Last weekend, Leonard helped his driver, Kasey Kahne, and his racing team, to its best finish of the year. After starting 28th, Kahne led for several laps and finished in 4th place in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.
“Every day is a new challenge,” Leonard told us last year, when we wrote about his first crew chief opportunity. “That’s part of what I like about it. The sport evolves so fast it’s always something new. And we have so many variables and buttons to push that it’s like a Rubik’s Cube that you’ll never solve.”
Kahne joined Leavine Family Racing during the off-season, but the well-known driver and his team were not able to finish better than 17th, prompting the owners to make the crew chief change.
The success also earned Leonard a unique award for NASCAR crew chiefs; he was this week’s Moog Go The Extra Mile Award.
This award honors the crew chief whose team improves the most from the first half of the race to the second half of the race, while finishing on the lead lap. In this case, Leonard’s team improved from 28th to 4th. Because of the laps he led, Kahne and Leonard earned their team 40 points, as much as the winner, Erik Jones.
Last year, Leonard’s interim status lasted just a few weeks. This year, it means until the end of the season.
Last year, Leonard explained the difference between the roles of crew chief and his usual job with Leavine Family Racing, that of lead engineer.
“Crew chiefs are responsible for their team as an entirety,” he said. “Every nut, bolt, person, finish, etc. In the end it’s your team and how it performs is a direct reflection of you.”
Leonard also explained that Every Cup team has two race engineers.
“The primary does everything setup related, from build sheets to practice changes. The secondary is in charge of notes, documentation, and does a lot of inventory, part measurement, etc. He is in charge of the little details that nobody sees.”
As an engineer, Leonard says his job is about half computer work and half mechanical, working on the car and its many parts, as well as the team’s testing equipment.
“At first it’s more mechanical, getting used to the cars, knowing what is where and what affects what,” he explains. “As you progress it turns into more computer, but you still have to be involved in the car side. They’re obviously tied together so it takes both to be a good engineer.”