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« Wrong time to be ride hunting for Harvick, Kahne, Hamlin and others | Main | Don’t get too excited about those NASCAR changes just yet: PART III- Leadership »

Is this a make or break year for Junior…or McGrew?

By admin | January 27, 2010


By Richard Allen

Last week, the print and broadcast media who report on NASCAR were given their yearly tour of team shops. For the most part, all that is said on the tour is very scripted and predictable. Every team expects they are going to do well. Every driver is ready to get started and feels confident. Track and team owners are sure this year is going to be a great one financially. And so on, etc…

However, once in a while there will be a newsworthy statement to come out of these typically canned commercial like visits.

This year, Lance McGrew, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., offered up a somewhat candid remark when he declared that, “this is a make or break year for the No. 88 team.”

McGrew became Junior’s crew chief about halfway through the 2009 season. Up to that time Earnhardt’s cousin, Tony Eury, Jr., had served as the popular driver’s pit boss.

Eury had come with Junior from their previous team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. After winning only one race in 2008 and suffering through a miserable first half of 2009 it became apparent that a change was needed. Since the crew chief, much like a head coach in the NFL, is the obvious place to look when a new direction is called for. Eury became the scapegoat and was ‘reassigned’ within the Hendrick Motorsports organization.

McGrew was brought in to rescue the No. 88 team. Being a Hendrick man through and through it was thought McGrew could bring a new sense of direction and purpose to the floundering team. Trouble was, no significant improvement came about.

McGrew was exactly right when he called this a make or break season. The problem for the crew chief is that if it turns out to be a break rather than a make he will likely be the one who will be broken when all is said and done.

Earnhardt is NASCAR’s most popular driver. He isn’t going anywhere. He is signed with HMS through 2012 and there is no way he and his marketing abilities will be allowed to get away from one of the most market savvy organizations in all of sports.

As Eury found out last year, when the sport’s most popular driver isn’t winning, it isn’t the sport’s most popular driver who is at fault. And perhaps it wasn’t Earnhardt who was at fault. Maybe with a full season of driving cars built in the Hendrick way Junior will get a new lease on life.

NASCAR needs Junior to run well just like the NFL needs the Cowboys to be good and the NBA needs the Lakers and Celtics to make the finals. Certainly, Junior winning a race or two isn’t going to fix the sport’s problems but it would go a long way toward reviving interest among those whose interest may be wavering.

It is up to Lance McGrew to see to it that he runs better in 2010. So for him, this truly is a make or break season.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appears in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

Topics: Articles |

15 Responses to “Is this a make or break year for Junior…or McGrew?”

  1. Chase Says:
    January 27th, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    I agree. This season is a season where Jr has the opportunity to become very relevant again. I believe that the Organization is making the right steps to make that happen.
    The first half of last year, Jr drove terrible cars and made many mental mistakes.
    The second half of last year. Jr’s cars became inconsistantly fast again. The performance of the cars at time’s was noticeably different than those drove earlier in the year. Most noteworthy were Chassis that were built from the ground up by Mcgrew.
    The second half of the year Jr and that team were snake bit. There are too many instances that stand out in my head from last year that make that apparent. I will also put some of the blame on Jr because there are also instances that stick out in my mind that were Jr’s own fault, such as riding too close to the wall at Homestead.
    It was said that Darian Grubb was a huge part of the 88 cars speed in 2008. When Grubb left for SHR, the performance completely fell off. It is well documented by Lance McGrew and Mark Martin that the 88/5 cars have never ran as 1 “team” as does the 24/48.
    I do believe that combining the engineering efforts of the 88/5 cars will make a huge difference in the speed of Dale Jr’s cars this year. Having Chris Heroy focusing on the 88 will make a huge difference. Afterall with this new car, Engineering is probably the biggest difference maker in terms of how fast the cars unload and run all weekend long.

    I understand that all the Jr hater’s will probably say that I am full of Bull. Maybe I am. All I know is that I hope to the racing gods that Jr can win atleast 2 races next year and keep the discussion going about wether Jr is a talent that just cant catch a break, or a has been that will continue to execute mediocrity at it’s best. All While raking in a lot of $$$$ of course!

