By admin | February 11, 2010
By Richard Allen
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got to start at the front of the field in Thursdayâ€™s second Daytona Duel qualifying race by virtue of his second place run in time trials for the Daytoan 500. After running near the front of the pack for several of the raceâ€™s early laps, the driver of car #88 found himself riding around at the back of the pack out of contention in the raceâ€˜s later stages.
During a yellow flag pit stop Juniorâ€™s Chevrolet spent an extended amount of time on pit road as his crew attempted to repair damage to the carâ€™s fenders.
Junior had experienced some on-track contact with Brian Vickers which had roughed up the right side of his car on the aerodynamically demanding track. Immediately after the repairs crew chief Lance McGrew asked his driver to consider parking the car.
â€œWeâ€™re pretty much done,â€ McGrew said over the radio. The pit boss was trying to convince his driver there was no point in going on. The car was damaged to the point that it could not run up front and to continue ran the risk of further damage which could result in having to go to a backup car. That in turn would result in losing the outside front row starting spot in the main event.
McGrewâ€™s argument was a purely Hendrick Motorsports position, especially in the wake of teammate Mark Martin pulling to the apron of the track at the white flag of Duel #1 to avoid being caught up in a potential accident and losing his pole spot.
However, it was not an argument the driver wanted to hear. Junior declared in rather pointed language that there was a trophy on the line and he wanted go after it. When McGrew countered that there were quite a few â€˜squirrelsâ€™ between his driver and that trophy, Junior asked in less than printable terms if the team had brought a backup car.
Some might view this exchange as a bad thing. It was a driver who would not listen to the logic of a crew chief who was looking at the bigger picture. Had this been Chad Knaus or Steve Letarte talking to their drivers one would have to agree that the crew chief was in the right.
In this case though, I see this as a driver who was lacking in confidence so much last year that he was afraid to speak his mind. Perhaps this is an indication that Junior is returning to the somewhat chippy personality he once exhibited when he was running better. The personality he had before he decided to try to enter the business end of racing by trying to gain control of DEI or before he joined the corporate world of Hendrick Motorsports.
Another indication to me that Junior has turned over an old leaf is his appearance. He doesnâ€™t look so Hendrick like anymore. He came to Daytona sporting a full beard and wearing his hat backwards.
It looks to me like Junior has a new/old attitude. The folks at Hendrick and NASCAR no doubt hope this change will bring about more positive results. At least it shows he is more comfortable than he has been in about three years.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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