So far, so good for Earnhardt Jr.'s new crew chief
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Though Jimmie Johnson won the Autism Speaks 400 in a thrilling finish at Dover International Speedway this past weekend, his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the center of attention.
Earnhardt ran his first race with new crew chief Lance McGrew after Tony Eury Jr.'s removal from the role last week.
After starting 22nd, Earnhardt eventually moved into the top-10 where he remained for a good portion of the race. He dealt with a tight car in the late-stages before ending up with a 12th-place finish, his best performance since April at Talladega, where he was second.
Earnhardt admitted he was pleased with McGrew's debut with the team.
"Lance called a pretty good race, and I felt like he was saying all the right things and keeping me and the team on the same page," Earnhardt said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up with a 12th-place finish this past weekend.
"We haven't quite clicked yet, but we are definitely doing okay," he said. "We've got a lot to learn about each other obviously. The more we know and understand each other the better we will be. Hopefully we get that opportunity. I'm just taking it one step at a time."
Hendrick was equally delighted with McGrew's performance after monitoring team communications throughout the race.
"Overall, I'd give it a really good grade," Hendrick said.
McGrew was scheduled to lead Earnhardt's efforts on an interim basis starting later this week at Pocono, but team owner Rick Hendrick made the decision Saturday night to place McGrew in the role at Dover, since Brad Keselowski failed to qualify for the 400-mile race there on Friday.
Eury, who is Earnhardt's cousin, has been placed in a key position with Hendrick Motorsports' research and development group. He will oversee Jimmie Johnson's two-day test session this week at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. Johnson, the three-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion and Dover winner, will prepare for this season's first road course event later this month at Sonoma, CA. Eury will also serve as Keselowski's Sprint Cup crew chief at Hendrick for the remainder of the year.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt improved significantly at Dover compared to his dismal 40th-place finish in last week's rain-shortened race at Charlotte.
"(Sunday) was exactly where we need to be," McGrew said. "You can't go from where we were to first. It's not going to happen."
McGrew now has the difficult task of getting NASCAR's most popular driver into the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" with 13 races to go before the regular season ends. Earnhardt moved up one position to 18th in the standings after Dover. He is now 215 points behind teammate Mark Martin for the coveted 12th spot. The top-12 drivers after Richmond in September qualify for the 10-race Chase championship.
Earnhardt has 18 career Sprint Cup wins, but has scored only one victory since he joined Hendrick at the start of the 2008 season.
If McGrew helps Earnhardt turns things around, there will be happy days again for the faithful fans who make up Junior Nation.