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Childress swaps Harvick and Mears, hoping for better chemistry, while Hendrick ponders a new crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.


Kevin Harvick (L) and crew chief Todd Berrier splitting after 10 years together (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

    In a stunning move, accentuating the malaise that has affected the Richard Childress operation this spring, the boss of the four-car team will be shaking up two of his teams with a complete crew swap, after this weekend's Talladega 500.
   Driver Kevin Harvick will move to the Gil Martin team, and driver Casey Mears will move to the Todd Berrier team.
   That shocker comes with both teams in a slump.
   And Childress' move comes as rival car owner Rick Hendrick is reported to be debating a new crew chief for slumping Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Hendrick's possible pick – Alan Gustafson, who just crewed Mark Martin to victory at Phoenix.
   Why Hendrick would mess up the Gustafson-Martin team, just as it's catching fire, is unsettling.
   But Hendrick is under pressure to get Earnhardt running better, and long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. just doesn't seem to be able keep Earnhardt under reins. Earnhardt has had trouble with pit stops lately, and he seems quite off his game.
   The timeframe for Hendrick: Talladega has always been a good track for Earnhardt, and Richmond, next week's stop, is where Earnhardt last won a flat-out victory – three years ago.
   Of course Hendrick and Childress both also have the Detroit-General Motors political clouds hanging over them.

And car owner Rick Hendrick (C) isn't happy with the continuing slump that star Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L) and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. (R) are mired in (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Harvick and Berrier have been teammates going back to their Busch (Nationwide) days. Mears and Martin are new together this season; Clint Bowyer drove for Martin the past two years but was moved to Childress' new fourth team this season.
   Harvick sits 16th in the standings; his last tour win was at Daytona in 2007.
   Mears, new to the Childress operation this year, has only one Cup tour win, at Charlotte in May 2007 when with car owner Rick Hendrick; Mears is 22nd in the standings.
    Childress said the decision to move the two drivers "was made to make both programs stronger and more successful.
   "Our main objective has always been to have all four of RCR's teams qualify for the chase….Neither team has had the success this season that we know they're capable of, so we decided it was time to make a change to improve the two teams and the overall strength of RCR."
   Whether the problem is the drivers themselves or their crews is unclear.
   But would seem clear is that the chemistry Harvick and Berrier have long had together has somehow soured this year.
   The real issues, of course, go deeper – the Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush operations have been playing at a higher level than Childress' teams for some time now, except on rare weekends. How far just a driver swap may go to change that dynamic is iffy.


However Hendrick would be foolish to split up Mark Martin (L) and crew chief Alan Gustafson (R) just as the two are starting to click --- and win (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



On the side, the move of long-time team manager Bobby Hutchens from the Childress camp to the Tony Stewart camp has to be striking now. Stewart and Hutchens have been performing quite well, and they could easily have won at least two races already this season, and they could be one of the favorites this weekend.
   With the move, however, Childress is putting the pressure on Berrier and Martin to turn things around, which might be unfair – perhaps more pressure should be on the two drivers to step up their own game.
   Childress, in fact, may be pointing the finger at both Harvick and Mears: "Todd and Gil are proven winners, who have strong and successful teams behind them," Childress says. "Chemistry is an important part of any successful organization, and I felt it was time to change the makeup of these two teams. We've done this before with positive results."
   Harvick and Berrier have won eight times together on the Cup tour, and they won the 2001 Busch tour title. Berrier has been working for Childress since 1994.
   Martin, a 10-year veteran at Childress', has four Cup wins at Childress', with Bowyer, Harvick and Robby Gordon.


Casey Mears (L) and crew chief Gil Martin splitting too, as car owner Richard Childress swaps drivers: Harvick and Mears (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Here they go again. RCR has

Here they go again. RCR has done this crew swap before and it at best produced mixed short-term results while producing no long-term gain. As for Junior, Hendrick contemplates the SIXTH crew chief change for Junior in his career? At some point even the richest team owner in the sport will have to realize it's the driver, not the crew chief.

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