One half of the divided house at Hendrick Motorsports will make the Chase, while the other half continues to falter as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the final race before the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson will be atop the points when they reset for the Chase, with Jeff Gordon in the top-10.
Mark Martin will miss the Chase for the first time since it was implemented in 2004. He is 15th in the point standings for the Cup series, 147 points out of 12th place.
Martin and his team led by Alan Gustafson just cannot get up to speed this year. They realize what worked last year is passe this year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be making progress with his team led by his crew chief, Lance McGrew, but he is like a rock rolling down the point standings to his current position of 19th.
At Atlanta, Rick Hendrick addressed the status of Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew,
"We make decisions as things develop during the season and at the end of the season." The key word there is "end" of the season. Hendrick continued, saying,
"Right now we've got a game plan and we're sticking to it. Today, next week, and going into the Chase and during the Chase, our plan is for those two guys is to be together."
What Hendrick did not say is that Junior and McGrew would be together next year. You can bet lots of evaluating will be done as the Chase comes to a close in November.
Earnhardt Jr. did a live interview on NASCAR.com with Joe Mentzer. In reference to the future of his team he said,
"He would see where they are at the end of the year, make adjustments to the team."
Junior added they would "pull the trigger on things that aren't fun to do."
Hendrick seems pleased with the chemistry of Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew. It appears Junior, though he may like McGrew as a person, is not as enthusiastic about having him as a crew chief. For the time being, he is resigned to play along until the end of the season and drive what they give him as hard as he can.
Hendrick made it clear he would not make a change for the sake of change. He said,
"If you can't pinpoint where your problem is, the whole organization needs to be better. I keep my options open."
At Atlanta Martin referred to being a contender for the Championship last year and said,
"The most important thing to our team right now....to get back in the form we were in last year."
Clearly pieces are missing with Martin, Gustafson and his team. Some engineering effort was diverted to the 88 team, but one has to wonder what that has accomplished. Martin "loves" his team, so there is no doubt he will remain with Gustafson in his Quaker State No. 5 next season.
As for McGrew and the crew chief position he holds with Earnhardt Jr., he best enjoy the remainder of the year. Whatever the reason Junior's team is floundering, be it driver, crew chief, engineering, bad karma, or who knows what; it sure sounds like McGrew will be out of the equation next year unless he has a lot of rabbits to pull out of his hat in the next 11 races.
Despite comments from those who find fault with Dale Jr. and his driving ability, he was driving hard with a car that needed lots of help at Atlanta. His ability as a driver has not subsided, nor his will to win.
Once again let it be said, McGrew brings a car to the track every week that is mediocre at best from the get go.
Qualifying is important and consistently the team fails to qualify well.
McGrew makes his adjustments based on the banter between he and his driver. Sometimes he makes things better, but turns around and undoes it all. It is the same pattern race after race.
The house of Hendrick Motorsports is divided and for the rest of the year it will remain status quo with Martin and Earnhardt Jr.
The new season will hopefully be strong for Martin, but lame duck drivers often don't perform optimally. Earnhardt Jr. needs to do whatever it takes to get his team on track. Mr. Hendrick's contentment with McGrew for now is just that, for now, and change will come in 2011.