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How well will Rick Hendrick's shakeup with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team shake out?

Game face (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Remember Pete Rondeau?
   That's the crew chief Dale Earnhardt Jr. hired to run his team back in 2005….in what turned out to be a disastrous move.
   Things didn't work out, and Rondeau was released just after the Coke 600 in late May.
   Déjà vu. Now Tony Eury Jr. has just been released as Earnhardt's crew chief.
   And what happens next?
   Well, in 2005, after Steve Hmiel got the nod to take over as Earnhardt's crew chief, they won at Chicago in July…and then Hmiel was relieved on Labor Day, six weeks later, and Eury took back the reins.
   Now being Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't easy, to be sure.
   But being Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief may be even tougher.
   So Rick Hendrick's guys were a somber bunch Friday morning as they discussed the shakeup on Earnhardt struggling team.
   Not only is there tremendous pressure on Hendrick to get Earnhardt back up to speed, and pressure on Earnhardt too, but now there is the question of how much all this might distract Hendrick's other teams, particularly championship contenders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
   Lance McGrew, already scheduled to work this weekend for up-and-comer Brad Keselowski, will take over as Earnhardt's 'interim' crew chief next weekend at Pocono, Pa.

New crew chief Lance McGrew (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Brian Whitesell, team manager for the Earnhardt-Mark Martin side of Hendrick Motorsports, will be atop the pit box here calling the shots for Earnhardt.
   "We'll take the reins and see what we can do," McGrew says.
   Picking a full-time crew chief for Earnhardt, well, that's a tough question. Who would really want the job, unless he were drafted, as McGrew and Whitesell were.
   And Earnhardt realizes that.
   It's like all the weight of being Dale Earnhardt Jr. has come slamming down on Earnhardt's shoulders like a piano from the 10th floor.
   And where this all goes next is anybody's guess.
   Will Earnhardt rebound?
   And when?
   The history of mid-season team shakeups in this sport isn't pretty.
   And there are likely more changes to come in the Earnhardt camp.
   How Earnhardt takes all this…..
   Well, Earnhardt and Tony Eury Jr., his cousin, have been tight for years. Just about every win Earnhardt has come with Eury.
   And Earnhardt's runs with other crew chiefs haven't been very good.
   The need for change or shakeup or something has been clear since Daytona in February, when Earnhardt overshot his pits and then got into all sorts of trouble. The problems have gone on just about weekly.
   Finally after Charlotte, Earnhardt's worst run of the year, Hendrick decided he needed to do something.

Brian Whitesell: on the pit box this weekend (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Whitesell, who hasn't been able to find any solution over the year's first four months, now has the radio headset here.
   "The race at Charlotte -- we did not get the result we were looking for," Whitesell said quietly. "The decision was made by Mr. Hendrick that it was time for a change…and that's the reason it happened this week.
   "We were actually testing this week and not in the shop; when we got back we were notified we were going to do something different."
   Just what is the problem here?
   That's a big question. 
    "Tony Jr. and the entire team are very talented, that part of it was under control," Whitesell says.
   "What wasn't working was we just weren't getting the results.
    "The equipment is there, everything we needed was in place. There's no substantial difference in how the No. 88 is being run versus the other teams.
    "So I feel personalities -- and them being family -- may have been a factor.
    "It was just time to do something different, and now is the time to do it."

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s problems spill over to Jeff Gordon's team and Jimmie Johnson's team? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



That indicates that Hendrick perhaps believes the two Juniors were too much like brothers, and maybe even too comfortable with each other.
    McGrew, 41, and a veteran crew chief with a number of Hendrick drivers over the year, concedes having Junior at the wheel of his cars is daunting: "I don't know if any crew chief would sit here and tell you it's not a little daunting to have the most popular driver in your stable.
    "It's going to be extremely challenging, and it's going to require a lot of work, not so much on the equipment side but on the personal side… because I feel you have to have a relationship with your driver, and you have to have a relationship with your team in order to be successful.
    "And for me, I'm not the most outgoing person in the whole world, so obviously the media blitz is not exactly what I prefer to be doing right now. But it's part of the job, and it's something I'll have to work on as well."
    So how well will McGrew work with Earnhardt?
   "It's hard to really say until we get involved," McGrew says.
    "I was fortunate enough to get to work with Dale a couple of times last year in the Nationwide series. We did a couple of races out of JR Motorsports. So I have had communication with him.
   "I will probably ask different questions…but it's just really hard to say until you get put in the situation.
    "There is a lot of pressure because it is Dale Jr. and because it is such a big deal. Constantly being under the microscope -- having millions of people listen to what you say on the radio -- obviously you have to be aware of that.
    "As we grow together, I believe the communication will become exactly what it needs to be.
   "Whatever works….and however personalities match up….
    "People are sometimes surprised with how they interact with others. And you never know exactly what is going to work.
    "A big part of the reason for the change is to do something different.
     "We don't know exactly what is going to work, but we're going to make sure that something does."

