Danica must adjust to change again

BY Jeff Hammond • September 19, 2012

Leading into the weekend, I knew there was some discontent in the JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series organization. With the recent release of competition director Tony Eury Sr., followed by the release of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. this week, it really seems to me they have determined that the leadership wasn’t working for them, unfortunately.

As far as Danica Patrick is concerned, this could be a challenge for her and the whole organization. I really believe she and Tony Jr. had a good relationship, and I thought he’d done an admirable job of making her comfortable, trying to explain what needed to be done.

It’s going to be a big challenge here late in the season with everything that’s in front of her, not only with the Nationwide Series but with the upcoming Sprint Cup season in 2013, I think she’s going to get a pretty good appreciation of how important communication is, how important it is to be able to deal with what could be a non-productive or not as productive year end as she would expect.

Welcome to NASCAR racing.

It’s very volatile, it’s very unpredictable, and sometimes when you complain about something, a lot of owners make changes very quickly to try to either appease the driver or appease the sponsor.

For a driver and crew chief, learning each other’s language is a challenge at best.

That’s one of the things that I’m concerned with. Having listened to Danica on the radio with Tony Jr., I thought, again, they communicated well, and I didn’t detect a lot of frustration from her.

Whoever gets this job permanently, this position at JR Motorsports, will have their hands full. Whether it’s Ryan Pemberton, who has been named the interim crew chief, or whether they reach out and bring someone else in who they feel has enough experience or enough tolerance to work with her — it’s not an easy undertaking when you’re trying to teach and, at the same time, produce quality results.

Having worked with a couple of rookie drivers in my career, you don’t know a whole lot about what to expect. People are going to say, "Hammond, she’s already run a season or half a season in Nationwide, she’s got a lot more than you give her credit for." It’s an ever-ongoing challenge.

I don’t care who it is. You bring in any kind of driver. I’ll reach back to another open-wheel driver who was racing in our series. Dario Franchitti, as talented as he is, he struggled communicating with his crew; his success rate was not as high as expected; and eventually he returned to open wheel to do what? Win three championships.

So it’s not an easy undertaking no matter who you are. It’s all about how you’ve been brought up and what you feel behind the wheel of a race car.

For Danica, it’s the learning curve and getting someone in there who when they listen to you talk, not only can they help you, they can tell to what degree you need help. A lot of times, a driver’s inflection, the way he uses his hands, has a big influence on a crew chief to make the right adjustment and how much to make an adjustment.

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