RICHMOND — Thirteen years ago, two aspiring engineers met in the NC State engineering program. Today, Luke Lambert and Justin Alexander are calling the shots for Richard Childress Racing in the Sprint Cup.
Lambert and Alexander aren’t just the latest crew chiefs with engineering experience to move into the position — they are two of the best. In a combined three seasons, they have carried RCR drivers Ryan Newman and Paul Menard to NASCAR’s postseason three times.
“I can’t say enough about what he’s done for us this year,” Menard said of his first-year crew chief. “Justin’s really smart and talented. We put him in during a few races last year and were happy with his knowledge of the car. My biggest concern was him calling races and he’s done a great job with that.
“There’s nothing you can throw at these guys that they can’t do.”
The duo met during Lambert’s freshman year when Alexander was a junior. Working on Legends cars in Wolfpack Motorsports, Lambert even put on the fire suit at times to race when he wasn’t underneath it.
Both have taken a step back now from the engineering side to become crew chiefs, but have a say in nearly every component of the car. With a combined 20 top-10 finishes, it’s clear that Alexander and Lambert are building machines worthy of competing for a championship.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty cool to be where we are,” Alexander said. “It’s a unique situation and I know it’s extremely rare. My NASCAR career started in Wolfpack Motorsports and I can’t say enough about everything that I learned there. It really prepared me for where I’m at now.”
Where Alexander is now is at the top of one of NASCAR’s best teams at the highest level. Only a rookie crew chief, the 2003 NC State graduate helped pilot Menard to the first Chase appearance of his nine-year career.
Lambert is enjoying similar success with Ryan Newman, making NASCAR’s postseason in his first two seasons atop the pit box. Newman’s best finish of his 14-year career? Lambert’s rookie year with RCR.
“We work very well together and really feed off of each other,” Lambert said of working with Newman. “Since our first test together I’ve felt like it’s been a positive and enjoyable experience for both sides. We try to get better every race and even with the setbacks we’ve continued to grow as a team from it.”
One of the biggest setbacks for Newman and Lambert came early on last season. The No. 31 team was hit with a P5 penalty, one of the stiffest in NASCAR, for a modified tire in the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway. As a result, Lambert was fined $125,000 and the team was docked 75 points.
Despite that adversity, Lambert returned after a six-game suspension to lead Newman back to the Chase. After clinching, the goal immediately turned to competing for Newman’s first championship.
“It was a massive blow to the team,” Lambert said. “I was just proud of all our guys for staying focused and remembering what we do this for. I think right now we’re stronger than we were at this point last season.”
Regardless of where Lambert and Alexander end the ride this season, they’ll both represent the Wolfpack in one of the most technically sound sports in the world. Carrying the flag for Wolfpack Motorsports along with RCR, the talented tandem is part of a huge community thriving in the sport.
“When I was there, I worked with a number of students who are now all over the racing community,” Lambert said. “To have the opportunity to essentially be at the top of where we all wanted to be is still amazing. It was a really neat opportunity to be a part of that class at NC State and proud of what we’ve done.”