Hendrick Motorsports Shakeup: How It Will Help or Hurt Each Driver
It's not often that a championship season will cause a shakeup within an organization in any sport. In fact, the most recent example of a team to rearrange its makeup may have been the Florida Marlins after their 2003 World Series title.
However, while Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 crew celebrated a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title, the other three cars in the Hendrick Motorsports stable were left shaking their heads with various levels of disappointing results.
As a result, Rick Hendrick's operation shuffled the operations of Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet, Mark Martin's No.5 Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet.
Here's a look at the changes, and how it could affect each team.
Jeff Gordon: How Can It Help Him?
Alan Gustafson (pictured) will come over from the No. 5 team to take over crew chief duties for the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet next season.
While Mark Martin failed to reach Victory Lane last season, Gustafson's work was at least partially responsible for his 2009 resurgence, in which Martin won five races and was within striking distance of Johnson throughout the Chase.
Before that, Gustafson dealt with Kyle Busch prior to "Rowdy's" move to Joe Gibbs Racing before the 2008 season, tallying four wins in three seasons.
Thus, expect Gordon to return to Victory Lane in 2011 and allow Gustafson to have another shot at his first Sprint Cup title.
Jeff Gordon: How Can It Hurt Him?
Instead of working out of the same shop as the No. 48 team, Gordon's team will operate from the same shop as Martin's No. 5 team—the same team that Gustafson worked at last season.
Ultimately, the one factor into whether Gordon will be helped or hurt will be decided as the 2011 season wears on. If there's a lack of chemistry between the two, expect a quick change.
Mark Martin: How Can It Help Him?
The latest crew chief unable to cure Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ills at Hendrick Motorsports, Lance McGrew comes over from the No. 88 team to Mark Martin's No. 5 Chevrolet.
Before fans begin to doubt this move, it should be noted that Earnhardt Jr. did improve from 2009 to 2010, moving up from 25th to 21st in the Sprint Cup point standings.
McGrew also acted as crew chief when Brian Vickers won the 2003 Nationwide Series championship, and guided the now-Red Bull Racing driver's development in the Sprint Cup ranks until the end of the 2006 season.
As a result, there's opportunity for Martin to return to the Chase in 2011.
Mark Martin: How Can It Hurt Him?
For both sides, it definitely seems as if the driver and crew chief are keeping the seat warm for Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis to take over the No. 5 in 2011.
There's little doubt that either side will act like they are racing to win, however. Martin would love to end his career on top, while McGrew's future could very well be a cloudy one at the end of the 2011 campaign.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: How Can It Help Him?
This new combination may be the most beneficial to Earnhardt Jr. out of the three moves. Steve Letarte comes over from the No. 24 team to join Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 team.
Even though Gordon is in the midst of a lengthy winless drought, Letarte guided Gordon to 10 victories from Oct. 2005 to the end of this season—making the Chase for the past five campaigns.
In addition, the No. 88 team will benefit from working in the same shop as the five-time champion No. 48 crew. Expect both sides to swap information throughout the season.
With all of this in mind, Earnhardt Jr. should improve in 2011.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: How Can It Hurt Him?
Simply put, this may be a "do or die" season when it comes to the career trajectory of NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.
If he struggles this season, it will be more of a reflection on his talents than it will be Letarte's—regardless of what his fans will want to think.
Thoughts? Comment below.
Ryan Papaserge is a junior journalism/mass communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.