  2. Overra88ted Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Just more BS Excuses for the red headed step child with God-given average at best driving talent, that can’t win while driving the BEST equipment in Nascar. Jr. in 2010 won’t do any better than he did last year. JR. turns 36 this year and is into the down side of his career. Well on his way to being a field filler named after his Famous father.

  3. Justin Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I am a Jr fan, always have been, always will be. Despite popular belief, by folks like “overra88ted”, not all Jr fans expect Jr to win titles, be the best driver, be his father….etc.

    Jr has talent, he just doesnt have the talent that guys like Stewart, Johnson, Busch, etc have. Why is being an average driver a negative about Jr, but being an average driver is a positive for Matt Kenseth? No one ever says Kenseth is overrated (they have the same number of starts, the same number of wins, etc, yes Kenseth won a title by finishing 5th every week, I commend the consistency, but it certainly wasnt dominant)

    Clearly there are people that unfairly raise expectations for Jr, and it isnt the Jr fans, we know what our driver is, and what he isnt. The ones that raise expectations are the haters, that take the Kyle Busch approach, and equate popularity with talent/success. If you cheer only for wins, you are a front runner, and not a true fan anyways, Jr nation doesnt need trophies to justify cheering, obviously those that dont cheer for Jr need trophies as justification……

    I also disagree that Jr had the best equipment in NASCAR. Before you get irate with the statement, think about it. When Jr was at DEI, he was driving average cars with great horsepower. Once the COT came about, he was driving below average cars, built by Tony Jr. Then Jr came to Hendrick. The 5, 24, and 48 were driving Hendrick cars, built the Hendrick way, by the Hendrick engineering dept. Jr, was driving “DEI” cars, built by Tony Jr, with Hendrick horsepower….. He wasnt driving the best equipment, he was driving the same cars that he couldnt win with at DEI, because they were being built the same way as cars at DEI, by the same person, Tony Jr. That isnt a knock on Tony Jr, he was just doing it the way he knew how to do it…

    Now that McGrew is on board (remember, he was the guy in charge of all things COT when Hendrick was developing the cars), the performance has been much improved. The results, not so much, with crashes and equipment failures, but Jr ran much better the last 15 races of the season…..now that he is driving the same cars as the 5, 24, 48…..

  4. Brian Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Justin,

    I expect Jr to do what he has already shown he can do. Win races and contend for championships. As a fan I expect that for him. Not because I will be let down if he doesn’t do it, but because he will be.

    I am so glad to see that I am not the only one that is aware that he wasn’t in Hendrick cars really until McGrew built him one. Casual fans just don’t get that part of the sport. Just like casual fans don’t get that you can’t judge the performance of a race team based solely off of their finishing position. Jr had a car capable of winning at least 3 times in the last 15 races. Luck and a few mental mistakes (by driver and crew) took that away though. 2010 will be a much better year.

  5. Richard Petersen Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I believe Dale Jr needs to get away from HMS. He is just a bad fit at the team and belongs at RCR not in the #3, but maybe the #29 or something

  6. Marybeth Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    From Jim Pedley, racin’today.com 1/27/10 “The question is, will Stewart Haas be given engines equal to those of the HMS drivers? I am just assuming all HMS engines are put on the dyno before being put into the cars – or shipped to satelitte teams. They can’t all be dead equal, can they? Somebody must know which ones have a skosh more power, right?” …& I repeat myself…I do not believe Jr. will ever be truly competitive as long as he is at HMS, and the sooner he is out the better. If RH wanted him competitive he would have hired Addington as his crew chief. Jr. certainly brings enough money into HMS to pay for it. He is not a ‘charity’ case. I no longer believe a word RH says about making the 25/88 competitive. Fool me once shame on you, fool me 2 or 3 or 4 times, shame on me. During the summer of 2008 Jr. was 2nd in points, in the COT.

    2010 Season Preview: Is McGrew The Answer For Earnhardt? Frontstretch Staff • Thursday January 28, 2010
    Vito Pugliese, Voice Of Vito (Wednesdays): “Personally, I believe that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still every bit as competitive and competent as the one who captured six victories in 2004, and was in contention for a title as late as 2006.”

  7. Chase Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Justin, That is a great post. I wish I could organize my thoughts that well and make it sound that good on paper. Everytime I post something on here I try to explain those very same points, but it always gets typed as the thoughts come to my head. Very random and out of order. Most of the time leaving out key points.

