Steve Addington speaks softly and smiles often, but he's far from the sensitive type. In fact, the new crew chief for Tony Stewart might just have the thickest skin in NASCAR.
Who else could go from being yelled at by Kyle Busch to being excoriated by Kurt Busch to signing up to be a potential punching bag for Stewart?
It seems Addington is one tough dude. So how does he do it?
"It's just my personality to not let it bother me that much," Addington said last week. "... I just keep my emotions in check and then deal with it the way I deal with it."
Addington became Kyle Busch's crew chief when the driver joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, and the pairing resulted in eight wins in their first season together.
But though Busch has calmed significantly on the radio, he wasn't particularly civil during some of his bad days while Addington was atop the pit box.
And so, after being fired by JGR in late 2009, it raised eyebrows when Addington joined Kurt Busch's team at Penske Racing.
Was this guy a glutton for punishment, or what?
Over the next couple seasons, Addington was on the receiving end of many a Kurt Busch rant, and both crew chief and driver left Penske when the year was through.
Now, Addington takes over for the fired Darian Grubb at Stewart-Haas – a gig Stewart described as "a vacation" compared to what the crew chief dealt with during his Busch Brothers days.
But Addington, who said fights with his older brother toughened him up as a youth, said, "Tony is going to have his moments, there's no doubt about it."
So why would Addington want to keep working with drivers who seem so difficult?
Because perception is not always reality, the crew chief said.
"I have respect for what they do in that race car – no matter what comes across that radio," Addington said. "What happens on Monday through Thursday in a relationship between a crew chief and a driver, that's where you get the comfort level – not necessarily always what you guys hear across the radio."
Still, that doesn't explain how Addington shows so much restraint. A reporter asked how Addington stops himself from fighting back when emotions get heated.
"If he pissed you off right now," Addington said, gesturing to another reporter, "would you be able to take him and jerk him down to the floor and do what you'd want to do?"
Clearly, the answer was no.
"You've just got to know how to handle things," Addington said, "and I pride myself on that,"
Kurt Busch still calls Addington regularly, and the crew chief said he's helped Busch with the transition to Phoenix Racing. When Busch has a question about what steering box ratio he preferred at Penske, for example, Addington supplies the information.
The two did not part ways with any animosity toward one another, Addington said.
"I've got a lot of respect for him, and he said a lot of the right things when it was just a one-on-one conversation with him and myself," Addington said. "He needed to take a step back, get his act together and come back strong."
On that note, Addington said the idea he was leaving Penske to get away from Busch wasn't true. Rather, he said it was more about a desire to team with Stewart.
Stewart-Haas first contacted Addington about becoming a crew chief for the team after he was fired from JGR. At the time, SHR was trying to get funding to put together a third team – and Stewart wanted Addington to be its crew chief.
But the expansion plans eventually fell through and, as Addington put it, "I had to go get a job."
That job was Busch's crew chief at Penske Racing. But last fall, when Addington learned Grubb was being fired from SHR after the season, he realized there was suddenly another opportunity to team with Stewart.
Addington was admittedly nervous, though, when Stewart won the championship with Grubb. Would Stewart change his mind about hiring Addington and retain Grubb?
The 47-year-old lay in bed after getting home from the season finale – a race in which Busch's damaged car had jeopardized Stewart's title hopes – wondering if perhaps it wouldn't work out after all.
But Addington's phone buzzed at 2:30 a.m. with an incoming text message. It was from Stewart.
"No pressure, bud," the text read.
Addington believes he can pick up right where Stewart and Grubb left off, but also help Stewart find the consistency he was seeking when the decision was made to part ways with Grubb.
"I'm looking forward to having great communication with the driver and having a driver that's willing to work with us through thick and thin to make the car better," Addington said. "I think we'll just get better as the year goes on."