Luke Lambert has spent the last nine years as a crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series. For the 2022 season, he will move to JR Motorsports to crew chief Noah Gragson in the Xfinity Series.
Lambert is coming off a two-year stint with Roush Fenway Racing, leading the way primarily for Chris Buescher. With five races remaining in the 2021 tour, he reconnected with Ryan Newman, who he spent five years with at Richard Childress Racing. In their time together, the duo won one race (Phoenix I, 2017) and made the inaugural Championship 4 in 2014.
Admittedly, Lambert had options to remain a crew chief in the Cup Series. But having watched what the No. 9 team has built over the past three years, he wanted to be a part of it following Dave Elenz‘s departure from the team to lead Erik Jones‘ No. 43 team at Petty GMS Motorsports.
“I was not certain at the end of the [2021 season] what direction I wanted to go,” Lambert told Jayski.com on Monday. “Considering different opportunities that were out there after the season was over, I felt this would be a good opportunity for me and my family right now. Something that would be a lot of fun and give me a lot of time with the family while being able to compete at a high level in the sport.
“I definitely wouldn‘t say it‘s a secret. One of the big reasons why I wanted to pursue this team is I think this is a championship caliber race team, and I want us to be in contention to take the title.”
Gragson is coming off his first Championship 4 appearance in 2021, finishing third in the standings. The No. 9 team got hot at the end of the year, winning three of the final 10 races, including consecutive victories at Darlington Raceway and Richmond Raceway. Gragson had a walk-off win at Martinsville Speedway in the penultimate race of the season to clinch his spot to battle for the championship at Phoenix Raceway.
“I can‘t wait to start working with Luke and to see what his experience and knowledge can bring to this No. 9 team,” Gragson said in a statement. “After how close we came to winning the championship last season, there‘s a ton of momentum on this No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber®/Black Rifle Coffee team, and I think Luke will bring a new perspective to what we already have at JR Motorsports.”
Lambert said he first discussed the option of joining JRM with Ryan Pemberton, director of competition at JRM. He then floated the idea around with NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, who he crew chiefed in Burton‘s final full-time season in 2013.
Gragson and Lambert had a lunch meeting at Field of Greens in Mooresville, N.C. recently. That‘s when the two took a liking to one another, setting themselves up for the 2022 season.
“I feel like we‘re going to work well together and there‘s a lot of things about Noah that I‘ve seen on track that excite me about working with him,” Lambert said of Gragson. “Just with our conversations, we‘re both committed to the same things: Working hard and having fun, doing what it takes to be successful.”
The last time Lambert worked on an Xfinity Series car was in 2012, when he guided Elliott Sadler to a career-high four victories. Competing at that level was “some of the most fun” Lambert ever had in racing.
Lambert hopes to win a race immediately with Gragson. After that, the team can focus on the bigger picture: Winning the championship.
“If we do everything we can to put ourselves in position, we can be a strong threat for the championship and get it,” he said. “That‘s one of the reasons why I wanted to be in this position.”
In the future, Lambert isn‘t ruling out a return to the Cup Series, as long as the right opportunity comes around. For now, he wants to be successful.
Lambert said, “I felt like this was the best fit for me right now in my life. I felt like this is where I needed to be and it will allow me to reach a lot of goals and go from there.”
In addition to Lambert joining JRM, Jason Burdett will return to crew chief Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 Chevrolet. Taylor Moyer will move over to the No. 1 car to crew chief Sam Mayer, who is replacing Michael Annett after retiring at the end of the 2021 season. Mike Bumgarner will fill the crew chief role for Josh Berry in the No. 8 machine.