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Minter: Not All Issues Mechanical

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 13 2009
Crew chief Lance McGrew and his driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Crew chief Lance McGrew and his driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

A few random racing thoughts on a rainy night in Georgia….

Racing success and failure is often more about mechanical issues than many casual fans sometimes realize. Then again there can be factors that no engineer or mechanic can fix. During the press conference at Talladega a couple weeks ago, in which Lance McGrew officially lost the “interim” part of his job title, he said that when he took the job he found Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be in a worse state of mind than he expected.

“I was really surprised when I first started working with Dale, and his confidence was beat down as much as it was,” McGrew said. “I expected him to be a lot more positive and a lot more understanding of the situation I guess you’d say.”

The pressures of living up to the expectations that come with being the sport’s most popular driver and the son of the Intimidator likely would break the average person. It’s a good thing for the sport that Dale Jr. is much more than an average person.

Last Friday at Texas Motor Speedway reporters did their duty by querying NASCAR drivers about the possibility of Danica Patrick joining the fendered crowd, as various published reports are suggesting.

Perhaps the best answer came three laps into the race on Sunday afternoon when a once-established Indy Car star took out points leader Jimmie Johnson. As Johnson pointed out, Sam Hornish Jr. does seem to wreck a lot. And he’s been running in the Cup Series for nearly two full seasons. Patrick apparently only plans to run a partial NASCAR schedule, likely in the Nationwide Series, in addition to a full Indy Car run.

Odds are she’ll have as much difficulty making the transition as other drivers who have tried before. And many of them came to NASCAR with stronger credentials than Patrick.

Talladega Superspeedway, where many observers including those in the TV booth labeled the most recent race as a boring run for the most part, has answered it critics with a press release touting loop data statistics that show 13,438 green-flag passes during the Nov. 1 AMP Energy 500.

The problem with turning to such statistics is that there’s no way to quantify passion – on the part of drivers or fans.

In a totally unscientific poll of randomly encountered racing folks, the common response is that they still follow NASCAR, on TV and through the media, but not a fervently as they once did.

Some don’t like today’s stars, like Jimmie Johnson, as much as they liked the Allisons, Earnhardts and Bakers of years gone by. Others don’t like the Chase or the Car of Tomorrow. Many don’t like the commentators of today as much as Buddy Baker and Ned Jarrett and their peers. Some find it hard to identify with drivers who have become very wealthy, travel in luxury jets, live in million-dollar motorcoaches, appear content with “a good points day” at the track and often seem more concerned with pleasing sponsors than letting their true emotions show.

It seems odd, even considering their recent swoon, that Kyle Busch and his former Cup crew chief Steve Addington would be split up. After all, they won 12 races together in the past year and a half. Perhaps Busch is looking for the kind of success he’s found since reuniting with his old Camping World Truck crew chief Richie Wauters. Busch started the truck season with Doug George as his crew chief, won two twice then hit a five-race winless stretch. Then at Bristol, he got Wauters back and he’s won all five times he’s raced in trucks since then.

But winning in Cup is much tougher than in trucks. And the demands on the crew chief are much higher too. Dave Rogers, Busch’s new Cup crew chief, almost won in his first try, at Texas.  As often is the case, a new pairing produces a boost in results initially, but then there’s usually a drop, as has been the case with Earnhardt and McGrew.

Busch may wind up wishing at some point that he had Addington back.

The modern-day Modified cars are headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a 150-lap race on the quarter-mile Legends track on the frontstretch of the quad-oval track.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will run its 2010 season opener following qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series on Friday, March 5. That qualifying session will set the field for the Kobalt Tools 500.

AMS president Ed Clark sounded pleased to be adding a quality event to his track’s already popular qualifying session, but he also expressed interest in trying his hand at driving one of the powerful Modifieds on the track where he is veteran of the Legends series.

“I’d like to try it during a test session if possible,” Clark said.

NASCAR has a long history with the Modified cars, dating back to the formation of the sanctioning body, when it hosted Modified races before focusing its top division on “Strictly Stock” cars. That circuit evolved into the Cup series of today. In the early 1960s, AMS, then known as Atlanta International Raceway, hosted a “Modified 500” race for the Modified drivers of that era.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 13 2009


  • Marybeth says:

    Throughout the Texas race, the 88 was one of the first cars called in for green pitstops. At the end of the race and for the last green pitstop, he radioed in 10 laps before he finally was called in that he wanted to pit then. The 5 pitted, later the 24 pitted. Finally the 88 was called to the pit. He ran out of gas on pit road before he got to his pit. He took off and the car stalled. He was left out on pit road alone. He radioed “Isn’t anyone going to help me?” No one did. No one showed up with a can of ether, or whatever it is they spray in the top, no one came to push him. He ended up 3 laps down and 25th. Where was this Hendrick philosophy of teamwork for Junior…? Is he an orphan? On Nascar Now, Boris Said asked ‘why did they run him out of gas’? No one answered him. For all the money Jr. is bringing into HMS alone, he deserves better.
    The end of this race probably didn’t do a lot of Jr.’s happiness factor either.

    • Bobbie83 says:

      I agree with everything you said. No one seems to be able to answer why the 88 ran out of gas and why they let him sit on pit road for three laps. Seems like the driver gets criticized if he doesn’t let the crew chief do his job. Yet what’s he’s supposed to do when this sort of thing happens. They knew he was five laps short.Why not bring him in earlier?

      It’s almost as if no one know the rules for how to handle the situation. In previous weeks when the 88 wrecked, I don’t recall seeing other team members assisting with repairs. Is this just something they do for Jimmie?

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