For nearly 20 minutes on Friday afternoon Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Lance McGrew sat and addressed the media.
Everything from the “Ride with the 88” car this weekend, to living in a giant fishbowl (which Earnhardt Jr. says can be pretty fun), and to what they plan on doing next year was thrown out.
McGrew was named Earnhardt Jr.’s full-time crew chief early Friday at Talladega, in a move that Earnhardt Jr. calls great.
“It’s something I’m really excited about, Lance is doing a great job,” he said. “I want to thank Rick [Hendrick] and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for working really hard on trying to put together a good program for our team and they’re doing just that by making decisions like this.”
McGrew later added “We have 550 teammates at Hendrick Motorsports that bleed and sweat to make this 88 team run as successful as it’s supposed to be running and we’re heading in that direction.”
When McGrew was placed atop the pit box in May replacing Tony Eury Jr., many wondered how long it would take for he and Earnhardt Jr. to click and get to know each other.
As well as how long it would take for their communication to gell.
But it’s something that hasn’t been as difficult as expected because Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew both knew and had worked with each other previously in the Nationwide Series.
McGrew also revealed that he’s actually known Earnhardt Jr. a lot longer, back to when Earnhardt Jr. and Ricky Hendrick were friends.
Because of that Earnhardt Jr. said that he and McGrew not only developed a good friendship, but it helped him become confident in McGrew, which has continued to grow throughout the year.
“Every time he’s built a car, I’ve loved it when it’s hit the track,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
However, it’s still been a long and difficult season for the No.88 team and even the fast, brand new cars that McGrew built hasn’t brought the team to the promise land.
They were running sixth in Indianapolis when their engine blew; were running in the top five at New Hampshire when they were wrecked by David Reutimann, and were leading in Kansas when the crew missed a lug nut, which resulted in a lost lap and then another blown engine.
Times when they’ve run solidly in the top ten for much of a race with no mistakes they still haven't been able to finish there. McGrew has helped the team run much better but lady luck has not.
“We just have to change our luck, which is a cheap excuse, but we have to change our opportunities and our mentality as a team,” Earnhardt Jr. told the media.
“Build our confidence and our ability to perform like the others do.”
Confidence has been a major storyline in the Earnhardt Jr. season. He openly admitted that he lost much of it after the early season struggles and that it’s been hard to get it back.
On Friday he again said that his confidence level is “nowhere near where I want it to be,” and that he’s gotten impatient with it.
“I was really surprised when I first started working with Dale that his confidence was as beat down as it was. I expected him to be a lot more positive and a lot more understanding of the situation,” McGrew said.
“But since then I’ve definitely seen a light in his eye and a strut in his step as he comes to the car.”
With four races remaining in the 2009 season, including Talladega on Sunday, the No.88 team with Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew are looking for some momentum to head into the off-season with.
It's an off-season that may see many changes to Earnhardt Jr.’s team now that McGrew will be able to take complete charge.
That would include strengthening the relationship and teamwork between Earnhardt Jr.’s No.88 and Mark Martin’s No.5 since they share the same shop.
There have been questions and even hints from Earnhardt Jr. himself that there may be changes within the No.88 team but McGrew said he doesn’t have all the answers yet.
“I think as far as personnel that’s something that we analogize and we grade our guys weekly, it’s not seasonally, it’s weekly, until you feel completely confident that you have the best car chief you can have, the best shock guy you can have, the best engineers that you can have and on down the line.”
He continued saying, “I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going to change, who’s going to change, how it’s going to change. But I know that Alan [Gustafson] being my counterpart on the No.5, we’re gonna do some restructuring in the shop, we’re going to change the dynamic of that shop, and that’s something I’m looking forward to, and something he’s looking forward to.”
If things keep falling into place like Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew say they are, there will be no reason why they won't come out of the box strong in Daytona and compete with their teammates all of next year.