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? http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1320
Gustafson may offer Gordon his last shot at championship glory http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1323
What is the significance of five championships in a row? http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1319
Will strong finish by Edwards result in 2011 success http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1322
For links to all sorts of dirt racing news http://dirtracinstation.blogspot.com/
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