Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Lance McGrew: One Last Time In Unknown Territory

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMay 5, 2010

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30:  Lance McGrew, crew chief for the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CROWN ROYAL Presents the Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Lance McGrew and Dale Earnhardt Jr., head to Darlington Raceway with no previous experience together at the tough, throwback track.

This will be the last race track McGrew has to tackle with no previous notes for the Sprint Cup race. 

He came on board officially as crew chief May 28, 2009, but circumstances dictated he assume his duties early with Jr. at Dover last year.

Earnhardt Jr. has 15 starts at Darlington with three top-five and seven top-10 finishes giving him an average of 15.1.

Last week proved a bit of a rough ride for the driver of the No. 88, when he never recovered after going down a couple laps from adventures with a cut tire.

His car looked to be strong, but after the mishap, he felt he could no longer drive it aggressively and saw no point to it, being that he was so far back. 

His 32nd place finish put him 13th in the points standings, a mere four points out of the top-12.

Earnhardt Jr. has described Darlington as big, narrow, slick and tough to drive.

Even though the track is slick, it has a lot of grip since it was repaved. The trick is determining how close to the fence you can drive without losing that grip.

Earnhardt Jr,. is known for driving against the outside wall at most tracks, but he knows how quickly the Lady in Black, can reach out and grab you. If he is to finish, well it will be key that he keeps the Darlington stripe, off his car.

McGrew doesn't have a notebook of tricks like most other crew chiefs, but part of his strategy may be taking two tires toward the end of the race because of Darlington's grip.

Once again, he will attempt to give Jr. a car that will not only qualify well, but drive well. 

Track position is key at Darlington since going three-wide is not a good thing on the fast, but narrow track.

Darlington Raceway is an old style track, steeped in history with the look of a local short track facility. 

No glitz and glamour, towers and condos to be seen at the very ordinary track in comparison to the more grandiose tracks on the NASCAR schedule.

Earnhardt Jr.'s father conquered the track with nine wins, second to David Pearson's 10 wins. Jr. has a bit of that throwback style racer in him and perhaps it will prove a positive for him during the Showtime Southern 500.

Wins have eluded him this year, though McGrew for the most part continues to improve with the cars he gives his driver. The communication is open and straight-forward between he and Jr.

Perhaps this Saturday night, even without lots of notes and tricks, McGrew will give Dale Jr. a car capable of winning.

Jr.'s assignment should he choose to accept it, is to simply keep it in one piece and drive it to the front. A task also assigned to 42 other drivers.

The importance of staying in the top-12 does not escape this team and every effort will be made to climb upward from the 13th place position.

Earnhardt Jr., will have tough competition from the RCR drivers and of course Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin, his teammates. The other Hendrick drivers all have multiple wins at Darlington.

Could it be McGrew will guide his driver to a win at the track "Too Tough to Tame?" It really is time to get the No. 88 to victory lane, a place his daddy knew well at Darlington Raceway.