Dale Earnhardt Jr. and team owner Rick Hendrick both gave crew chief Lance McGrew a vote of confidence Friday in naming McGrew full-time crew chief for Earnhardt's #88 Chevrolet.
McGrew has filled the position since late May, when he took over for Earnhardt's long-time crew chief and cousin, Tony Eury Jr., before the spring race at Dover International Speedway. Since then, Earnhardt's best finishes have been third at Michigan (Aug. 16) and ninth at Bristol (Aug. 22).
The #88 Chevy, however, has shown impressive speed in a number of events, only to have late-race accidents or handling issues deprive the team of top-ten finishes. Earnhardt led 41 laps Oct. 4 at Kansas Speedway before an engine failure dropped him to 36th.
Despite the recent ill fortune, Earnhardt spoke of his alliance with McGrew with optimism.
"I see myself - without looking at the statistics and luck that we have had lately - I can see a lot of improvements in the team and I can see the impact that Lance is making," Earnhardt said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, a track where he has claimed five of his 18 victories. I'm really excited about his chance for me and him to understand what our future is and see how we can improve upon that by being given the opportunity to work together and know we are going to work together."
McGrew isn't one to seek the limelight, but Earnhardt said he didn't have to persuade McGrew to make the move to full-time crew-chief status.
"I didn't convince Lance," Earnhardt said. "I think Lance sees a good race team in front of him. He tells me sincerely that he believes in my talent as a driver and feels like, with the right situation, that we can have a lot of success. Being a crew chief is a very, very tough job and very thankless. 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 on the box. I feel like he is going to make the right calls."
McGrew shares Earnhardt's positive outlook.
"(I'm) given this kind this kind of opportunity to work with Junior, to work for the best organisation - the best racing organisation, in my opinion, in the world - and there are four crew chiefs that get the opportunity to do that. I am lucky enough to be one of them. We have 550 teammates at Hendrick Motorsports bleeding sweat to make this #88 team run as successfully as it is supposed to be running.
"We're heading (in) that direction. This is kind of the time of the year where everybody is looking for direction and hoping you can get a lot of momentum at the end of the season. That's kind of what we are trying to do by setting the record down that I am going to be with the team next year and getting everybody pulling in the same direction."
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News