Friday, November 26, 2010

Hendrick Motorsports announces changes for 2011

Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Junior Nation has been waiting a long time to hear this: Lance McGrew and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are parting ways.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Hendrick Motorsports announced the changes made for next season. Crew chiefs are being shuffled around as are garages. Although Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team have won a lot of races as well as their five Sprint Cup championships, the rest of his teammates have not won a single race this past season. Rick Hendrick, owner of the Hendrick Motorsports team and 10-time owners' champion, spoke with reporters on a telephone conference Wednesday morning. He mentioned that the idea to make the following changes started after the Texas race.

Steve Letarte will now be Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief and the #88 team will now be working with team #48’s garage. The seven-time winner of the Most Popular Driver award, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won a race in two seasons nor has he made the Chase these past two years. He finished the 2010 season 21st in points.

Personally, I believe this will be a positive change for Earnhardt Jr. He does not need a nanny (as Terry Blount, senior writer for ESPN.com mentioned in his article) but Letarte’s optimistic personality along with Earnhardt’s boyish charm and humor will be a good mix, and Earnhardt Jr. will be in very strong hands. Both Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. are people persons, and Letarte's biggest strength is helping his driver find their confidence again.

Letarte told reporters that he is excited and proud to take on the task; you can see his comment in a video as well as his introductory video which can be found here.

Earnhardt Jr. also issued a statement on his website, DaleJr.com:

"Rick Hendrick is someone I trust wholeheartedly, and any decision he makes inside or outside his organization is something I support. He is a 10-time champion owner, and that speaks directly to his ability to lead. I am committed to give Steve Letarte and the new team 100% of my effort. I spoke with Steve last night, and his enthusiasm really pumped me up to the point I wish we were going to the track this weekend. I really enjoyed working with Lance (McGrew), and I want to thank him and everyone on that team for their hard work. I've had a lot of fun with that group, and we'll continue working together to make all the Hendrick Motorsports teams better."

Todd Warsaw / Getty Images for NASCAR
The #24 team will now be sharing a garage with the #5 team. Jeff Gordon parts ways with Letarte, but Alan Gustafson is now his crew chief. This will be Gordon’s sixth crew chief since the start of his career. Gustafson’s professional manner, engineer intelligence and positive reputation will blend well with Gordon, and Gordon will benefit by sharing a a garage with team #5 and Mark Martin.

Mark Martin will be paired with Lance McGrew. After a successful year in 2009 and a second-place points finish, Martin's 2010 season didn't go nearly as well - he finished 13th in points. Both McGrew and Martin have a professional business mindset, so the pairing could work in their favor.

Five-time Cup champion Johnson will not part ways with crew chief Chad Knaus in 2011. The two have worked well together, winning 53 races since they were paired in 2002, including six victories in 2010.

Sure, the garage will be different but not much: Letarte and Knaus are still working together as will McGrew and Gustafson. The point is to keep Team Hendrick in contention for a championship - not only for Johnson to win, but for his teammates to contend and win as well. It is clear that the Joe Gibbs Racing team has young, talented drivers in the #11, #18 and #20 cars. To stay competitive, Hendrick must make the necessary changes to keep his teams in the running.

In a statement posted on the Hendrick Motorsports website, Hendrick said:


"This will improve us as an organization, across the board. We had a championship season (in 2010), but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We've made the right adjustments, and I'm excited to go racing with this lineup."

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