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Lance McGrew, crew chief #88 – Q&A

31 May 2009

When team owner Rick Hendrick decided to replace Tony Eury Jr. this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got more than a new crew chief - he got a brain trust.

After Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway, Lance McGrew takes over as interim crew chief for Earnhardt's #88 Chevrolet. As additional resources, Earnhardt can draw on Brian Whitesell, manager of the #5 and #88 teams, and long-time Hendrick Motorsports engineer Rex Stump, who designed the controversial T-Rex chassis Jeff Gordon drove to victory in the 1997 all-star race.

Whitesell will serve as Earnhardt's crew chief on Sunday, since McGrew already was committed to working with the #25 Hendrick Chevy driven by Brad Keselowski. Starting next week at Pocono, however, it will be McGrew's responsibility to help Earnhardt bridge the performance gap between the #88 car and the Chevys driven by teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin.

Sporting News' Reid Spencer caught up with McGrew in the Sprint Cup garage Friday morning at Dover…

Q:
Are you ready to go from under the radar to under the microscope?

Lance McGrew:
It's only the most famous driver in the United States of America.

Q:
Are you a candidate for the job full-time?

Lance McGrew:
I believe so. It's not something that I've 100 per cent asked to do, but I think that Mr. Hendrick, in his infinite wisdom, always has a master plan. He has a very unique way of putting the right people together in a situation. A lot of times he can see things far enough out ahead that he'll make the right decision for you.

Q:
Are you intimidated by this opportunity?

Lance McGrew:
Well, I don't know if any crew chief would sit here and tell you it's not a little daunting to have the most popular driver in your stable. It's a challenge. The reason why we do what we do for a living is because, ultimately, we want a challenge. Unfortunately for this business, every Monday morning the report card is out, and we have to jump back on the horse and get ready for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday of the next week. For me, I'm not the most outgoing person in the whole world, and obviously the media blitz is not exactly what I prefer to be doing right now. It's part of the job, and it's something I'll have to work on as well.

Q:
Rex Stump is credited with designing the T-Rex car that Jeff Gordon drove in the 1997 all-star race. Is there room for any of that kind of creativity with NASCAR's new race car?

Lance McGrew:
I think more than anything else, the R&D group in itself -- I feel like that's why Hendrick has really thrived. The simple fact is that Rex was so involved in it (the development of the new car) from the very beginning. We did a ton of testing before this car was ever unveiled, and it shows on the racetrack. Rex has a wealth of knowledge in a lot of areas, and he's a tremendous resource standing next to you when you're on top of the trailer watching the cars go around the racetrack.

Q:
Which perception is more accurate, that all the Hendrick drivers have the same equipment, or that Earnhardt and Eury were running something substantially different from the setups of the other three Hendrick drivers?

Lance McGrew:
Every situation's different. Ultimately, a driver's looking for a 'feel,' and sometimes it takes you down different paths. Jimmie doesn't drive exactly the same thing as Jeff. Jeff doesn't drive exactly the same thing as Mark Martin or any of the three. You can't really say that they were off the page in that regard, because ultimately, everybody's trying to achieve the same thing. The driver's feeling one thing, and the crew chief's making adjustments for how he feels. Sometimes it leads you down the right path. Sometimes it doesn't.

Q:
You've had the opportunity to work with a couple of the most talented, high-profile drivers in the garage in Kyle Busch and now Dale Jr. What do you see as the fundamental differences between the two?

Lance McGrew:
They're apples and oranges. It's kind of hard to make that comparison with anybody, let alone two racecar drivers. They're different people. Kyle's very aggressive. Junior's more methodical, I believe. He's definitely a thinker. He's a racecar driver that thinks as he drives around the racetrack, and he understands the fact that it's a long race, and he's trying to set himself up to be where he wants to be at the end of the race. Kyle definitely wants to lead every lap. If you watched the video from the Coke 600 last week, when he was leading, he wrecked three or four times off Turn 4 but didn't hit anything. You could definitely tell he was driving hard.


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