McGrew to stay on as Earnhardt crew chief in ’10

Lance McGrew had the interim tag removed from his crew chief title Friday when Hendrick Motorsports said he’ll stay with Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season.


Senior Writer

Now that the “interim” has been removed from the beginning of Lance McGrew’s crew chief title, the No. 88 team knows the direction it will take moving forward.

But where does the greatest improvement need to be made? Finishing the race.

Of the 66 drivers that have competed in the Sprint Cup Series this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 66th among competitors that gain or lose positions over the last 10 percent of the race. Earnhardt averages a 17.8 position mid-race, an 18.7 average position throughout the race and an average finish of 23.1. In 32 races this season, Earnhardt has lost a season-high 93 positions in the closing laps.

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McGrew replaced Tony Eury Jr. in late May in an effort to save Earnhardt’s sinking season. Team owner Rick Hendrick used the rest of the year to evaluate the No. 88 team, and decided McGrew is the best fit for the long-term direction of NASCAR’s most popular driver.

“I have total faith in Lance and what he’s capable of accomplishing with Dale Jr.,” Hendrick said. “There was a lot of pressure with how he came into this deal, and the way he’s handled it has been extremely impressive. Lance is confident in himself and in his decisions, and all the outside distractions aren’t going to faze him.

“He’s a strong-willed guy who will keep his eye on the ball and not settle.”

His first task is restoring Earnhardt’s shaken confidence. He’s in the midst of a 53-race winless streak dating to last season, and is currently 24th in the standings. His three Hendrick teammates, meanwhile, are ranked first, second and third in the points.

It caused Earnhardt to admit two weeks ago that he’s questioning everything, and has no idea how to get his success back on track.

“I was really surprised when I first started working with Dale that his confidence was beat down as much as it was,” McGrew said. “I expected him to be a lot more positive and a lot more understanding of the situation. But since then, I’ve definitely seen a light in his eye and a strut in his step as he comes to the car.

“We don’t have the bottom-line finishes to back up what I feel like we’ve started to achieve. We feel like the steps are in place to get there.”

Earnhardt has just two top-10 finishes since McGrew took over, but had been running much better of late. Many of his recent finishes have been hampered by accidents or mechanical failures.

He’s feeling better of late, but knows there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“I can’t speak for everybody on the team, but my confidence was pretty down earlier,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s gotten better. It’s still nowhere near where I want it to be. But every week we seem to improve on that.”

Earnhardt said he also knows the difficult task McGrew has ahead.

“He tells me sincerely that he believes in my talent as a driver and with the right situation, we can have a lot of success,” Earnhardt said. “Being a crew chief is a very, very tough job and very thankless and Lance understands that as well as anyone. I feel confident that he can handle the pressures of the job, and I feel confident with him in the box. I feel like he is going to make the right calls.”