    Great explanation of the True members of Jr Nation.

  8. Justin Says:
    January 29th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks Chase, as a Jr fan I just get tired of the “non Jr” fans, telling ME what MY expectations are for Jr. I have no expectation that Jr is ever going to win a Championship. I am not sorry I feel that way, nor is it going to stop me from cheering for him. Could he win a title? Absolutely, that will just be a bonus as a fan.

  9. Chase Says:
    January 29th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Very True Justin. To be completely honest, after watching Jr for 10 years now in Cup, I know what he is capable of, and what is realistic. He is very capable of being one of the top drivers in the sport. He has PROVEN that he CAN do that. But, realistically he will probably never win a championship, and never put together a 6 win season like he did in ‘04. He does though, have the talent to be in the chase every year. I do expect that out of him. Last year there were a million reasons that kept him out of it, but I never will stop rooting for him or stop believing that he has what it takes to get the job done week in and week out, when given the right tools and group of guys around him. I think people forget how much of a team sport this is. As far as MY expectations as a fan, I think my expectations are lower than what his non-fan expectations are. I think if Jr can manage to run well at California and Las Vegas (the first 2 non-plate races), he will have a very solid year and possibly contend for the championship. I think that the non-fans expect that he has to go out and contend no matter what just because he’s an Earnhardt and makes the high dollar and the big headlines, but they forget that it is going to take team chemistry, mistake-free races, great engineering, and a little luck in order for him to put his talents on display.

  10. earl lewis Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    mcgrew, is not going anywhere!!! mcgrew is a man who was responsible, for helping jeff g, get his 4 titles.. jeffg thinks very HIGHLY , of this man.. jr will have to get it together, i get tired of people writing these articles, contending, about jr, making this call, jr rules the roost, jr does what he wants to do??? jr controls , what he does at hendricks.. jr will have to get his act , together, or will be be let go early from his contract!! jr is and, will always be the 4th wheel at hendricks!!!!! jr is the caboose!!!!

  11. earl lewis Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    jr is not set in stone,, at hendricks!!! if he does not get to winning, then he will, more than likely not get his , contract resigned.. the silly world thinks, because he carries that silly last name, that he is not going anywhere, its stupid, people think that!!!

  12. earl lewis Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    people need to understand, that jeff g and jimmie j rule at hendricks!!! they are the stars, and always will be!!! jr needs to leave hendricks, i believe that would make alot of people happy!!!!

  13. earl lewis Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    and again mcgrew, has the same clout, and prestige, if not more than jr. so jr will have to get it together.. mcgrew has been with the company, for awhile.. he has a say in what he does!!!!

  14. Barack O Clock Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 3:04 am

    I don’t get this constant and tired refrain that when Jr isn’t successful it’s not blamed on Jr. It was blamed on him repeatedly. When he won 6 races or when he was in 2nd in points for half the year he was constantly criticized, and when he was involved in that wreck in the last Daytona 500 or missed a pit stop last year, the media hammered him. and of course they should have.

    But why do people keep saying that Jr isn’t blamed for his poor performance… while blaming him for his poor performance? Replacing Eury made some sense. It’s not Jr… it’s the way this ’sport’ works. When Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Sr needs a massive overhaul in the team, they replace the crew chief. Claiming this law of nascar has anything to do with Jr’s popularity is simply betraying a bias or ignorance of some kind.

    Is Jr going to set the world on fire this year? I don’t know. Probably not. But when they replace McGrew when it’s not working out, that’s because that’s what these teams do most of the time. It’s not like Hendrick will re-sign with Jr if he performance is at this level. It’s hard to see where he’s getting any favors at all. He’s certainly as good as many who have been in the car he’s in now.

    It’s easy to claim he’s gotten here only because of who his daddy is. But he raced his way in. He got most of his fans after getting into his best ride, the 2000-2005 DEI 8 car.

    like many, he was simply promoted past his competence level. Nothing unusual about it except the moaning and groaning and interest.

  15. Thomas H Says:
    February 3rd, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Jr will bounce back, every driver has had slump years and he can drive the car. You dont win 18 times in cup being a novice. Now he knows he has to win, and the new attitude he is showing is a welcome change.

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