HODGES

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports -

look­ing for it, it came to me.

Q: What does that job en­tail? A: Ba­si­cally I’m the team man­ager of the Cup and Xfin­ity side of Penske. Whether it’s get­ting peo­ple, pit equip­ment, cars or trans­porta­tion, what­ever it takes to get the team to the race­track and be com­pet­i­tive once they’re there. It’s kind of a lit­tle bit of every­thing.

With Austin Cin­dric driv­ing the Xfin­ity car, there’s a lit­tle bit of em­pha­sis on driver de­vel­op­ment, where they typ­i­cally have (more) de­vel­oped driv­ers in their Cup and Xfin­ity stuff. I’d say with my back­ground at Rev from the de­vel­op­ment side, it was good tim­ing on their part to in­clude me in the pro­gram to try to help Austin.

Q: What about on the Cup side?

A: I’ll be heav­ily in­volved on the Cup side, but ob­vi­ously those driv­ers don’t need any de­vel­op­ment. They’re al­ready there, very suc­cess­ful. My job is just to keep them that way and make sure they have all the pieces and parts they need.

Q: What are some of the things you’ll do with Austin Cin­dric you don’t do with the Cup driv­ers?

A: At all the non-com­pan­ion races (week­ends when Cup and Xfin­ity cars race at dif­fer­ent venues), I’ll go to the Xfin­ity week­end and spot for Austin so he doesn’t have six dif­fer­ent spot­ters over the course of a year.

It will ei­ther be Josh Wil­liams (from Martinsville), who spots for Ryan Blaney, or my­self, so Austin won’t have a lot of change. They have a huge (sim­u­la­tion) pro­gram at Penske that I’ll at­tend with Austin ev­ery Tues­day.

Q: When you’re part of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has the de­fend­ing Cup cham­pion (Logano), a for­mer Cup cham­pion (Ke­selowski) and a guy (Blaney) who might very well have the tal­ent to win a cham­pi­onship, is there a lit­tle more feel­ing of pres­sure?

A: There’s def­i­nitely more pres­sure. Any time you rise up lev­els in any sport, there’s more pres­sure.

Q: Was it tough to leave Rev Rac­ing?

A: I was re­ally happy at Rev and with (team owner) Max Siegel, and I re­ally be­lieve in NASCAR’s di­ver­sity pro­gram. To have to call Max and put in my res­ig­na­tion was one of the hardest things pro­fes­sion­ally I’ve ever had to do.

There were very few places, even in the Cup garage, I would’ve left to do that. Penske is at the top of the list. I’ve been do­ing a lot of spot­ting for them (Hodges spot­ted for vic­to­ri­ous Ke­selowski at the Brick­yard 400 last sum­mer), so I’ve been a part-time em­ployee at Penske the past three years.

I re­ally got to see how they op­er­ated, what they stood for and the in­tegrity that they have. The peo­ple and equip­ment they bring to track is sec­ond to none.

It was a tough mes­sage to de­liver that I was leav­ing, but the de­ci­sion was sim­ple.

Q: What’s your im­pres­sion of leg­endary owner Roger Penske?

A: He’s been very suc­cess­ful in the sport and he’s been here for a long time, so that’s some­thing you have to ad­mire. His de­ci­sion process is based on his own rep­u­ta­tion and the in­tegrity of his busi­nesses — I re­ally like that.

I like the fact that win­ning is im­por­tant, per­for­mance is im­por­tant and they just won a (Cup) cham­pi­onship, but they’re do­ing things the right way. They’re not out there try­ing to cheat the sys­tem and do things they don’t need to do.

They’re not hir­ing driv­ers just be­cause of how much money they can bring in. They’re hir­ing driv­ers that de­serve an op­por­tu­nity to have a place in this sport be­cause of their abil­ity to drive.

He was ex­tremely po­lite and very wel­com­ing, so I’m look­ing for­ward to spend­ing more time with him.

Q: Penske em­ploy­ees typ­i­cally have long ca­reers with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. How much did that play into your de­ci­sion?

A: It played very heav­ily. The av­er­age ten­ure of an em­ployee at Team Penske is 8½ years.

When you’ve got 400-plus em­ploy­ees, for that to be the av­er­age is a re­ally long time.

I don’t want to get back into that rat race of hav­ing to find a bet­ter job some­where.

Q: You’re com­ing into a team with a new car, the Mus­tang, this sea­son. Some­times there’s a learn­ing curve. What are your thoughts?

A: I re­ally don’t see where the switch to the Mus­tang is any kind of neg­a­tive. It’s known as one of the Amer­i­can hot rods, so it ’s a pos­i­tive from that as­pect.

As far as the body and how it will per­form on the track, they’ve changed so many rules with the big spoiler, su­per-high down­force and taken horse­power away.

That’s go­ing to make a whole lot more im­pact than the type of car it is.

Q: Have you had time to think about how far you’ve come since crew­ing for Danny Ed­wards as a teenager to your new job for Team Penske?

A: I made sure to text Danny that night he won the (2018) cham­pi­onship, and he reached out to me (this week) to con­grat­u­late me on this op­por­tu­nity. It’s been a good re­la­tion­ship and I ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity he gave me.

He was the first per­son that gave me a chance to come to Lan­g­ley Speed­way and ac­tu­ally work on their car and be a part of their race team.

Grow­ing up around there and watch­ing peo­ple race, even back then, it was a huge honor to be able to hang out at the race­track with him.

When I fi­nally found out I was ac­tu­ally start­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in the per­for­mance he was hav­ing on the race­track, it was an eye-opener for me.

To think I was ac­tu­ally help­ing some­one as suc­cess­ful as Danny Ed­wards Jr. was a rev­e­la­tion.

Fon­tana is a long way from Lan­g­ley Speed­way, on the other side of the coun­try, and they have a lot of tech­nol­ogy over here at Penske, and the in­ten­sity level is def­i­nitely ramped up.

But it’s prob­a­bly not any more in­tense than in the garage area at Lan­g­ley Speed­way for the Denny Ham­lin Show­down, it’s just dif­fer­ent. Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, mo­[email protected]­ly­press.com, Twit­ter @Mar­tyOBrienDP

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