Rodney Childers, crew chief for driver Josh Berry in the NASCAR Cup Series, will have one of his late model paint schemes on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang Dark Horse as part of the annual Darlington Throwback Weekend. He spoke about that and a variety of other issues as part of a media call with Ford Performance earlier today.

RODNEY CHILDERS, Crew Chief, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang Dark Horse – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU FOUND OUT ONE OF YOUR LATE MODEL CARS WOULD BE REPRESENTED AS PART OF THE THROWBACK WEEKEND? “It was extremely special. It was a complete surprise to me going to the Governor’s Mansion down there and pulling the cover back on that car. We only got it back a few feet and I realized what it was and it was all I could do to not break down and cry, but that 1998 year was probably one of the biggest turning points of my career. That was just the start of being able to get in a race car and make something happen. I was a young kid that had gotten out of go-karts and winning a lot in the go-kart industry is one thing, but when you get in a race car you need to be able to get it done. The year before, I had only run about five races and didn’t run very good, and then we got that car from Greg Marlow and Greg helped me with shocks and springs and setup stuff, and then we went to the first race of the year and sat on the pole and led all 150 laps and took all of the veteran’s money that night. They tore it down into a million pieces because they felt there was no way I just beat people like Max Prestwood and Binky Bollinger and Dexter Canipe and all of those guys that used to win all the time. Then we just kept winning all year long and went on to win the Fall Brawl at Hickory. We went to the beach and should have won that. Me and Philip Morris got into it with about 10 to go, I think, and cut a tire down, and then went to Kenly the next week and sat on the pole and led 190 of the 200 laps and the transmission broke with 10 to go, so it was gonna be a good year. If you could have finished it off with all of those at the end of the year, it was gonna be a pretty immaculate year, so this is just a special deal for me to walk in the front door every day. The showcar is still in the showroom and I think every day I take a picture of that showcar and it’s kind of changed my whole perspective. Normally, the lights in the lobby don’t get turned on until somebody from the gift shop gets here, and I’ve turned into walking into the front door instead of the side door every morning and I turn the lights on in in the lobby every morning when I get here at 6 o’clock. It’s just special to have that thing sitting here and to see the real race car on the scales and getting set up this week has been pretty cool.”

HOW DO YOU SET UP A CAR AT DARLINGTON WITH BOTH ENDS BEING SO DIFFERENT? “It’s always been a tough place over the last 20 years that I’ve been going. The surface has changed a lot. I know the early days it would just eat the tires off like crazy. I mean, it still does, but not like it did back then. And then we went through the repave stage of Mark Martin won on two tires there and Regan Smith won by staying out and all those different things, and then now there’s no way you would stay out. It’s difficult. Normally, you’re too tight turning back down the hill in turn two. That’s normally the thing that hurts you the most. It just kills your run down the back straightaway and then you end up too loose off of four, and you just have to figure out what works for you. I think with this Next Gen car, you probably have 10 good cars there and all 10 of them have a different setup in them, but it works for that particular driver. We were able to hone in on that with Kevin driving the car. I thought we had a pretty good car there in the spring. It wasn’t great, but it was definitely a top eight car, and then we went back in the fall and kept inching our way forward and, like you all remember, we were getting ready to take the lead from the 45 when all hell broke loose. It will be interesting to go back there with Josh. He was able to drive the 48 there last year and got some laps. I know it wasn’t a great race for him, but to have some laps there in these cars is important and, honestly, just see where we’re at in practice and try to qualify well, try to get a good pit stall and do all the things that we need to do.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PUSHING THE ENVELOPE ON THESE CARS? IT’S A LOT SMALLER WITH THIS NEXT GEN CAR ISN’T IT OR DO YOU TRY TO PUSH IT EVEN MORE FOR SOMETHING LIKE THE ALL-STAR RACE WHEN IT’S NOT A POINTS RACE? “Honestly, to me, I don’t think there’s such a thing as pushing the envelope anymore. To me, I don’t even get into that anymore. If there’s something wrong with the car, I don’t know that there’s something wrong with it. It’s just not what it once was 10 years ago. Now, it’s kind of a little bit like a factory with the way that the cars are built. They’re four or five weeks out. Our Sonoma car is already on the floor. Our Charlotte car is on the floor. Our Gateway car is on the floor. That’s just the way it is right now and it’s really up to us to sit here and look at these computer screens and figure out what springs to put in it, what shocks, what swaybars, what heights we’re gonna run, what you can get by with with air-pressure. You still try to get all you can through the Hawkeye and through the LIS and all those things, but it’s not what it was with the old car, where you had something new every single week and completely just changed things around. I think that’s why the racing is the way it is. It’s really hard to pass because we’re all about the same. We’ve got to continue to get a little bit better. We’ve been really strong at some of the short tracks. The intermediate tracks we’ve actually been better than what we’ve shown. Josh has done a good job in qualifying. It doesn’t really look like it, but if you were sitting at the tool box on pit road and watching his SMT, there’s not many guys that can go out there in their first year and run wide-open through a corner at Vegas and Texas and all those places. I was standing on pit road before the race this past weekend and looking around at who was around us and that was something to be proud of. It was gonna be a good night the other night. I should have put two tires on and maybe had a little better shot, but I was thinking that we might have multiple green-white-checkers and have a shot at a top five with four tires. The All-Star Race, I think the key with it is really gonna be getting your car to handle right and a guy that likes a place like that. I think we’re fortunate from that standpoint. Josh was in the 48 there last year. He won the Open and was able to move onto the All-Star Race. He got some laps in that. We were already up there for the CARS Tours test and we’re gonna run the CARS Tour race there Wednesday night. Those are the types of places he’s in love with, he’s comfortable with, and hopefully we can just show up and be fast. I don’t think pushing the envelope there is really gonna make your car faster or slower, it’s really about just going out there and having the thing turn and have it where you can put the throttle down and the brakes are good and all those things. That’s really gonna be the key up there.”

