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Derek Kneeland Remained Humble on Path to Being a Respected Spotter in NASCAR

Derek Kneeland NASCAR spotter race car driver Richard Childress Racing Kyle Busch spotter

Derek Kneeland celebrates a win by his driver Kyle Busch at Auto Club Speedway in 2023. Photo Credit: Derek Kneeland

Derek Kneeland, the spotter for Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Cup Series, Austin Hill in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and Nick Sanchez in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, has become one of the best spotters in the NASCAR National Series ranks over the last decade and a half. It should come as no surprise that Hill and Sanchez have ripped off wins early in the 2024 season and that Busch’s transition from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing last season was so smooth.

While the native of Maine remains humble, Kneeland has been an integral component of the success of all three drivers.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” Kneeland said of the early season success in an interview with TobyChristie.com. “I mean, I think any time that you can look at your job and you can be at the top of your game — obviously, it takes a team. It takes the driver takes the cars, it takes the whole team. So, I’m just the one small part that tries to keep that train going in the right direction.”

How Derek Kneeland Became a Spotter

Kneeland’s path to being a spotter in the NASCAR ranks is a tale as old as time. He was a driver himself, who simply didn’t have the funds that it took to keep chasing his dreams of working his way up the racing ladder. But as so many racers who have seen their driving careers dry up have done in the past, Kneeland found a way to evolve to remain in the sport that he loves so much.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be making it as a NASCAR driver or have the funding to be able to make it to that level,” Kneeland said. “But when I was coming up through, back home racing and I kind of started leaning away from [driving] just because, you know, it was expensive.”

Kneeland says he got his first spotting gig for a friend of his named Corey Williams, a hotshoe in the PASS South Super Late Model Series. Williams, like Kneeland, has since found a new life in the racing industry as Williams these days serves as one of the head body guys at Hendrick Motorsports.

While spotting for Williams, Kneeland built a friendship with Brian Scott, who was racing against Williams on a weekly basis. After a couple of years, Scott had broken into the ARCA Menards Series, and he needed a spotter. Who did he call? Kneeland.

“Brian had called and said he needed a spotter at an ARCA race,” Kneeland fondly remembers. “Basically, after that, the rest is history.”

Kneeland knows, like driving, spotting is a very competitive field. And unlike driving, anyone can become a spotter. So, while he has worked his way to prominence as a spotter, he’s always tried to remain grounded.

“I’ve been able to get a lot of really, really cool opportunities and I’ve just tried to make the best of them and stay humble because, I mean, nothing’s ever promised,” Kneeland explained. “As much as I love the sport, it’s cut throat. You know you have to perform and, I think I’d like to pride myself on really paying attention and trying to keep up with the times, making sure that I’m giving my drivers and my teams all of the knowledge. And that I’m paying attention too, and trying to help them succeed because at the end of the day, the main thing is it’s all about succeeding and if I was finishing 30th every week or something like that with every team, then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.”

Fast forward to 2024, and Kneeland is one of the veteran voices atop the spotter’s stand in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“Hearing veteran though, that makes me a little nervous. That means I’m getting old,” Kneeland quipped. “But, you know, 16 years has flown by. [I’m] still pretty young for what I do. So that’s good.”

Mistakes, We All Make Them

Kneeland and the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team have yet to score a win in the NASCAR Cup Series through the opening four races of the 2024 season, but despite pit road issues at Daytona and Las Vegas, and all sorts of issues at Phoenix, Kneeland feels the team is consistently bringing speed to the race track, and they’re close to putting a full race together.

“I mean, the speed is there and that’s obviously all you can really ask for. Now we just need to tidy up a few things that we’ve had for issues,” Kneeland explained. “I know you mentioned the pit stop things or whatever, but that’s not just them, that’s all of us. There are things that I could do better. There are things that the team could do better as a whole. But I think as long as we keep firing on all cylinders and just working together, not getting frustrated this early in the season, then, we’ll be right where we need to be.

“If you look at going into going into Vegas, you know, we were first in points on the Cup side. So even as rough as a few things have been and then as rough as what happened at Vegas still with having the speed, [we were] still sixth in points. I think the wins will definitely come. We just need to keep bringing fast cars and keep doing the right thing, staying out of trouble. And I think you’ll see multiple more wins even on the other side with trucks in Xfinity as well.”

While Kneeland feels the pit crew members, who made errors at Daytona and Las Vegas, aren’t the only ones to blame for the issues that Busch and the No. 8 team have faced in 2024, they took the brunt of the hit as the pit road data, and video from the stops led to a change amongst the crew members heading into Phoenix Raceway.

Kneeland says everyone is human, and he himself isn’t immune to mistakes from atop the spotter’s stand. One moment from the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, in particular, sticks with Kneeland to this day as his worst blunder as a spotter.

