INTERVIEW: Blake Harris, shining in stealth mode

Blake Harris is likely one of the most unassuming guys within the NASCAR Cup Collection storage.

Harris is calm, collected and really soft-spoken. He’s the kind of man many possible stroll previous with out realizing who he’s, and possibly prefers it that means.

No ego. No flash. Harris is simple and rattling good at what he does. And this was on show in 2022 as he guided Entrance Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell to a profession yr, doing so not by somewhat however with vital positive factors seen by the No. 34 crew in lots of statistical classes.

However if you happen to ask Harris about his rookie season as a crew chief, he passes on the chance to pat himself on the again. Harris describes it as a “actually good” season total for him and the crew.

“Attending to work with Michael has been an enormous factor, to have a veteran man that’s been round a very long time,” Harris tells RACER. “However to come back into a brand new group and firm and join with all people took all of the rookie (stuff) out of it fairly shortly. I felt fairly early on that we had been one unit and pulling in the identical course.

Harris did really feel his crew overachieved in some areas however was dissatisfied at not successful or making the playoffs. McDowell completed twenty third within the standings for the second time in three seasons, making it three straight years of being on the nice aspect of the chart by inserting inside the highest 25.

The person numbers, nonetheless, had been extra spectacular. Harris and McDowell earned 12 top-10 finishes and a mean end of 16.7. Each are enhancements from McDowell’s earlier excessive of 5 top-10 finishes and a 20.5 common end.

McDowell additionally doubled his single season laps led with 67 (up from 33 in 2018), and led the collection in finishing probably the most laps at 9,380.

“I feel I performed an honest function within the crew’s progress,” Harris says. “I don’t know that it’s at all times on the field or the calls throughout the race. Plenty of it has been the pace we’ve had in our race automobiles, and the setups at instances. There have been some cool issues we’ve performed strategy-wise the place I felt we jumped a number of the larger groups, and that’s enjoyable as a result of we’re racing in opposition to lots of guys who’re actually good and have been doing it a very long time.

“I feel an important half for me this yr is the folks that Entrance Row has gotten entry to due to how we ran and the individuals who got here on board and allowed all of us to develop. To see a few of these guys who didn’t consider and perceive the place the potential was and provides them that every week, strolling within the store after one other high 10 end or simply working within the high 10… Even with Michael, there have been locations he thought he wasn’t that nice, and we’d run within the high 10 and high 5. It’s been enjoyable to be part of that.

Harris (left) was a rookie crew chief this yr, however one which got here armed with a wealth of expertise and concepts. The consequence was a profession yr for Michael McDowell (proper) – and a name from Hendrick Motorsports for 2023. Chris Owens/Entrance Row Motorsports

“I’m actually pleased with our accomplishments this yr for each groups. There have been instances we did issues on the 34, and the 38 has jumped up and was aggressive as effectively. For Todd’s (Gilliland) first yr to assist that group and the corporate, to be part of that has been an enormous deal.”

Harris is a protege of James Small and Cole Pearn, thought-about two of the most effective within the enterprise. He frolicked with each at Furnishings Row Racing with the No. 78, going from when thirtieth was an excellent day to stunning the business with a championship triumph, then at Joe Gibbs Racing when Martin Truex Jr. moved there upon Furnishings Row’s shuttering.

Going from larger groups with greater expectations to the Entrance Row and one other veteran like McDowell was the right state of affairs for Harris in his first yr. Entrance Row has nowhere to go however up, and Harris and McDowell have very related demeanors as each are devoted to their craft and never simply rattled.

Changing into a crew chief had been his aim since coming into the game 17 years in the past, and he’s picked issues up from these he’s labored with alongside the best way. For instance, Harris didn’t really feel uncomfortable main a crew or making selections as a result of at a spot like Furnishings Row, when Harris labored intently with Pearn, it was management by committee.

“Coming into this wasn’t any totally different to me,” Harris says of working at Entrance Row. “I don’t suppose I’ve modified something from once I was a automotive chief (to changing into a crew chief). I don’t suppose I consciously put lots of effort into changing into a special particular person in a management function.”

Harris was given the liberty and confidence by McDowell and others to do issues as he noticed match. Entrance Row additionally wanted an evolution of its processes and automotive builds, which Harris may carry after having performed issues otherwise in his earlier workplaces.

It was one yr and performed for Harris at Entrance Row, however he undoubtedly left the crew higher than when he arrived. And now, Hendrick Motorsports has snatched Harris as much as be Alex Bowman’s subsequent crew chief.

It appears like a pure match for Harris to work with a much bigger crew with larger expectations, and he and Bowman each have grime backgrounds to bond over.

“I feel the group and folks we’ll have round, the sources, the preparation time, it’ll simply be fully totally different and the factor you might have entry to,” Harris says. “I’m actually wanting ahead to that. At Entrance Row, we anticipated to attempt to compete within the high 10 and in sure locations, we knew we had been going to be good and tried for the highest 5. At Hendrick, will probably be to attempt to win each week.

“That can nonetheless be week-to-week managing expectations. We’re going to go to tracks the place Alex has had good success previously and locations he may not be statistically the most effective. I don’t know the quantity modifications so far as expectations for me, however the preparation and the way you undergo the method, I don’t see that being any totally different.”