CONCORD, N.C. – With the 2023 season less than two months away, Blake Harris is looking to hit the ground running in his new role as the crew chief for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet team.
Harris has wasted no time in building relationships with his new team and fostering camaraderie with driver Alex Bowman. The 35-year-old native of Maypearl, Texas, is a self-proclaimed "small town, dirt-track racer, who ended up in NASCAR."
"A little bit of the chemistry is easy to see early on," Harris told HendrickMotorsports.com. "Just meeting with Alex the first few times. We both grew up around dirt tracks and have a lot of interest there. I think some of that chemistry has to be natural early on.
"As far as the week in and week out, you go through the scenarios of each race. You have to put a lot of focus early on how you speak in those moments to try and accelerate that learning curve. It will take a little bit of time early in the season. As far as working together, chemistry and being comfortable with one another, that will come pretty easily."
Bowman mentioned that next month’s Chili Bowl also serves as a common bond for the new driver-crew chief pairing. Bowman will field his own entry, while Harris' dad has historically fielded several entries.
"Blake and I were both racers," Bowman told HendrickMotorsports.com. "I am really excited about working with him. I’ve been spending time in the shop with him. He’s come to my shop a little bit. We’re both going to go to Chili Bowl, so that will be cool. Just looking forward to working with him more.
"…The biggest thing about Blake is how driven he is. He’s a super hard worker and I don’t think anyone is going to ever outwork him. That means a lot to me."
Bowman's dedication has been apparent to Harris from the start with the driver at the shop multiple times per week and checking in with everybody. The 2022 season saw the Tucson, Arizona, native earn a win for the fourth straight season, but a concussion sidelined him for five playoff races. He was able to make his return for the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
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Harris takes the reins from Greg Ives, who announced in August he was stepping down as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series crew chief at the end of the 2022 season. In Bowman, Harris has a driver that has reached the playoffs for five straight seasons. The 29-year-old wheelman has won five races over the last two seasons, which is tied for the third-most in that span of time. His seven career wins with Ives were the sixth-most among driver-crew chief pairings from the 2022 season.
"It is a huge opportunity to be able to work with Alex and come into a team that is already capable of winning," Harris said. "Just looking to be able to kind of carry on and build off of what Greg started and to continue to grow as a team."
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He cited Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus as being a huge help from the get-go as well as his fellow crew chiefs – Cliff Daniels (No. 5 team), Alan Gustafson (No. 9) and Rudy Fugle (No. 24). Working at Hendrick Motorsports also brings Harris full circle - his favorite driver growing up was the team's vice chairman and NASCAR Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon.
Racing has been in Harris' veins from a young age. He began driving race cars at age 11 and has worked in the sport since he was 18 years old. Last season marked his first full-time foray as a Cup Series crew chief with Front Row Motorsports. Harris guided Michael McDowell to a career-best in top-10 finishes (12) and average finish (16.7).
"There were a lot of opportunities for smaller teams to excel at certain times," Harris recalled of the first year racing with the Next Gen car. "If we hit the balance at a certain racetrack … we could just get all the details and hit the setups cleaner.
"Certainly, that first year with the Next Gen was a big benefit for the first time as a crew chief as opposed to coming into a scenario where people have had years on these cars. Then, you are trying to come into that and manage the distance and competition at the same time."
Before becoming a crew chief, Harris was a car chief at Furniture Row Racing (2013-2018) and Joe Gibbs Racing (2019-21). The last eight of those years were spent with driver Martin Truex Jr., where he was part of a group that earned 29 wins and five Championship 4 appearances during that span with the veteran driver. He worked under Cole Pearn and James Small and says the 2017 championship is his favorite moment in the sport. Those teams were known for being extremely tight-knit units.
Now, Harris is jumping into a situation as the new guy on an established team that he will continue to shape as the leader of the pack.
"It’s been really easy to just plug in and try to get your arms around the team," Harris said. "Everyone has been super receptive to that, and I think that’s just something you can mold the group into one team pretty quickly and easily."