New crew chief eyes full review
Lance McGrew, the man charged with turning Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s disastrous season around, didn't mince words Thursday when discussing his prospects and plans in replacing Tony Eury Jr. as crew chief of the No. 88 Chevrolet.
"Everything and everybody will be evaluated," McGrew told ESPN.com Thursday.
There is some thought within the sport that Eury and Earnhardt employed a different preparatory approach than that used by the other three Hendrick Motorsports teams. McGrew lent credence to that thought.
"I just believe there were some theories that they were using to making decisions by, that weren't necessarily the same theory that's on the rest of the complex," McGrew said.
"The idea of having a multiple-car team is you can lean on your teammates. And you have to be within the same page to get any information. A lot of times they were not on the same page."
Among the first items to be evaluated, McGrew said, are the No. 88 team's personnel and its relationship with the No. 5 team of Mark Martin.
The No. 88 and No. 5 teams are housed in the same building at Hendrick Motorsports. But according to McGrew, they haven't been a unified program like Jeff Gordon's No. 24 and Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 teams, which also share a building.
The key difference between the two shops, McGrew explained, is how differently they were formed. The No. 24 team was an established outfit, having won three championships when the No. 48 was developed. The No. 24 shop simply added personnel until it had enough to start the No. 48 team.
In contrast, the No. 5 and No. 88 were two separate entities that were moved into the same building.
First on the docket: Change the shop culture.
"It's very difficult without the proper management from Alan [Gustafson, Martin's crew chief] and myself," McGrew said. "It's very difficult to change a culture."
McGrew knows tough decisions lie ahead.
"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."
McGrew said he has already met with Gustafson and Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus. He plans to meet with Gordon's crew chief, Steve Letarte, this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The plan is to develop a more unified approach.
"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 said he was surprised to learn of the decision. He said he's yet to speak with team owner Rick Hendrick about the move, and that competition executives Ken Howes and Doug Duchardt first broached the idea with him last week.
"Like everybody else, it was a surprise," McGrew said. "The relationship that Dale and Tony Jr. had for years and years and years -- they're family -- so the decision to make a change to try to benefit the team, in some way, whether it's chemistry or personnel, had to be very tough for everybody involved.
"It wasn't something I was looking to do, I can tell you that."
McGrew, who won a Busch Series championship for HMS as crew chief for Brian Vickers, was content heading up Hendrick's research and development team. Eury now moves into a research and development role.
"Obviously something had to change," McGrew said. "With this equipment and this organization -- Mr. Hendrick's not one for excuses about why you're not performing. And unfortunately the bottom line is the 88 car's just not running as good as it needs to run on the racetrack."
One of the biggest distractions about McGrew's new position is Earnhardt's fan base. Earnhardt has said in the past few folks are fit to handle it. Is McGrew?
"I don't know. I truly don't," he said. "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.
"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 race car driver is a fast race car driver."
Marty Smith covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.