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Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Just what went wrong...and do they have a good game plan to fix it?

Rick Hendrick's men: (L-R) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   So the most popular driver in NASCAR isn't performing, isn't winning, isn't even in the game.
   What do you do?
   Well, naturally you fire his crew chief.
   It's the old NFL game – you can't fire the quarterback, you can't fire the team, so you fire the coach.
   Now Rick Hendrick's decision Thursday to give Dale Earnhardt Jr. a new crew chief and "reassign" Tony Eury Jr. doesn't come as much of a surprise. After all Earnhardt's only win over the last three-plus years was a gas mileage win at Michigan last summer, where he and Eury turned a 24th place car into a winner by a judicious pit stop.
   Hendrick built two of the best teams in NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, and Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte. The pressure, he said, was on him to make this thing work.
   But it's not.
   And it hasn't for a long time.
   Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be a great guy, a really good guy, in a sport where good guys are few and far between.
  But suddenly Earnhardt appears to have lost confidence…confidence that his buddy Eury Jr. hasn't been able to rebuild.
   Earnhardt could have taken a ride with Richard Childress, which in retrospect might have been the better option.
   But he wanted to measure himself against the best in the business, and he's got the best equipment in the business.
   Lance McGrew is now in the unenviable position of having to make Junior a winner.
   It's a no-win proposition.
   "It just seems the harder we work, the further off we get," Hendrick said Thursday. "It became very obvious we just needed to make a change."

  Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. (L) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


In the last few weeks something suddenly seemed to fail.
   Maybe Earnhardt gave up on himself – NASCAR drivers are notoriously hard on themselves when thing don't go right. Even his old man had moments, months even, of self-doubt.
   But Earnhardt happens to be the most popular driver in the sport.
   Even Tony Stewart has had rough times in this sport, times when his entire team turned against him.
   This is a tough business.
   Right how the burden is on Earnhardt to get back in the game.
  And the burden is on Hendrick to put Tony Eury Jr. in the right situation.
   "I do want to emphasize one thing," Hendrick says. "I've read, and heard some stories, that Tony Eury Jr. was fired. That’s not true.
    "The guy’s got tremendous talent. I think a lot of him. I wanted him to be a part of our organization for a long, long time.
   "He has accepted a new role in the R&D department. His job now is to try and help us win a championship…with all the teams."
   Whether that works out is yet to be seen.
   Hendrick has put a good man in the role: Lance McGrew will be the "interim crew chief," whatever that means.
   "And Lance has done a super job," Hendrick says. "He has worked with Dale, and they've had success together in the Nationwide car.
   "He won this year with Tony Stewart at Daytona.
    "Lance is a super-strong crew chief, really a field general who does a great job calling a race.
     "We're pulling out all the stops. We're going to do everything we can to get this team to where it needs to be."
   Uh, but just what was the problem?
   Gordon is leading the points, Johnson has won three straight championships….and newcomer Mark Martin has already won two races this season.
   Equipment is not the issue, or engineering.
   "It's hard to put your fingers on what the problem is," Hendrick said. "We just feel with all the frustration, we just need a fresh start."
   Nothing wrong with that.
   But the question is not Tony Eury Jr. The question is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Earnhardt will turn 35 this fall. His dedication to this sport and his job is not questioned….though in recent weeks things have just gone downhill too fast.
   "Dale is plenty tough enough, he has done everything I've asked him to do," Hendrick says.
   "He's on a workout program now. He's engaged with the engineers.
    "It is just the simple fact that we're showing up and not able to run like we think we should.
    "For whatever reason we just missed it somewhere.
    "He knows how to drive a race car. He's mentally tough enough to get the job done."
   It's just the mounting frustration, Hendrick says, that he is trying to address.
   "That's why we're going through this change -- to see if we can't spark some magic," Hendrick says.
   "The load that Dale Earnhardt carries on his shoulders I would not want. Not for all the publicity, for all the "most popular," or all the money, or whatever. I would not want that much heat on me.
    "The same for Tony Eury Jr.
   "Tony has had some of the toughest skin, to take some of the things he's taken from fans, media, everybody.
    "You've got all that pressure on you, and you've gotten frustrated, and you've got to handle it in front of the world.
    "You just get wound up so tight it's hard to do your job."
     Just giving Earnhardt a new crew chief will probably not resolve the issues, Hendrick realizes.
     Perhaps Hendrick should have done with Earnhardt what he's done with Tony Stewart – give him the tools, and let him see what he can do…without all the pressure of being teammate with Gordon and Johnson.
    Maybe Hendrick has been too sidetracked with all the General Motors issues, the dealership issues and all that, to pay enough attention to the game at hand. Hendrick missed Gordon's breakthrough win at Texas, he missed Mark Martin's breakthrough win at Phoenix….
    "I was convinced a few weeks ago that we were going to be fine," Hendrick said.
    "I was convinced we were going to have a good Charlotte…."
    And yet last weekend's Charlotte race was nothing but a disaster.
    Hendrick concedes "Now I've got a new kind of pressure -- whether I made a mistake.
    "I feel relieved because I feel we've got a new direction.
    "…but this is a professional sport, and we're supposed to be pros, and we're supposed to be the best when you get this level.
    "We're supposed to be able to handle a certain amount of pressure.
    "We're big boys, and we've just got to go get it done."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and car owner Rick Hendrick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Any way you slice it, the

