It has been a less-than-ideal opening 21 races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season for the No. 77 Spire Motorsports team. Heading into this weekend's Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway, Ty Dillon sits 32nd in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings. As a result, the team has opted to make a change beginning this weekend.
Veteran crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion, who has served as the crew chief for the part-time No. 7 Spire Motorsports NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team, will slide into the role of interim crew chief for Dillon and the No. 77 NASCAR Cup program.
The decision to relieve Kevin Bellicourt of his duties as the crew chief of the No. 77 team was not an easy one for the team to make, but a shakeup needed to be made to attempt to achieve results that match the effort being put in on a weekly basis.
“We really want that car to get going and, unfortunately, we had to make a change,” said Spire Motorsports co-owner Jeff Dickerson in a statement. “We’ve agonized watching and waiting for the results to mirror the effort Ty (Dillon) and the 77 team puts into their program. Expectations are a funny thing. They’re a blessing and a curse and, for whatever reasons, those expectations aren’t being met. We all know, Kevin Bellicourt included, what happens at this point of the season when we are, where we are, in the overall standings. Kevin has put in a lot of hard work and has been with us from the beginning of our journey, so this decision was difficult and not taken lightly.
“At the end of the day, we are what our results say we are. We need a spark to give this team every opportunity to progress and ultimately succeed. We’re incredibly fortunate to have someone as accomplished as Bono already in-house. That said, we admit, it might not change the trajectory of the season for the No. 77 team. However, doing nothing, although tidier and more comfortable, especially with the relationships involved, clearly is not an option for us anymore and we are keen to see improvement. There is a lot of racing left in 2023 and it’s imperative that we’re raising the bar every week.”
In Manion, Spire Motorsports gains a trusted figure in the industry atop the pit box. Manion has scored victories as a crew chief in all three of NASCAR's National Series, and he was a back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series champion with Martin Truex Jr. in 2004 and 2005.
According to a release from the team, Spire will utilize Manion as the crew chief for Dillon in 14 of the 15 races remaining this season. Manion will miss the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway as he focuses on the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado at the Milwaukee Mile.
Dillon has struggled mightily in his first season with Spire Motorsports, as he has just two top-20 finishes in the opening 21 races to the 2023 season.
The best finish on the season for the 31-year-old was a 14th-place effort at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring.
Manion will attempt to guide Dillon and the No. 77 team to their first top-10 finish of the 2023 season this weekend at Richmond.
Photo Credit: Craig White, Racing America