programs obviously need new people. Getting in on the ground floor of something like this excites me. I’ve been (involved) in a lot of start-up teams, and this opportunity kind of rose to the top. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and this is what came out in the end.
DM: What was the main attraction of this deal for you? Was it the challenge, the money, the opportunity to prove to Jack Roush that you can still do this?
DR: I think it’s a combination of all three. If you’re going to make a move in your career, you want to make more money for your family. Second, there is the challenge that’s going to be out there with Toyota. And three, it’s somewhat personal when someone thinks you’re not good enough. You want to show them that you are good enough. Things have to click. You have to work hard at a relationship. A driver and crewchief have to communicate. It’s like a marriage; if you don’t talk to your wife, it’s not going to last. You’ve got to want to make it work, and I hope that’s what we have here at Team Red Bull.
DM: How daunting is it to look around and see everything that you have to do in the next few weeks? Where does the team stand right now?
DR: Are we ahead? No. There are Car Of Tomorrow projects, Car Of Today projects, cars that they tried to field this past season, lots of stuff to deal with. But there are also a lot of people already in place. Management has done a really good job of hiring a bunch of people, and they have been working on this job for several months now. So it’s not like I just walked in the door of a new shop. This is something that’s already well underway. I still have to select a road crew – they waited on the crewchief to do that, so we can have the right chemistry to go out on the road – but it seems like it’s going to be an enjoyable, fun place to work.
DM: Does the fact that Team Red Bull failed to qualify for both of the races they attempted late this season cause concern on your part, or was that more a case of them running equipment (Dodges) that will not be on the track in 2007?
DR: That hasn’t even entered my mind. When you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, it’s tough. Our puzzle is the Toyota program, and they ran a Dodge last year. Was it the best car? Did it have the aero balance that their particular driver needed? There are things you have to build around your driver, and when you plug different people in at different times, you can’t build the `feel’ that your driver needs. So that doesn’t concern me at all. It’s my job right now to find out what Brian Vickers needs to feel good entering a corner at 200-plus mph.
DM: What kind of relationship do you have with Brian?
DR: Well, I introduced myself to him the other day. (Laughs) Do I know him on a personal level? No. But I’ve heard nothing other than he’s a good guy. He had a good relationship with his crew. When the crew doesn’t talk bad about him; that’s number one. And two, he seems to be a good qualifier. That’s going to be very important for us in the first five races. Those two things stood out the most. If you can make these (drivers) feel good, and give them a car that feels the way they want it to feel, they can go out and win.