By Joe Dunn
Ed Mullins, President of ML Motorsports announced Tuesday that Crew Chief Brian Ross will be stepping down, making way for Chris Rice to take over the duties for the Warsaw, In part time NASCAR Nationwide Series team. Ross will remain with ML Motorsports in the shop, which will allow him to return to driving in local short track action.
Ross, who was the original driver for ML Motorsports when they began in 1999 in the ARCA series, has remained with the team ever since. For most of that time, he remained in the shop which allowed him to further his local driving career. He was moved up to crew chief in 2008, working with Mark Green and then this year with Shelby Howard.
Howard joined the team for the Texas race this past spring and has impressed team owner Mary Louise Miller. Shelby had known Ross from local racing in Indiana, but when Ross expressed a desire to step down, Chris Rice was a name all too familiar to Shelby. The two had spent time as driver/crew Chief in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series during the 2007 season with Bill Davis racing and again in 2008 with Thorsport racing. Prior to that, the two were teamed up in the Hooters Pro Cup series for 2006 and 2007.
Rice brings a long list of credentials as a NASCAR crew chief in both the Truck Series and the Nationwide Series. In 2002 Chris joined Bill Davis racing as a shock specialist on the 23 Sprint Cup team, and was later that year promoted to crew chief for the 23 Nationwide car with driver Scott Wimmer. He spent part of 2006 with the KHI 33 truck with Ron Hornaday Jr,
Chris took over the Crew Chief duties earlier this year at the Jay Robinson 28 team with driver Kenny Wallace. Rice will be joined in the pits this week with Ross to transition the change. But Chris was not about to wait until race day to become involved. The ML team bought a couple of new cars this year and they have struggled for the last several races with the setup. Howard has struggled and fought with an ill handling car since the June Nashville race. Chris was off to another shop with the car this week to do a full read on the setup and look for the cure.
Although Rice has now left the Jay Robinson team, he has agreed to travel to Montreal with that team for the road course event there. The logistics of getting a new crew chief cleared for all the border crossing requirements would have put the team at a disadvantage. The ML Motorsports #70 Foretravel Motorcoach team, as a part time team, does not participate in the two road course events , so allowing Rice to travel with the Kenny Wallace team to Canada was not a problem.
Since joining the 70 team earlier this year, Howard has shown a lot of promise, but the team’s struggle with the car’s setup has been more than obvious. The remote location of the team, in central Indiana has cost the team in a lack of access to the various equipment, shops and test facilities in the Charlotte area.
I won’t look for instant success for the team at Bristol Friday night, it is after all Bristol where anything can happen. But hopefully a new set of hands can find the elusive set up problem that has plagued the team for the past 2 months.
Earlier in the year, rumors out of the Warsaw, In shop indicated that the team was considering running the full schedule for 2010. The owners were definitely impressed with the improvements after Howard took over the driving duties, but the problems over the past two months have proven to be a distraction. Add to that, the announcement by NASCAR that they would indeed introduce the new COT in the 2010 schedule, and the idea of a full time run looks dim at this point.