KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jason Ratcliff chose a pit box over a pulpit.
His father was a Church of God pastor in Louisiana who also owned an Exxon service station where he bought, sold and repaired cars.
"A lot of times, pastors have to find other means of income," Ratcliff said. "He was a car guy himself. When he was young, his father owned a gas station and was a mechanic. So it just followed that he would do that."
Ratcliff, too, worked on the cars, and that led to his becoming one of NASCAR's fast-rising crew chiefs.
Ratcliff, in just his second season as a Sprint Cup crew chief, has called all the right shots in directing Matt Kenseth and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota to seven wins and the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Ratcliff, 45, spent 2008-11 as crew chief for Gibbs' No. 18 Nationwide car driven by Kyle Busch, winning 33 races, including the 2009 driver's championship and 2010 owner's title.
That led to a promotion to the No. 20 Sprint Cup car driven last year by Joey Logano, who finished 17th in the series before making way for Kenseth.
"Everybody wants to get to the Cup series," Ratcliff said. "They want to go Sunday racing. I enjoyed my Saturday stuff. The Nationwide Series was great. We were successful . . . I was completely content, but I knew if the right opportunity came along, which it did, I would come over here.
"You're a little concerned . . . you could take a good race team, a great, experienced driver, and sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't. but I knew Matt would come over here and do well with this group. "
Having worked with both Busch and Kenseth has been an advantage to both teams.
"It opens the communication between the teams," Ratcliff said. "Anytime you can have one team that is successful, and a second team that is successful, and those two teams can work together the way we have, that's a positive. Groups from either team who have worked together in the past feel comfortable together, they're going to share information. . . . I can kind of look at the 18's setup, and because I work with Kyle, I can take bits and pieces from it, and know what he likes about that and how it might be different if Matt was going to drive it."
Ratcliff had one hairy moment as crew chief earlier this year after Kenseth won the April race at Kansas Speedway. A few days later, NASCAR announced one of the eight connecting rods in the Toyota engine was 3 grams light. Kenseth was docked 50 points and Ratcliff was suspended for six races and fined $200,000.
Upon appeal, Kenseth was penalized 12 points, and Ratcliff's suspension was reduced to just one race.
"It boils down to a rule," Ratcliff said. "You've got to have rules. The level of penalty is sometimes questionable. That was the bigger deal. Thankfully, because we didn't beat and bang and weren't so defensive, we got a really fair deal there."
Except for being out the $200,000.
"Thankfully there was a big group that supported me," Ratcliff said. "Toyota was as disappointed about the whole thing as anyone. They did a good job of standing up and took responsibility They took care of us."
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