THE RIGHT SIDE TIRES THIS WEEKEND ARE THE SAME THAT WERE USED AT KANSAS AND VEGAS. DO YOU ANTICIPATE THAT KIND OF SPORTY RACING WITH COMERS AND GOERS AT DARLINGTON TOO? “I do. I think in rewatching some of those races from last year, you’re still gonna have the guys that are really good at running the fence. The last few years Truex has been really good at running the fence in three and four, and if he can continue that, he’ll be really good. I know the 11 was way good there last year and then got a penalty on pit road, but overall, our car was good there and we were able to pass cars. I think for us last year it was more about not destroying the tires the first seven laps. Kevin was really good about that and we could pass cars on the long run and make things happen. I think the biggest thing with the right side tire is it seems like we’re not having to worry about them blowing out as much as we were in 2022 because that was scary back then. You never knew what was gonna happen. You would run the whole race and then all of a sudden you’d get to the lead and you’d have clean air and as soon as you get clean air and more load, you’d end up backed into the fence. I think that’s been the key is we all feel more comfortable with what we have. The drivers feel more comfortable, and honestly, like you saw this past weekend, these cars put on good shows at the tracks like Kansas, where you have multiple grooves, they wear the tires out, they blast the nose, all those things and it just puts on a good show. The Coke 600 last year, I don’t know if you could have asked for much of a better show than what that was, so hopefully we can do that again this year and hopefully we can do it this weekend too at Darlington, so we’ll see what happens.”

THE OPTION TIRE WE’LL HAVE FOR THE ALL-STAR RACE. WILL WE SEE DIFFERENT STRATEGIES OR ARE ALL OF YOU CREW CHIEFS GOING TO END UP IN THE SAME PLACE? “I think right now it’s really hard to say what it’s gonna be like. They put some softer tires on at the tire test and the left side tires feathered really fast, like a dirt car, but normally at a repave they do that anyway. Even if it was an intermediate like back to when they repaved Kentucky. They feathered the left side tires real bad the first half of the day and it went away. North Wilkesboro, it feathered them real bad and then late in the afternoon, it was pretty warm there that day, and late in the afternoon it quit doing that and you could run the soft tires for a long period of time and they were fine. The next morning, the sun wasn’t really up yet and the track temp wasn’t up yet and it was feathering the left side tires again and it would fall off real bad. And then late in the afternoon it quit doing that again, so I think the question is, ‘What is that gonna do at night?’ I think you might see that in the heat races, maybe see who does what, if the tires fall off. The problem is when they feather like that, they tank and that’s how they used to do at Martinsville in 2014 and 2015. The lefts would feather and we would slow down a second, and the guy that had less toe or different things with his car, he would just come flying through the field. It’ll be interesting to see those things. The other thing is when they ran the softer tire, the balance was way too tight and, right now, our options are to run the normal tire or the soft tire and you can change them during that race. The problem is you can’t do enough adjustments during a pit stop to change the balance to where it’s good with both sets, and you can’t give up that many spots on pit road doing rounds in both sides of the rear to make up for the balance difference. So, I think that’s really gonna be the key is can a guy on the hard tires the whole time end up being better because he’s not having to make as many adjustments, or a guy that just worries about running soft tires, stays balanced that way, and hopefully he doesn’t feather the lefts and he can continue to keep going. For me, being in the Open it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens in those heat races on Saturday because really what happens there is what’s gonna determine what we do for the Open on Sunday. It’s gonna be a learning weekend for all of us, and see how much rubber is down from the CARS Tour race and different things throughout the weekend. I think once the track rubbers up I don’t think the tires are gonna feather that bad, so I think it’ll turn into whichever one is the fastest and softest, which is probably gonna be that option tire.”

