Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gets a New Crew Chief UPDATED

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IMay 28, 2009

CONCORD, NC - MAY 24: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 24, 2009 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Listen very closely and you'll probably hear the sounds of Junior Nation rejoicing all over the world.

After repeatedly saying that Tony Eury Jr. was the man for the job, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick had a change of heart. 

Starting this weekend in Dover, Del. Eury Jr. will not be the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Eury will be taking a position with the Hendrick Motorsports research and development group.

Says team owner Rick Hendrick: "Our performance hasn't been where it should be. It's impossible to pin that on any one factor, but a change is the right decision at this point. We have a plan in place, and we're going to move forward with it."

He went on to say: "We're going to put our full resources toward improving the situation and winning races. It's going to be a collective effort that includes all of our drivers, all of our crew chiefs and all of our engineers. Everyone in our company will be involved on some level."

The Austism Speaks 400 will see Brian Whitesell on top of the No. 88 pit box, Whitesell has served as an interim crew chief for Jeff Gordon back in 1999 and the pair won two races.

However, when the Series heads to Pocono in two weeks, Lance McGrew will then become the crew chief.

McGrew and Earnhardt Jr. have worked together in the past in the Nationwide Series and McGrew in a Nationwide Series Championship crew chief with Brian Vickers in 2003.

He also led Vickers to his first career Sprint Cup win at Talladega in 2006, which ironically came at the expense of Earnhardt Jr. 

McGrew has also recently worked with Hendrick Motorsports rookie Brad Keselowski. 

Whitesell and Hendrick lead chassis engineer Rex Stump will be assisting McGrew on a full-time basis.

"I have mixed feelings, and that's just natural," Eury said. "But I enjoy working at Hendrick Motorsports, and this is where I want to be. I'll do whatever I can to help all of our teams and try to be a part of another championship. I think a new challenge will be good."

The No. 88 team went from being the best Hendrick Motorsports car in 2008, to the worst in 2009 and currently sits 19th in points after 12 races.

This past weekend in Charlotte they finished 40th after never being able to properly adjust on their race car and that's when Hendrick changed his tone about the security of Eury's job.

"Tony and I talked through this last night," Hendrick said. "I want him here, he wants to be here, and he's going to be a big contributor to our future success. I have an unbelievable amount of respect for the job he's done and for the caliber of person that he is."

At this point in time, any change on the No. 88 will probably help more than it will hurt.

Lance McGrew is eager to get to work, saying the first thing that will be evaluated is the relationship in the shop between Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 team and Mark Martin's No. 5 team.

"First thing next week, I basically start evaluating everything," McGrew said. "I think some decisions will be easy and some really hard, because in the economy today, and the decisions that have to be made to turn a ship, sometimes that affects people's jobs. And that's the last thing you want to have happen to you today."

He's already had conversations with 5 crew chief Alan Gustafson and 48 crew chief Chad Knaus about creating a more unified company. He'll meet with Steve LeTarte, Gordon's crew chief in Dover this weekend.

"Basically, the crew chiefs have to steer the ship," McGrew said. "If you want [the 5/88] building to perform and function with the 24/48 shop does, it has to be managed like the 24/48 shop is. The crew chiefs steer the ship there.


"I feel like you have to do that in unison, because the idea is to have two teams in one building that operate as one. Those [24 and 48] teams do that. Right now that's not happening [in the 5 and 88 shop]."

McGrew also made it known that it's time for the 88 team to lean on their teammates and have everyone at Hendrick Motorsports on the same page.

That starts with cars that are brought to the race track.

Dave Moody of Sirius Speedway on the NASCAR Sirius radio channel reported that he is under the impression that when the decision was made to change crew chiefs, late last night all the No.88 cars that had already been prepared for Dover, were removed from the hauler.

Cars that had been prepared with the common chassis that Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have been using all season long, were loaded up and sent off to Dover.

And now Lance McGrew gets one of the toughest jobs in NASCAR, becoming the crew chief for NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.

"Dale Jr. is without a doubt the most popular driver in the United States of America. Easily. So now I'm the crew chief for the most popular driver in America," he says.

"That comes with a lot of responsibility, and all I can say is with my background, I've worked with a lot of different race drivers. Dale Jr.'s another race driver. We have to put him in equipment he's comfortable in, and do whatever it takes to make him happy. A happy, content racecar driver is a fast racecar driver."



Quote Source: RacingOne.com, ESPN.com