Tag:Hendrick Motorsports
Posted on: November 24, 2010 11:36 am
Edited on: November 24, 2010 11:37 am

Hendrick Shuffles the Deck

Only two days removed from a fifth straight Sprint Cup Series championship and tenth overall, Rick Hendrick basically blew up his organization.

Hendrick has decided to shuffle every one of his crew chief-driver combinations with the exception of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in an effort to make the entire operation stronger.

The search for chemistry is one of the most daring science experiments in the history of NASCAR.

When the 2011 Cup season rolls around it will be veteran Mark Martin paired with former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Lance McGrew, Jeff Gordon working with Alan Gustaffson and Earnhardt Jr. tied with Steve Letarte. The famous "2-4-8" shop, which has housed the Johnson/Gordon combo for years, will now see Junior's No. 88 squad bunk with Johnson's title winning team while the Gordon and Martin entries work together in another building on the massive Hendrick campus.

Despite Johnson winning six times and an unprecedented fifth consecutive crown, Hendrick was not pleased with the overall direction of the team and the dramatic change of personnel was made.

"This will improve us as an organization across the board," Hendrick said. "We had a championship season but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We've made the right adjustments and I'm excited to go racing with this lineup."

At first glance it would appear the decision to juggle the Hendrick line-up was also made to somehow jump start the performance of Earnhardt, who has been nothing short of a major disappointment since joining the organization three years ago. Earnhardt's quest to win races on a more consistent basis and contend for championships which played into "The Decision" to join Hendrick after he contentious departure from DEI has fallen far short of expectations.

Earnhardt will now have the third full-time crew chief of his Hendrick tenure in Letarte, who follows Tony Eury Jr. and McGrew as the latest hope to find a way to make the No. 88 Chevrolet a contender.

If Letarte thought he was in the crosshairs when he worked with Gordon, he was just fitted for a jacket with a giant bulls eye on the back in his newest gig.

There may not be a more pressure-packed crew chief job at the Sprint Cup level than calling the shots for Earnhardt, and that includes what Knaus, Denny Hamlin's chief Mike Ford and Kevin Harvick's pit boss Gil Martin just went through running for the title in Sunday's Homestead finale. Despite not winning in more than two years and rarely contending for victory lane, Earnhardt remains the sport's most popular figure and in many ways is still the face of the sport. 

Should Letarte can somehow get Earnhardt's Cup career back on track he'll be hailed as a savior to "Junior Nation." But should the same mediocre performance be the order of the day in 2011, he'll more than likely take the blame from the fervent fan base that supports Junior through thick and thin.

My belief is that 2011 is the make or break year for Earnhardt and unless the performance is upgraded, and nothing short of multiple wins as well as a Chase berth should be accepted, he'll have a new home by the following season. At that point, Hendrick will have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at trying to get his marketing machine driver to be competitive and if this latest swing doesn't hit it out of the park it will be the third strike.

However Hendrick points out that these changes weren't done solely for the benefit of Earnhardt.

"This is not a Dale Earnhardt, not a move that we made this major of a move because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick said.

Hendrick simply believes his team needed to be "re-energized" and that he had to create a new set of working conditions that would raise the entire organization to the championship-caliber standard he expects.

There aren't many team owners who would have the intestinal fortitude to pull off the changes that sent seismic shocks through the NASCAR world on Tuesday like Hendrick did.

But there also aren't any other owners with ten Sprint Cup trophies sitting on their mantle.

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