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebound quickly...or fade? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Sorry Mike, check your facts.

Sorry Mike, check your facts. Most of his wins came with Tomy Eury SR, not Tony Jr. I think at this time Dale Jr has so little confidence in him self that nothing may help. I think that breakup is like a death in the family and he is probably second-guessing himself to death trying to figure out what he could have done differently. And I am sick already of every news report I read describing Dale Jr as "sullen." My God, do they expect him to start tap-dancing on pit row and singing,"It's a beautiful day?" I think qualifying went rather well. there are a lot of good cars right around him and a couple of decent practices should help his confidence, but I think this season is done already. Looking forward to him being the spoiler in the chase, have a good week.

Actually most of Dale Jr.'s

Actually most of Dale Jr.'s wins came with both Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. -- crew chief/car chief/family, and we all know the stories about legendary Robert Gee and his daughters and the Earnhardts and Ralph and Ralph -- the lines of command were rather blurred, except that whenever the two Jr.'s needed chewing out Tony Sr. was there to do it. That's because when Dale Sr. put Tony Sr. in charge of making Dale Jr. a racer, the two Sr.s were also trying to make Tony Jr. a good crew chief. The Sr.s' goal all along was for Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. to work together in this project, under Tony Sr.'s watchful eyes. In fact through out the deal, it was Tony Jr. who did most of the 'communicating' with Dale Jr.
If you've followed the entire entangling story of the Eurys and the Earnhardts and the Gees over the past 30-some years, you'll see why losing Tony Jr. is such an emotional deal for Jr. And Rick Hendrick knows that; he and Robert Gee were tight too back in the day. But then, like Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli finally had to untie the knot after 10 years and two championships and so much together, when Stewart moved on, Hendrick probably -- in retrospect -- would have been wise to put a new crew chief with Dale Jr. Myself, I like Alan Gustafson; but once he and Mark Martin won Phoenix, that option changed.
Now the definition of crew chief in NASCAR has been a moving target for years, like that of team manager. (The sport has come a long way since Richard Childress as owner/driver had a one-man crew/crew chief, in Tim Brewer.) And you can look to the Alan Kulwicki operation and ask who was the man really calling the shots -- the guy on the pit box, or the guy in the seat. Same with Rusty Wallace. Heck, sometimes same with Dale Sr. It's all semantics. I go with the guys who actually carry the freight. But you make a good point -- which Dale Jr. himself has made this season -- the two Jr.s really need someone gruff and tough and wise like Tony Sr. to keep them in line. The problem with the 88 team, as I see it, is not with the two Jr.s, but rather with the management: too deferential, until it was too late. The question for me now -- and maybe for Dale Jr. -- is Tony Jr. They've grown up in this sport together, heck, they're as close as brothers. Splitting the two Jr.s may not be the solution, I'm afraid. The key is putting some good people around Dale Jr. and his crew chief, and maybe we should check out the changes made on that 88 team since last season. And, hey, I still remember when Junior Johnson had two crew chiefs for one team -- Travis Carter and Tim Brewer. And I remember that 1998 season for Dale Sr., at Childress'; we all remember him finally winning the Daytona 500, but the rest of that season went downhill, and after the 600 Childress gave Earnhardt a new crew chief, swapping Larry Mac for Kevin Hamlin, after Sr. went into a blue funk run.
I was working at the track for all of Dale Sr.'s 76 Cup tour wins....and was at Charlote Motor Speedway for Sr.'s first Cup start too; remember Ed Negre? It's been a long road for Dale Jr., and quite emotional. But, while history may say to write off Dale Jr. the rest of the season (swaps don't generally work; check out whatever is going on over at RCR), I have a feeling in my gut that Dale Jr. is going to man-up over this and bounce back. You can just see something in his eyes.
thanks mon.....

"Pops" was behind almost all

"Pops" was behind almost all Dale Jr's success. Tony Jr performed really well for Michael Waltrip, but not for Dale Jr.

Dale Jr. needs a crew chief to stand up to him and demand his respect. Even when Tony Jr. stood up to him, he was an equal to Dale Jr. That was not Tony Jr's fault. Though truth be told, I don't think Tony Jr had the new COT figured out. Does Whitesell or McGrew have it figured out? I'm not convinced that Whitesell does. Gustafson and Knauss do. I'm not sure the Hendrick teams communicate like they say they do. At practice today in Dover, JJ was running fast and Dale Jr's setup was dangerous. Jeff Gordon wasn't a lot better.

Ultimately, Dale Jr. has not been on his game all year. For him to repeatedly miss his pit stalls is ridiculous for someone of his caliber. Dale Jr's focus is nowhere near what it should be. Even though Kyle Busch lacks sense and brain cells, he is a focused and successful race driver. Dale Jr should set his priorities straight.

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