Hendrick Says Changes Not Aimed Just At Junior
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 email@example.com
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