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Hendrick Says Changes Not Aimed Just At Junior

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 24 2010

Rick Hendrick says the crew swaps he announced this week should be a big help for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

In a teleconference with the media on Wednesday morning, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick said the massive changes that are being implemented within his organization are simply the result of his belief that people on his team had “got complacent”.

And he said that since the decision to swap crew chiefs and shops for three of the four cars his team field in Cup has been revealed, there has been a “new energy level” around his entire organization.

Hendrick announced the changes – the planning for which began after the race at Texas Motor Speedway three weeks ago – on Tuesday. The only team not affected is that of Jimmie Johnson, who won his fifth straight championship last weekend.

The biggest changes involved the movement of three of his four crew chiefs. Those changes see Steve Letarte moving from the car of Jeff Gordon to the car of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Lance McGrew going from the car of Earnhardt to that of Mark Martin; and Alan Gustafson going from Martin to Gordon.

Hendrick said that he is still looking at changing over-the-wall people up but that “is a work in progress”.

“Significant changes need to be made for sure” on the pit crews, Hendrick said.

He said that no people in the race shops will be moved around.

Hendrick said that the decision to make the moves was his and, “It’s not one of those things that you can vote on.”

“We all needed something to get excited about,” Hendrick said, “a new challenge.”

Hendrick denied media assertions made in the hours since the changes were announced that the situation of Earnhardt was the major emphasis. Instead, he said, it was to “pair people up that I thought would be good together.”

He did say that the failure of Earnhardt to perform at consistently high levels – Earnhardt has won just one points race since joining HMS for the 2008 season – has been frustrating to Hendrick.

“I have never had as much pressure” as when Earnhardt joined the team,” Hendrick said. “I knew when I brought him on the world would be watching.”

Earnhardt has been working with McGrew since last May. They missed the Chase this year.

Hendrick said, “When your confidence is shaken, you get to the point where you need something to give you that feeling you can do it.

“It wasn’t working with Lance and Dale.”

Hendrick said he thinks Letarte, who has been with Gordon since 2006, is a perfect match with Earnhardt.

“He,” Hendrick said of Letarte, “has tremendous people skills. He is a leader and is a no-nonsense guy when he come to the race but he has the ability to make people feel comfortable and at the same time get the job done. With the kind of season Junior’s had, Stevie will be a perfect fit for him.”

While no votes were taken at HMS about the moves, Hendrick did say that Gordon signed off on the move to make Gustafson his crew chief.

And, he said the problems which Gordon had during this year’s Chase were not the fault of Letarte.

“It was Kurt Busch dumping him in Martinsville and then Jeff Burton in Texas or whatever it was and you get a couple of hits and lose a motor in the last race and you look at the kind of year he was having up until that point, two second-place finishes, 11 top-fives and 17 top 10s. He didn’t win a race but he had two races that got away from him on the last lap and that is not his style.

“Toward the end, we had all kind of problems. I feel like this is exactly what they need and that is why we did it now. We don’t have a lot of down time but there is enough time for them to work some together and get comfortable with each other.”

Of McGrew moving to Martin’s team, Hendrick said, “I have total confidence in Lance. That is a match I think will surprise a lot of people.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

(This story will be updated shortly)

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 24 2010


  • Marybeth says:

    David Newton on ESPN has 2 articles saying Rick wants to extend Jr.’s contract. The following is my comment:
    Rick wants to renew, for between 30 to 40 million $s a year for himself, I bet he does. It does not say Jr. wants an extension with Rick. Rick can’t seem to get him the championship he promised & it is time for another owner to have a chance.
    Rick wants to extend Jr.’s contract…? Let me see, he will babble on about getting Jr. wins & championships again, right? He fooled all of us in Jr. Nation the last time, so he might as well stay with what worked the last time, right…? There’s a fool born every minute…right…? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me…right…? Jr. seemed to give excellent feedback to Darien Grubb in 2008, if being 2nd in points is an indicator, & in the COT. Maybe if Darien had not been pulled off Jr.’s box in Sept., Jr. could have won the championship, but then JJ would not have won it, right…? Can you imagine Rick pulling Chad off of JJ’s box in Sept….? Rick can’t seem to get Jr. the championship he promised & it is time for another owner to have the chance.

  • Marybeth says:

    Terry Blount & others have said that this switch is about Jeff, not Jr. Jeff gets the better cc & the garage switch gets him away from JJ who has 5 not 4.

  • Marybeth says:

    I believe the focus of this switch is JG. 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.
    Someone noted that neither Gordon, nor Martin, nor Jr. went over to congratulate him. They all know what they sacrificed to get JJ 5.
    I believe that the only reason they switched garages was because Jeff has had it with being a flunkie for the 48 and wanted out, the last straw being his pit crew being snatched at Texas. Chad did that without asking anyone. Jeff also got the better cc.

  • Terry says:

    Hendrick needs to have a father son talk with this guy. You are NOT a kid anymore and your running like Kyle Petty in his last years.
    He needs to ask the …WANT TO question…..
    Do you still want to do what it takes to be a winner or not. If you don’t then go run out the string of your career somewhere else.
    I like Jr. and I never had any respect for his dad. Sr not here…..Then SOMEONE should have a REAL dad to son ….
    ” THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE, BOY ” meeting with him.
    Have a great Thanksgiving,

  • mortmotwhatever says:

    I’m getting so so sick & tired of Junior getting everything handed to him. Since day one he’s been handed everything. When in his life & career will he ever get off his rear & work for something….actually deserve something for once. People mad that he didnt get Knaus….give me a break. Why not have all 42 other drivers just pull over & let him win all 36 races next year. See how stupid that sounds…well that’s how stupid his fans sound.