McGrew, Earnhardt do not have issues

Updated: March 24, 2010, 12:28 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- The crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't like the way his driver's profanity-laced tirade over a speeding penalty and shouting match with him was portrayed during Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Lance McGrew reminded that almost every crew chief in the garage, including Chad Knaus and four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, has moments "where they are ready to kill each other."

Telling Earnhardt not to "lay [expletive] down on me," McGrew said, simply was his way of getting his driver refocused on a good finish and that it didn't signal problems with their relationship.

"I kind of hate the way the media wrote it up like we were airing dirty laundry over the radio," McGrew said before Tuesday's spoiler test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "A lot of the crew chiefs here talk to each [other] that way, period. But he's the only one that gets criticized.

"It's bull----."

Earnhardt agreed.

"I was glad he got that point across that he was upset," he said, " 'cause me and him really do have a good relationship. We really do kind of see we're working together to fix this. He's really [expletive] working hard and he sees me doing the same thing. There's a lot of respect there. I think we're doing it the right way."

Earnhardt had moved into the top five at Bristol when he received a speeding penalty that dropped him to 26th with about 180 laps remaining in the 500-lap race. McGrew sensed that his driver was so caught up in the penalty that he had to say something to reset his mind.

Earnhardt responded by saying: "I can't lay down here. This is Bristol. I don't ever [expletive] lay down. Don't ever say that again on the radio. Don't need the whole world hearing that."

Earnhardt went on to blast NASCAR, saying in profanity-laced terms that the governing body needed to improve its system for determining speeding penalties.

"Not picking on my teammate, but Mark [Martin] gassed the [expletive] out of his car towards his box," Earnhardt said over his in-car radio. "So if they want to correctly gauge the pit-road speed they need to get the [expletive] kind of system that can [expletive] do it for every car on the track, not just depending on what stall you're in."

Earnhardt said he was just venting.

"I wanted to drive up there and knock the side off the pace car because that was the only way I could get back at them guys [NASCAR] in the booth, but that would have been the worst thing in the world I could have done," Earnhardt said. "That's just the daydreaming that goes on in your head at the time.

"I just had to calm down. I didn't want to do anything stupid or make an ass out of myself. Venting like that was a good release for me."

That he was able to direct it at McGrew, Earnhardt said, spoke well of how far their relationship has come since McGrew replaced long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. last season.

"Me and Lance really have gotten to know each other more ... faster than probably it should have happened or what happens with other people," Earnhardt said. "We don't really ever have these awkward moments to where ... he doesn't know if I'm kidding or serious. He always knows."

McGrew said telling Earnhardt not to lay down wasn't meant as an insult or that NASCAR's most popular driver has laid down before.

"It was, 'Dang, look, you've got to be positive. You've got to realize your car is freaking fast. We can still get a good finish out of it,'" McGrew said.

Earnhardt rallied to finish seventh at Bristol and improve to eighth in the point standings, his first time in the top 12 in 48 races. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his frustration stemmed from his aggravation with the penalty.

"Yeah, I was happy [about that]," Earnhardt said. "At one point I felt like we were putting ourselves in position to battle for the win, to have a shot at it. Man, I hadn't thought about that more than 30 seconds and I was getting sent to the back.

"It was disappointing because I could have run in the top five. We didn't get [expletive] last year with top 5s and top 10s. I get this feeling that top 5s are hard to come by and I want to get rid of that feeling."

McGrew said there never were any hard feelings between the two over the incident.

"You've got to know when to poke and when not to," McGrew said. "I could just tell he was really frustrated. The car changes so much from running to the back to the front, he just needed kind of a poke to piss him off and get his focus back."

Alan Gustafson, the crew chief for Martin, said all drivers need to be nudged every once in a while.

"Drivers get really frustrated, and when they get frustrated you've got to get them motivated to get it back," he said. "Dale was really frustrated. Lance had to reset him, so to speak, on winning the race. That's what he did. That is not a reflection on Dale and their relationship."

Three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, now an analyst for Fox, said Junior Johnson used to do the same thing to him.

"Leading the race by a lap and you slow down a little bit, Junior Johnson would say, 'Boy, you ain't laying down on me, are you?'" Waltrip said. "Now that was motivation to me. It didn't require me to come back and say, 'What are you talking about? Don't ever say that.'

"Every mule is different. Some you have to hit with a stick and kick. Others you pat on the back. Maybe Junior didn't take kindly to that."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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