For the #88, the other shoe drops
The other shoe dropped this week. Rick Hendrick faced the inevitable and removed Tony Eury Jr. as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. Team manager Brian Whitesell will be atop Junior’s pit box this weekend at Dover and Lance McGrew will take over on an interim basis starting in Pocono.
McGrew is a veteran Hendrick Motorsports employee having previously worked with Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch. Eury will remain with the organization in another role.
This change should not have come as a surprise to anyone that follows NASCAR. Hendrick had no choice but to shake this team up. Saying the 2009 season has been a disappointment is the understatement of the year.
The No. 88 team sits 19th points with only one top-five finish and no wins through 12 races. That’s not the disturbing part, what will be tough to overcome is the 203 points that Junior sits out of 12th place and becoming eligible for the chase. If McGrew can pull a rabbit out of the hat and get Junior into the chase, that team will have done something never done before. Since the chase began, no team has ever made up that big of a deficit.
But, is the crew chief really the problem with the No. 88 team? I’m not so sure. Make no mistake, a change had to be made and the star player never gets the boot, it’s always the coach. In this case the coach is the crew chief, but the coach doesn’t play the game. The crew chief doesn’t make pit road mistakes repeatedly, doesn’t get pit road speeding penalties and doesn’t wreck Brian Vickers at Daytona.
Junior is by far the most popular driver in NASCAR, but unlike former most popular drivers like Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip or Bobby Allison, most popular doesn’t equate to most talented.
Has the pressure of being the most popular driver and driving for the sport’s most successful and well funded owner gotten into Junior’s head? Most the mistakes made this season that have had the highest cost were of the mental variety.
But, maybe a change is what will spark Junior to perform at his best, he is a talented driver. But, every competitor on the track on Sunday afternoons is talented, the most talented in the world.
Only time will tell if this shakeup will have the intended results. But with 14 races left to make up 200 points before the chase field is set, Junior and McGrew better get busy. This week at Dover looks to be a good starting point.
The Monster Mile with its concrete surface is tough on drivers and equipment, but has been good to Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, who lead active full time drivers with four wins each.
This track has also been good to the Roush drivers, as well. Last fall, Roush drivers finished 1-2-3, with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
Biffle is my pick to make it a double at Dover with a win Sunday.
Jeff Findley is Publisher of The Post-Searchlight in Bainbridge, Georgia, a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, and a syndicated NASCAR columnist. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.