HOW MUCH OF A HANDLE DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE ON THIS NEW FORD BODY? WHEN YOU MAKE A CHANGE DO YOU HAVE A GOOD IDEA OF WHAT IT’S GOING TO DO? “I feel good about it. For us as a company, we’ve definitely been better this year. We feel better about our cars. We feel better about our balance. We’ve been better in traffic. There’s not a lot that has been worse for us. I know we’re all disappointed that we haven’t gotten a car in victory lane, but as you saw with the 17 this past weekend, it’s all about just hitting it right. You’ve got to be perfect and it’s hard to be perfect every single week. We’ve had cars even with the 4 team of running up front at Richmond and Bristol that we’ve been good. I think it’s a little bit of everything. It’s not just the body. It’s a little bit from the team side of needing to get their setups better. It’s a little bit of understanding the body and maximizing the little details of that. Obviously, we need to get better under the hood and make more horsepower and all those things, but everybody is working their butts off to get better every single week and we’re creeping up on it. I think we’ll continue to get better throughout the summer.”

ARE YOUR GUYS USED TO DEALING WITH SOME UNCERTAINTY THAT THEY CAN GO WITH THE FLOW AND AVOID THE DISTRACTIONS? “I think no matter what, if there are rumors, there’s always gonna be a distraction. Everybody on this 4 team came here to build something special. We came here to win races. We came here to win a championship, to sit on poles, to do a lot of cool things and we’ve all done that. That’s all we can hang our hats on at the moment is to go out there and be our best every week, to be somebody that the garage looks up to and thinks a lot of. I told my guys that if we continue to do that, that’s all that really matters to us. All of the stuff in the background is gonna happen whether we want it to or not, or it’s not gonna happen whether we want to or not, so, for me, it’s just trying to stay focused, trying to stay positive and keep moving forward.”

DID KEVIN HARVICK SAY ANYTHING ABOUT A THROWBACK CAR FROM BUSCH LIGHT OR ANY OTHER SPONSORS? “The Busch Light stuff we’ve done in the past with Cale Yarborough and with them moving over to Trackhouse that’s really on them now. For us, it was about grassroots racing. I’ve seen some other people’s Throwback cars that are for Darlington this weekend and, honestly, I was disappointed. As cool as they are, they’re not about grassroots racing and that’s really what this focus was supposed to be on. I’d like to have seen more late model guys and modified guys and super late model guys. We said to focus on the grassroots side of things and what has gotten us all here, whether it’s the drivers, the crew chiefs, the crew members, there’s a lot of people that have grown up doing this stuff and have had a lot of special moments throughout their career. I think to be able to celebrate that just like ours with the 4 car is extremely special. That’s kind of where I’m at with this weekend. I love to see all the grassroots schemes that are going this weekend.”

DO RETIRED DRIVERS, CREW CHIEFS AND BROADCASTERS COME BACK FOR THIS RACE? DO YOU GET TO TALK WITH THEM? “For sure. Just having a racetrack like this, which is historic and always about the Throwback stuff, but it’s also close to home. A lot of these guys can drive and show up. Every year for chapel or before the driver’s meeting you see them walking around the garage. Normally, Harry (Gant) always shows up and is walking around. He still looks the same he did 25 years ago. It’s cool to see those guys and what they mean to our sport, what they’ve done for our sport, and honestly these weekends are special to them, too. Everybody has always loved the Southern 500 and Darlington, but it’s just a special racetrack and they get special recognition on weekends like that. It’s just a lot of fun for all of us.”

GOING BACK TO THE OPTION TIRE AT THE ALL-STAR RACE. WHAT WILL DEFINE THAT THIS IS SOMETHING TO MOVE FORWARD ON? “I think the biggest thing is if we can just get it to wear and fall off and do the things, like everybody loved Bristol, but it’s not really realistic, either. We had to figure out what that happy median is. We all need to make things better at the places like Martinsville and some of them. I don’t think Richmond is really in that category, but there are some other short tracks that we’ve got to get better. We’ve tried a lot of different things as a sport from the aero side and it’s not really making a ton of difference. At Martinsville we had our hatch come open during practice and it didn’t even slow down a lick, so that just tells you right there that knocking 100 counts of downforce off isn’t gonna fix it. So, I think learning from this, seeing what the tires do. Basically, it’s the rain tire compound. I think the things that’s kind of interesting is it’s the same compound on the left and the right, which is not really something that we’ve done in a very long time. We’ve always had softer tires on the left and harder tires on the right. This option tire is the same compound on both sides, so I think that’s what’s making it tighter from a balance standpoint also. I think if we could have had something that was even softer on the lefts, the balance probably would have been closer between the two options, but I think it’s just about seeing what happens. That deal at Charlotte was fun to me. The option tire was definitely faster. It was a half-a-second faster and if the option tire is a half-a-second faster at North Wilkesboro, it’s gonna make a difference. We’ll just have to see how the weekend goes and, like I said, if they feather real bad and they’re gonna fall off bad, then maybe it’s not a good thing. In the Open, we have that break at 50 laps. If you can make it 50 laps, you’re gonna have cautions in there, too. Let’s say you run a third of those under caution laps and really all you’ve got to do is make about 30 laps and you’re good, so we’ll see what happens and see what they feel like in practice and go from there.”

WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE FOR YOU TO SEE KEVIN HARVICK IN A DIFFERENT CAR AND WORKING WITH A DIFFERENT CREW CHIEF? “It’s been fun honestly. Cliff was here at SHR when Kevin was here with us. Cliff was on the 14 and was a huge part of everything that we used to do and we’ve always had a good relationship, but as soon as all of this started going down, we got pretty tight on everything for Kevin. I’ve delivered a lot of parts to Hendrick Motorsports in the last two weeks and Cliff was sending messages to me and Cheddar yesterday about how well it all worked. There’s SHR parts in a Hendrick car going to North Wilkesboro, but he went over and sat in it yesterday and everything fit perfectly and there were no issues. I think the thing for Kevin is driving for Mr. H never happened and he and I both came here for that reason. We wanted to be involved in that side of things and we were able to do that for a few years. I think being able to work with Cliff and, honestly, they already had that relationship from being here together and being in meetings together, so I think he’ll have fun with it. He told me that was the biggest part of it is to go up there and have fun. It’ll be neat to see what he does and how he enjoys it and how he competes. I’m not sure how NASCAR is gonna let all of that fly with what they have going on. It sounds like it’s still up in the air, but we’ll see what happens and see how it goes.”

WILL YOU BE WATCHING HIM IN PRACTICE OR WILL YOU BE BUSY WITH YOUR OWN DUTIES? “I’m sure I’ll be busy. I know last year, man, that’s a tough week. Josh really enjoys the late model stock cars, but the CARS Tour deal is kind of drug out long enough. It’s pretty much an all-day deal Tuesday and Wednesday, and then you turn around and then you’re there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so it’s a heck of a week and it’s exhausting, honestly. With the Open cars and the All-Star cars practicing at the same time, we’re gonna be plenty busy with what we have going on and trying to learn in that 50-minute practice, so I’m sure I’ll talk to him after practice and see what he thinks. I think he’ll be happy, too. That 5 car is fast all the time, so those guys do a good job and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.”

WHEN YOU THINK BACK TO YOUR RACING DAYS BEHIND THE WHEEL. HOW HAS THAT BENEFITED YOU AS A CREW CHIEF? “I think that was the key for me was working on it all the time and crew chiefing for people at the same time I was racing, and building my own shocks at the time and different things like that. You knew what it felt like when you added rebound to the right-rear, you added rebound to the left-front or it did this or did that, or you moved your right-front upper control arm up or down – all those things stick in your mind of what does what, what does it feel like. Some of it has changed with this car, but the fundamentals are still there and just understanding racing in general. How do you race? How do you pass? How can you trail throttle? How can you trail brake at different places and do all those things? That’s been key. We were just talking about Cliff. The reason Cliff is good is because he’s a racer. You can go put him in a late model stock car right now and take him to Kenly and if it’s a good car, he’s gonna run top four. That’s really what it’s about is understanding racing and knowing the extent of every little detail of what it takes to build a nice car, have the interior right, have this or that right. It’s just all of it. I think those late model days you can’t pay enough for that. I think a lot of these guys need to have a lot more of that before they get into the Cup Series and learn all of those details of racing in general.”

HOW WOULD KEVIN BE AS A CREW CHIEF OR IS BROADCASTING THE RIGHT THING FOR HIM? “The thing with Kevin is he’s just so detailed and he’s really good at having an agenda and controlling meetings and having his crap together no matter what it is. I think as a crew chief, it would be too much. He’d probably yell at too many people all the time, but on the other side of it he would have his crap together and he would expect everybody around him to have their crap together. He’s so good at so many things and I think you’ve seen that in the TV booth. He’s kind of brought some of that to a new level and talked about things that maybe some of us wish he wouldn’t talk about, but he’s up front and honest and puts it all out there and keeps Clint straight at the same time. I think he’s enjoying all of that, but I think one day it’s definitely gonna be a turn of the tides where he’s gonna boss people around again and make sure Keelan has the best truck there is and is fighting for a win or a championship one day.” 

Ford Performance PR