Despite Dale Earnhardt, Jr., almost certainly failing to make the Chase For the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the second year in a row, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick says he has no plans to replace Lance McGrew as crewchief of Earnhardt’s #88 AMP Energy Drink/National Guard Chevrolet.
Hendrick has pulled the trigger on high-profile crewchief changes before, replacing Robbie Loomis with Steve Letarte on Jeff Gordon’s pit box in September of 2005 and installing McGrew as Tony Eury, Jr.’s replacement in May of 2009. But for now, at least, Hendrick says the problem with the #88 team is not its crewchief.
"Actually, I'm pretty happy with the chemistry (between Earnhardt and McGrew) now,” said Hendrick to reporters at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “Maybe some of you guys don't agree, but I'm around them. I'm in the shop during the week and in the Tuesday meetings. I talk to Dale and I talk to Lance. We had some good momentum going (earlier in the season), then we kind of fumbled the ball a little before the Chase. If you can't pinpoint where the problem is in the organization, then your whole organization needs to be better.”
Hendrick said the entire HMS lineup has struggled in comparison to past seasons, even though both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are headed for the Chase and Mark Martin is still mathematically alive heading to the final race of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway. “We're working hard, but we're not as sharp as we want to be with all four cars,” he said. “If you miss the Chase and you decide... to change something just to be changing it, I think that's a mistake. I've never tried to do that. I keep my options open, but at the same time, if the driver and the crewchief are getting along, working together and trying, that's all I can ask for.''
Hendrick said, “Right now, we've got a game plan and we're sticking to it. (The plan) today, next week, going into the Chase and during the Chase is for those two guys to be together.'' He did leave the door open for further evaluation, however, saying he makes decisions “as things develop during the season and the end of the season.”
He also said the team’s complete 2011 sponsor lineup should be announced within the next 60 days. He declined to comment on DuPont’s continuing level of involvement, after reports surfaced recently that the longtime HMS sponsor is looking to scale-back its involvement beginning in 2011. He confirmed published reports that Quaker State has signed a new, three-year contract extension to remain with the team through 2013; including four races as primary sponsor of Mark Martin’s #5 Chevrolet next season. Quaker State will also continue as an associate sponsor on all four HMS Chevys for the next three years.
The Hendrick Motorsports owner also confirmed recent reports that Wal-Mart will not serve as a major sponsor on Gordon’s #24 Chevrolet next season. “(Wal-Mart was) someone we were talking to,” he said. “We got down the road a bit, but timing is one of those things. I think we'll possibly do something down the road with them, but it won't be next year.”
Hendrick also said he sees some indicators of an economic recovery in the sport, adding, “It's good to see companies have interest. At the end of 2008 and 2009, it was pretty dismal. If someone wasn't already on the car, you didn't talk to anybody. Now, there is interest from people who haven't been in the sport before. It feels better today than it did in the first half of '09.”
He said Wal-Mart continues to talk with NASCAR about a multi-level marketing and merchandising agreement that would make the retail giant a major seller of NASCAR apparel, collectibles and other merchandise. "That's still ongoing,” he revealed. “We've had a good relationship with them, but it's a timing issue. We're still working on a lot of things.''