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« Gustafson may offer Gordon his last shot at championship glory | Main | With the ‘Drive for Five’ complete, Johnson’s next campaign will need a catchy slogan »

Hendrick moves not made solely for the purpose of appeasing Junior, Gordon

By admin | November 28, 2010

By Richard Allen


On the surface it may appear that the recent shuffle of crews and garages at Hendrick Motorsports may have been done as an appeasement to Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Junior Nation or some other entity. Whether that is the case or not, each of the moves makes a certain degree of sense.

When a moment is taken to consider that this past season was not so much an HMS season as it was a Jimmie Johnson season it helps to understand the reasoning behind what appeared to be a major shakeup.

Johnson and his Chad Knaus led team won six races and garnered their fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. At the same time, no other HMS driver visited victory lane during 2010. If not for the 48 team there would have been little to celebrate in the palatial garages of the sport’s most known organization.

Jeff Gordon qualified for the Chase for the Championship but was not much of a factor once he got there. He and crew chief Steve Letarte have had good runs but never found the formula for consistently winning races. With the ‘Boy Wonder’ set to turn 40 years old in 2011 the years may be running out for his title hopes, so there was not much time to wait for that formula to be found.

It made sense for Gordon to get a new pit boss and the young and talented Alan Gustafson might be the one to re-energize the four time champion’s career for a last run at Sprint Cup glory. Gustafson has won races with the then unseasoned Kyle Busch as well as with veteran Mark Martin so he is well prepared for the challenge of leading a team for one of the sport’s biggest stars.

Also, after the replacement of Johnson’s crew with those from the 24 team at Texas, it made sense to separate those two groups into different garages. There was just too much potential for strife between the two after one crew was replaced by another in the middle of a race.

And now for the issue of what to do about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. After he left Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to join HMS, many thought the sport’s most popular driver was set to contend for numerous race wins and championships. Instead, Junior’s run with this organization has brought about very few opportunities for Junior Nation to stand up and cheer.

It had become pretty obvious that Junior and crew chief Lance McGrew were not going to ever make up a winning combination. So, needless to say, it made sense for a change on top of the 88 car’s pit box.

Steve Letarte, Gordon’s former crew chief, will now get a shot at turning Earnhardt’s career around. This is a move that could make him one of the most loved or hated men in NASCAR. The cool headed crew chief could serve Junior well with his reassuring, positive style opposed to the bickering that often went on among McGrew and Junior.

It should also help Junior’s efforts to have his team moved into the same garage with the 48 team so that his crew can observe a championship team doing what they do on a day to day basis.

McGrew will head over to the number 5 car with Mark Martin. Again, this is a move that makes sense. The much maligned former chief for Earnhardt will get the chance to prove himself with the steady Martin, who will be in his final year in that car.

From an outsider’s viewpoint it looks as if Letarte and McGrew could be vying for a job in 2012. Kasey Kahne will come to HMS in that year and his current crew chief, Kenny Francis, appears set to join him. That means someone will have to be moved out with only four crew chief jobs available. One of these two are likely to be job hunting after next season.

While there may have appeared to be a certain element of reaction to the recent changes at Hendrick, each of the moves actually fall into place and make sense from the outside looking in when judged after time has allowed the initial emotions to settle.

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Here are other columns you may find interesting:

How long will it take for Kyle Busch to retaliate on Harvick?

Gustafson may offer Gordon his last shot at championship glory

What is the significance of five championships in a row?

Will strong finish by Edwards result in 2011 success

For links to all sorts of dirt racing news

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7 Responses to “Hendrick moves not made solely for the purpose of appeasing Junior, Gordon”

  1. Marybeth Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I think that this switch is all about Jeff. I think that the sponsors, or lack of sponsors, played into this change. Rick said last summer that he did not listen to anyone who did not have a stake in it.
    This is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
    Even Terry Blount is saying that JG is the winner in this shake-up, not Jr. None of it is about making Jr. better, it is all about making Jeff better. If it were about Jr., he would now have Gustafson as a cc. He doesn’t. I believe that JG could no longer stand being in the same garage as JJ & his 5. He is out. I believe that it is about making Jeff happy. I believe that JG was tired of being flunkie for the 48, the last straw being his pit crew being snatched at Texas. Chad did that without asking anyone. I believe that Chad calls the set-ups for the 25/88 now to r&d for the 48. Jr. is just a pawn on Rick’s chess table & he is being moved about to make Jeff happy, plain & simple.
    “And now for the issue of what to do about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.” Rich, it is my sincere hope that Jr. picks himself up & gets out of & as far away from Rick as soon as possible. If Rick wanted Jr. winning he would be. 3 years later has proved that he doesn’t. I believe that Rick wants us to think that this is about Jr., which is why he said what he did, but his actions say differently. & now Gordon is trying to say that it is about Jr., too. :)

  2. Pat388 Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    As I have said in other sites, putting Jr. in the same garage with Chad is just about the worst combination I can think of. I am sure it doesn’t sit well with Chad that Jr. is more popular than him and Jimmie. It seems that Knaus has the “power” in the shop up on the hill, and I doubt if Letarte will be given the best of anything. With the money Jr. has brought to Hendricks he should of had the best crew chief (and that is not Chad) as well as new cars and good engines. Racers all say that chemistry is all important. There might be some chemistry between Steve & Jr. but between Jr. and Chad it will be about as bad as it can get. Chad likes things run his way but never really shares any important information. And by the way is Jr. going to get the 24’s ORIGINAL pit crew or does Chad get to keep them also? I never did believe that Rick was going to do “everything” to get Jr. to the top. He has done nothing but go down since joing Hendrick. It’s all about the money.

  3. Marybeth Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    If Jeff is right & this is about helping Jr., then of course he will be happy to pass Gustafson off to Jr. :)

  4. Marybeth Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    …& then Jeff could have McGrew. After all, HMS has been telling us what a wonderful cc McGrew is & that they have all the confidence in the world in him for the past 2 years. :) :)

  5. Marybeth Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    For the past 2 years we hear that Jr. just can’t give feedback info correctly which is why they don’t finish well. So why isn’t McGrew now JG’s new cc…?
    Jr. was 2nd in points in the COT with Darien Grubb on his pit box. In Sept., when the chase started, Grubb was no longer on his box and Jr. started his slide downhill. I wonder what Jr. could have done in that chase if Grubb had remained on his pit box until the end of the season…? Maybe a championship…?

  6. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 12:18 am

    I feel that Dale Jr. having contributed to his family’s first Consecutive Set of Cup Winless Seasons Ever,I know that it is time to pump up the volume on change at Hendrick and hiring a new set of drivers who won’t make the NASCAR Top 75 in History Club.

  7. jbs Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Your article is incorrect in several aspects. The teams and cars stay in place in their current shops, just Jr., Gordon and the decals are moving.