Rumor has it that Lance McGrew will be off the pit box for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #88 Hendrick Motorsports team in 2011. And I’m sure most people saw this as an imminent move, including myself.
The chemistry between the crew chief and driver just hasn’t worked like it has for Earnhardt Jr. in the past, such as it was with Tony Eury Sr. Granted, they have had some pretty descent runs, like at Martinsville last Sunday.
Since McGrew has been promoted to crew chief in May ’09, Earnhardt has only recorded ten top-10 finishes. Not a fantastic record by any means since Earnhardt recorded sixteen top-10s in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports in ’08.
Because of his solid record in ’08, that proves that Earnhardt is not the problem, as I have heard from a number of people. In the offseason between the ’08 and ’09 something occurred with the #88 team. With what, I honestly do not know. If we did know, Rick Hendrick would have already fixed the problem. But the results in ’09 and this year show something is amiss with the team. That problem is McGrew.
Now, do not misunderstand me, I am not bemoaning McGrew as a crew chief because I think him a very capable one. But my point is, McGrew and Earnhardt do not seem to work and communicate well together at all. Instead, they argue and bicker over the radio like feuding siblings almost constantly. Anyone who has tuned into the #88 radio knows what I am referring to.
Apparently, this will not do when they are attempting to race for the win week in and week out. Now the obvious and most difficult question: who is to replace McGrew? I have always been a strong advocate for Tony Eury Sr., with whom Earnhardt won the majority of his races with. However, Eury Sr. has explained that he has no desire whatsoever of becoming a full time Sprint Cup crew chief again.
What about Ron Malek, the #48 car chief, whose name has come up quite recently? A great candidate , considering how well and dominate the #48 has run for the past several years. However, many #48 fans would probably be upset by this and say “Wait! You can’t take him! Look how well Johnson is running!” True, but may I point out that really, only two of the Hendrick cars are running well and in the Chase for the championship, Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Johnson, obviously, is an extremely talented driver, and I concur that whoever is Johnson’s car chief, he can still accomplish amazing things behind the wheel. It is better to have all four Hendrick teams running well than just two outrunning the others every week.
What about Alan Gustafson, Mark Martin’s crew chief? Another crew chief who has proven himself in being able to win races. He appears to be the leading candidate for the job, even though both Gustafson and Rick Hendrick have denied that he will move to the #88.
Let me explain why. When Kasey Kahne comes over from Red Bull Racing to replace Martin in the #5 in ’12, he will most likely bring Kenny Francis, his current crew chief, along with him. There is almost no doubt that that is what will occur. That would mean that one of the Hendrick crew chiefs would be out.
Chad Knaus will remain with Johnson, Steve Letarte will remain most likely remain with Gordon, so that leaves either McGrew or Gustafson out. Therefore, Gustafson seems to be the choice for Earnhardt.
So, my conclusion? The most logical move would be to move Gustafson to the #88 and McGrew to the #5 for next year. Why not keep Alan with Mark, who work and communicate extremely well together, and move Malek to crew chief for Earnhardt in ’11? It makes no sense because in ’12 Gustafson would be out of a crew chief position, unless it was to work that Malek would be the crew chief for the #88 in ’11 and then Gustafson in ’12. That also makes no sense. Once Kahne and Francis arrive in ’12, move McGrew back to his original position with Hendrick Motorsports.
If Rick Hendrick does indeed move Gustafson to the #88 and McGrew to the #5, then he has a better chance of getting all four cars back in contention to win races and pursue a championship for the organization. Rick Hendrick is an intelligent owner and he will do what he believes will benefit his organization as a whole.
So, how do you solve a problem like Dale Jr.? Alan Gustafson is the answer.