Any way you slice it, the score is 14-1. Rick Hendrick made one of the worst trades in sports history, and he still is hardly being scrutinized for it. Unless NASCAR decides to let Junior run 200 lbs light each week and gives him a bigger restrictor plate at the tracks they are used at, there's no way Junior will come close to overcoming his disparity from Busch's driving talent. How Hendrick could not see that disparity before letting Busch fly the coup is beyond me.

Hendrick has scored the

Hendrick has scored the biggest coup on in all of racing! he now has the goose who lays the golden eggs...instead of the skinny, whiney, prick he had in busch.

E Jr. is an icon, a walking talking hero....A godlike figure to mahy just because he is his father's son. Forget wins. If the team can get him near the top ten that will be more than enough.

As far as a bad deal by letting kyle the baby go for the king of the sport...It is not even close. Hendrick makes 4 fold the profit of of merchandising and advertising by having Jr compared to the winning share had he kept bucsch. face it, noone like that sorry loser and everyone loves junior and that is a fact. Multiple polls have born out the fact that anywhere from 65% all the way to 85% of race fans only go to the track to see Earnhardt Junior (as many did for his father, Dale Sr.....if you have half a brain you will know when Sr. was knocked out of a race early that at least 1/2 of the fans would simply leave...the same is becoming evident with Jr)

More than likely Tony Jr.

More than likely Tony Jr. should not have been Dale Jr's crew chief from the very beginning at HMS, I was all for finding a spot for him at HMS as DEI imploded but the crew chief chain should have been broken at that time. I heard recently the 88 car running an entirely different setup than any other car in the HMS stable probably because it's been run by someone who was not groomed within HMS and was relying too much on old notes kept from DEI. When the rest are consistently always fast out of the truck and the 88 was still mired mid pack you really have to wonder if it was stubbornness on both the Juniors parts to learn new things or lack of total information sharing between the 5, 24 and 48 teams with the new guys ignoring the possibility that the others are just better drivers at this point. Dale Jr. has more than just a passing responsibility in this mess, it's time he realizes he's in the bigs now and should have more than just a newbie knowledge of what the car is doing and be able to communicate that to his crew not just the usual "it's too loose it's too tight". If this change doesn't effect relatively quick results you won't have to wonder where Keslowski who has also won this year in a HMS prepared car will drive next year. Make no mistake about it LeGrew is Hendricks guy coming in reporting directly to Hendrick so there will be a report weekly on Juniors progress so he will be driving for his long range professional career. Rick Hendrick is a smart smart guy who deals with hundreds of personnel decisions within his dealerships yearly, after the poor showing at Lowes he obviously saw it was time for a change but just as in football you don't fire your QB during a non winning stretch you fire the head coach and send a message and that's what he did here.