“A really stupid one that I was super mad at myself for was, we were at Bristol a handful of years ago and we were leading the Xfinity race. I was spotting for Tyler Reddick, and I shouldn’t have done it,” Kneeland painfully recalled. “I should have just looked down at the timing and scoring, but everything happens so fast there that I was trying not to take away from what was going on track and the scoreboard was off by a lap at the track. [We were coming up on the end of the Stage] and I told him, ‘Alright, you’re coming back to one [lap] to go in the Stage,’ So, we come around. I said, ‘Alright, Stage checker here at the line,’ And so he lifted, and like two cars went by and they’re yelling at me on channel two saying, ‘There’s one more lap, there’s one more lap!’ So I was like, ‘Oh, you gotta keep going there’s one more lap,’ and we end up finishing, I think it was second or third in that stage. I was kicking myself for that. It was just super stupid. That’s probably one of the biggest ones.”

While it was a big error for Kneeland, Reddick proved a season later just how easy that mistake is to make, as he mentally thought the NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was over a lap earlier than it actually was.

As Reddick let off the gas on Lap 266 of the 267 lap contest, and apologized to his crew for not winning the race, Kneeland and the team had to shout at Reddick to get him to pick his speed back up to finish the race out that night.

“It’s part of it and, you know, you take it as it comes. The drivers aren’t perfect. Crew chiefs aren’t perfect and spotters damn sure aren’t perfect all the time. So we’re bound to have some mistakes here and there.” Kneeland stated.

Kneeland says the biggest piece of advice that he has for anyone who makes a mistake in the NASCAR National Series level is to never look in the comment sections on social media following said mistake.

“You’re just gonna get mad when you see the, the negative remarks,” Kneeland chuckled. “But like I said, that’s just par for the course. It’s part of it. It’s the line of work we’re in, you’re in the limelight every week and it’s just what we have to deal with. But it’s all good. I mean I could be doing much worse things for a living so I’m happy.”

Derek Kneeland to Stay Busy Racing Short Tracks in 2024

While spotting pays the bills, Kneeland will have a chance to get back behind the wheel himself as he’ll run an expanded 10-race regional short track schedule between Mike Bryant Racing and his own team.

On Friday, Kneeland is set to get behind the wheel himself for the first time this season as he’ll pilot the No. 90 Super Late Model for Bryant’s team in the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway before he heads to Bristol Motor Speedway to spot for Busch and Sanchez this weekend. Kneeland says his personal racing schedule was able to grow this season due to a convergence of several factors. One, the call from Byrant to drive his race cars as well as NASCAR having two weeks off for the Olympics break in the Summer, and the mid-week schedule placement of some local short track events this year.3

It was the perfect storm.

“It’s just cool, obviously with being able to do the ARCA, Trucks, Xfinity and Cup Series stuff. To be able to spot for all those guys and have good teams I’m able to work with, I’m fortunate with that. I mean, my passion’s always been racing. It’s what I’ve done since I was eight years old,” Kneeland explained in an interview with TobyChristie.com. “I obviously don’t get to do it as much as I used to. But it’s kind of cool the way the schedules all fall this year.

“Oxford doing a midweek show, a huge race. I like those midweek shows out in Berlin. Those have been fun the last couple of years to do. I like to go doing that. And then Lee Speedway, that’s been a lot of fun the last couple of years to do. So it’s, it’s just cool that there’s all these different ones, even with us not really having much off time with only our two weeks off this year with the Olympics from the NASCAR side. But at the end of the day, nine or 10 races is, is much better than the, the three or four that I normally get. I think last year was only two or three. So like I said, more is better but unexpected.”

Sure, even with more time off on the NASCAR National Series level this season, he’ll be even busier than years past with his elevated local short track racing schedule, but Kneeland has found that racing himself in his freetime helps him understand the feedback he receives from his drivers in the NASCAR National Series, and it helps him understand situations they find themselves on track as he attempts to guide them through it.

His connections with top-tier NASCAR drivers and teams has also assisted Kneeland’s short track aspirations.

“It’s nice to be able to lean on those guys just with as much experience as they do have,” Kneeland said. “I feel like it does help with certain things, but I’m also super rusty just because I don’t get to do it as much as those other guys, but I’m not one to make an excuse for that stuff. I’ve always been a guy that said that if you can do it then you can do it. If you can’t, then you can’t. So, I’m either going to figure it out or I’m just not going to figure it out. But like I said, I don’t really like using excuses on whether I’m bad or successful.”


Kneeland will be one of the drivers in the field for the Easter Bunny 150 race at Hickory Motor Speedway on Friday, March 15. That event will be available to watch as a Pay-Per-View event on Racing America. You can purchase the Easter Bunny 150 weekend pass for $39.99, by clicking here.

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2 Responses

  1. Great article !! Knowing Derek away from racing, he is really that humble !! Great friend with an even greater close knit family !!!

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