CONCORD, N.C. -- For the first time in nearly three seasons, Keith Rodden will be atop the pit box for Hendrick Motorsports at Kansas Speedway on Thursday.
Rodden will be filling in for No. 24 crew chief Chad Knaus, who is expecting his second child with wife Brooke in the next few days. Knaus opted to stay in North Carolina, and Rodden was selected to take his place as William Byron's crew chief.
"I’m excited to go," Rodden said on SiriusXM. "I just enjoy being part of a team and trying to lead the guys. It’s a very humbling sport – very low win percentage. I think that you have to keep a good perspective about it and a good attitude. I think it’s going to be fun."
Rodden has been prepared to step in as a crew chief for the past several months. He wasn't specifically tabbed to take Knaus' place - with the original schedule, the baby was due during an off weekend. However, Rodden revealed Hendrick Motorsports had him on call in case a crew chief wasn't able to travel due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"Early on, I was identified as the ‘backup crew chief’ in case any of our crew chiefs had to miss a race,” Rodden said, adding that soon it became apparent Knaus would have to miss some time with the upcoming birth of his daughter. "Chad has been having me sit in their meetings for a while and just trying to be well versed in what they have going on."
Rodden has called 138 races from the pit box in his career, specifically with Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray. While he hasn't been a crew chief since 2017, he still has filled an important role for Hendrick Motorsports over the past couple of years behind the scenes.
With the lack of practice and qualifying sessions this season for on-track safety, Rodden has spearheaded analyzing track simulation to make sure each car is prepared before racing.
This has allowed him to become familiar with the current protocols and needs for the drivers. Even though he has never raced with Byron before, he said he is confident in the 22-year-old driver.
"He’s just a really good guy,” Rodden said of Byron. "There’s definitely some nuances about him when he provides some feedback. Sometimes it’s similar to Kasey. Sometimes it’s similar to Jimmie Johnson and then there’s other things that remind you of Jeff Gordon.
"He’s got the right feedback and he’s got a great feel for the race car. … If we get the car right for him, we will be able to execute and have a great day."
Byron has been running well through the season but has yet to secure his first Cup Series win. Rodden said he was "on the fringe" of that first victory and added that he has the tools needed to earn the checkered flag.
"We need to be really smart about (the race). We need to score all the points possible, and when you run in the top five, top 10, you know what you need to do to win," Rodden said. "I feel like we have enough speed and we need to capitalize on that … we will be prepared to win when that time comes."
Interestingly, his last win as a crew chief came on July 23, 2017, at Indianapolis - the same date as Thursday's race at Kansas.
"That would be awesome if we could do that again,” Rodden said. "I’m really looking forward to that. It was a special day for us. … but I think any day is a great day to win a race."