Until the Hendrick

Until the Hendrick organization engineering brain trust establishes that Jr can actually relate what the car is doing accurately, it doesn't matter who is the crew chief.Give useless feedback,and you'll continue down into the black hole.The Hendrick team can prepare race-winning capable cars in the shops, witness Mark Martin winning, and has the resources to deliver whatever the driver wants.

It may be Jr doesn't know that he doesn't know. I remember a driver who went on to become a world champion yelling at his team about his loose race car. They made changes and it got worse. This went on for a number of races until the team put his teammate in the car and asked for feedback. The teammate took five laps and told the team the car wasn't loose, it was pushing.They made changes and the belligerent driver got back in to discover a fast and neutral car.

Turns out he was tossing the car into the turns trying to drive-around the push without knowing it.

good point -- a good driver

good point -- a good driver these days has to understand his car....but then how long did it take Jeff Gordon and some others to understand this flakey COT? Might it be accurate to point out that some of Dale Jr.'s problems became exacerbated when NASCAR put the COT on the mid-sized tracks? The COT needs help, and that was one of the key things to come out of Tuesday's NASCAR meeting. Now I'm waiting to see if NASCAR does anything other than just listen.

If JR. really wants to get

If JR. really wants to get out from all the pressure, he should announce that he will only go by his first name, RALPH. End of pressure and hype, really a no brainer, but it would cost him $$$ from living off Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s name.

You know what everyone is

You know what everyone is missing here is Darrian Grubb. He was the car chief last year when JR ran well and look at what Tony is doing with him on his box. Grubb is an engineer while Tony Jr is not. JR ran great in races until Tony made changes to the car which ended up taking JR out of contention time after time last year. This year Eury has been running his own deal sepearate from what everyone else at Hendrick has run. That has shown in JR's on track performance. You don't win 18 cup races and 2 Nationwide Championships and not have any talent. Hell I think everyone that runs the cup series has talent just some more than others.


Excellent point....technically, Dale Jr.'s cars this year simply haven't been consistent, for whatever reason. and his pit stops have been terrible. We've all seen that -- why not Rick Hendrick?

Mentally tough? A mentally

Mentally tough?

A mentally tough driver doesn't make as many mistakes as Jr. has made this year.

Since last year I've been saying this.


"Doing things the same way over and over and expecting different results."

Bringing Eury Jr. on board as Jr.'s CC equals insanity.

As a team, they weren't getting it done at DEI. And, as a team, they haven't been getting it done at HMS.

Said Jr. "I could win regularly if I was in good equipment." Well????

I don't blame Eury Jr. with all of it. After all, how many times this year has Jr. missed his pit stall? It happens to all drivers but it's been a part of Jr.s problem all year long.

We will now find out if the problem has been the CC. Or, if the problem is the driver.

Thus far, Teresa Earnhardt's comment about Jr. needing to make up his mind as to whether he wants to be a personality or a race car driver seems to hit the nail right on the head.

Maybe, just maybe, Rick Hendrick needs to meet with Jr.'s sponsors and get him released, temporarily, from all of his sponsor committments so that his focus can be on the job at hand. And, perhaps Jr. needs to get out of bed before noon each day, go to the shop and let his team know that he really is a part of them.

Of course, that will mean putting his nite club business on the back burner for a while. I'm sure he has capable people running it for him.

Was it the Crew Chief? Or, is it the driver.

We'll soon find out.

put one of 48 cars in a 88

put one of 48 cars in a 88 wrap and let jr race it see what went wrong

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