Struggles won't split up No. 88 team
CONCORD, N.C. -- Lance McGrew isn't looking to be replaced as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief anytime soon.
Despite two finishes of 30th or worse in the last three races that led to heated radio communications between the crew chief and driver and dropped the team to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings, McGrew said his relationship with NASCAR's most popular driver is stronger than ever.
"I definitely feel it's working," McGrew said on Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he was promoting the pit crew challenge and other events leading into Saturday night's All-Star Race. "Dale deserves a shot to work with somebody for a long period of time and to keep everybody together.
"We're leaps and bounds better than we were last year. We've just had a little bit of weirdness the last couple of races."
Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, where Earnhardt finished 30th, was a prime example. Prior to the halfway point, Earnhardt told his crew chief something was broken in the car and that he couldn't turn it in turns 1 and 2.
Already a lap down, he pitted and spent nearly four minutes parked while the No. 88 crew looked for the problem. Nothing was found.
Shortly after returning to the track, now seven laps down, Earnhardt began turning laps closer to those in the top 10.
McGrew spent 45 minutes talking with Earnhardt about the situation on Monday. They determined a lot of loose rubber marbled on the track and apparently impacted the steering.
"I told him I was going to eat lunch with him tomorrow and get him out of the crew chief business," McGrew said jokingly.
McGrew said he would be more concerned if the other three Hendrick Motorsports cars were handling well. Outside of Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 225 laps before a late pit road speeding penalty left him with a 16th-place finish, Earnhardt and teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon all struggled.
Gordon turned in the best finish of the HMS cars, coming in 11th place.
"One of the things Dale and I talked about today, I'm like, 'Dude, the engineers and myself put a lot into this during the week, a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff ... to try to prepare the car to go to the racetrack. When it doesn't perform like we expect it to perform we're disappointed,' " McGrew said. "You wear that on your sleeve. It's hard to hide that. I'm competitive. I don't like to feel stupid."
McGrew said he hasn't felt entirely comfortable with transitioning information from the shop to the track since NASCAR went from the wing to the spoiler seven races ago, although Earnhardt finished in the top 15 in the first four races with the spoiler.
He pointed out that the car was fast at Richmond but a cut tire led to a 32nd-place finish.
That, combined with an 18th-place finish at Darlington and a 30th-place finish at Dover, had some fans wondering if Earnhardt needed a new crew chief.
"They can say that all they want," said McGrew, who replaced long-time Earnhardt crew chief Tony Eury Jr. almost a year ago. "Everybody's got an opinion. ... With the changes we made in the offseason we've shown a lot of improvement as a team."
McGrew added that he's not worried about the yelling that sometimes goes on between him and his driver during a race.
"I want to know what he's thinking," he said. "You've got to know what he's thinking. When we're at the racetrack on any given weekend that's all you have to go by. I'm not driving the car. I'm looking at data we accumulated three years ago when we could actually pass."
McGrew said team owner Rick Hendrick hasn't stepped in with advice as he did this time a year ago with Earnhardt and Eury, who were 18th in points after 11 races.
"He knows we're grown-ups," McGrew said. "We can handle it. When he grabbed me out of R&D last year and said this is what I want you to do, this is what I'm going to do. We're grown-ups and we respect each other and we want to succeed.
"Nobody is more disappointed when we don't run good than we are."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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