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, etcâ€¦
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, â€œthis is a make or break year for the No. 88 team.â€
McGrew became Juniorâ€™s crew chief about halfway through the 2009 season. Up to that time Earnhardtâ€™s cousin, Tony Eury, Jr., had served as the popular driverâ€™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 â€˜reassignedâ€™ 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 NASCARâ€™s most popular driver. He isnâ€™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 sportâ€™s most popular driver isnâ€™t winning, it isnâ€™t the sportâ€™s most popular driver who is at fault. And perhaps it wasnâ€™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 isnâ€™t going to fix the sportâ€™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.
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