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New Day Dawns For Earnhardt Jr. at Dover

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Left to right) Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with No. 88/5 team manager Brian Whitesell (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Correspondent

Dover, Del. – As the sun struggled to pierce through a heavy cloud cover over the 1-mile Dover International Speedway early today, Brian Whitesell was busy going through the duties associated with his temporary role as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Whitesell will call the shots from the pit box for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Autism Speaks 400.

He’ll turn that role over to veteran crew chief Lance McGrew on an interim basis beginning with next weekend’s stop at Pocono. McGrew is serving as crew chief for Brad Keselowski this weekend.

Earnhardt’s former crew chief, first cousin Tony Eury Jr., was reassigned within the Hendrick organization on Thursday. Eury, who will now do research and development-related work for Hendrick, is not expected to appear in Dover.

The Earnhardt-Eury pairing managed to post just one win in 48 starts since joining Hendrick in 2008.

The team’s dismal performance in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and the fact that Earnhardt is mired in 19th-place in the Sprint Cup driver standings, made it obvious that a change was on the horizon.

“The race at Charlotte [where Earnhardt finished 40th], we did not get the result there that we were looking for,” said Whitesell, the team manager for the No. 88 and the No. 5 driven by Mark Martin.

“The decision was made by Mr. [Rick] Hendrick that it was time for a change. That’s the reason it happened this week. We were actually testing this week and were not in the shop. When we got back, we were notified that we were going to do something different.”

While praising Eury for his work ethic and knowledge, Whitesell admitted that Earnhardt and Eury’s kinship might have actually worked against the team being successful.

“Tony Jr. and the entire team is very talented,” Whitesell said. “That part of it was under control. What wasn’t working was we just weren’t getting the results. The equipment is there. Everything that we needed is in place. There’s no substantial difference in how the 88 is being run versus the other teams.

“So yes, I do feel personalities and the fact of them being family may have been a factor. It was just time to do something different. And now was the time to do it.”

The 41-year-old McGrew has recorded victories as a crew chief in all three of NASCAR’s major touring series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks. He’s worked with drivers such as Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers.

McGrew realizes that he could be subject to public scrutiny unless Earnhardt picks up the pace.

“I don’t know if any crew chief will sit here and tell you it’s not a little daunting to have the most popular driver in your stable,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of different drivers, see a lot of different personalities.

“I believe it is going to extremely challenging and it’s going to require a lot of work, not so much on the equipment side but on the person side because I feel like you have to have a relationship with your driver. And I feel like you have to have a relationship with your team to be successful.

“For me, I’m not the most outgoing person in the whole world. And, obviously, the media blitz is not what I prefer to be doing right now. But it’s part of the job and something I’ll have to work on as well.”

McGrew has worked with Earnhardt the in past. The two teamed up to run a pair of Nationwide Series events in 2008.

But McGrew said it’s too soon to know which pieces need to be put into place to get Earnhardt back to victory lane.

“It’s hard to really say until we get involved,” he said. “I have had communication with him. I’ll probably ask different questions. But it’s really hard to say until you get put into situations.

“But, obviously, there is a lot of pressure here because it is Dale Jr. and it is such a big deal. Constantly being under the microscope and having millions of people listen to what you say on the radio, obviously you have to be aware of that.

“But as we grow together, I believe that the communication will come and be exactly what it needs to be: very precise and proper.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009
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