Sunday, May 31, 2009

The CC Shuffle

There has been no news out of the Roush-Fenway camp that there are plans to swap out the crew chief for the 99 car, driven by Carl Edwards. It is likely that there will be no such news, even though Edwards is not living up to the expectations that he earned by being the winningest driver in the Sprint Cup Series last year. His crew chief, Bob Osborne, was switched to another team in 2007, and Edwards had a lackluster season that year, but with Osborne back in 2008, he had a stellar season. Deep in a twelve race slump this year, it is not expected that there will be any changes to the #99 team as far as the driver or the crew chief is concerned.

In NASCAR racing, it is somewhat difficult to put a finger on what may cause a slump in a team's performance. When there is a continuing slump some change has to be made, and often it is the crew chief. who takes the responsibility, whether he deserves it or not. Richard Childress Racing recently swapped the crew chiefs for the #29 and #07 teams, hoping to spark something, or at least learn something. It is too soon to see the effect of the swap, but, so far, it has had the effect of bogging down the performence of the entire RCR camp. However, the swap will help the organization to pinpoint where their problems are.

Dale Earnhardt Incorporated tried switching the entire teams between the #8 and the # 15 cars in 2006, and the result was a disaster. Dale Earnhardt, Jr had had an impressive record up to that point, but, even after the teams were switched back for 2007, he has failed to achieve the level of performance he had prior to the switch.

Part of the problem could be that Junior has yet to get the hang of the still new Cup car, or COT, as the media continues to call it. They have only been in that car for a year, and many drivers have had a hard time adjusting to the handling characteristics--good drivers such as Earnhardt, Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth. In fact, it seems that the drivers who made the trasistion best are drivers who drove USAC sprint cars, excelled in the Truck Series, or began their careers in modifieds--cars that don't have the downforce of the ARCA, Nationwide, or the former Cup aero-cars. Earnhardt, Jr has always been a stock car driver, and always during a time when the downforce is measured in thousands of pounds, rather than the mere hundreds of the COT.

This is not to say that the crew chief isn't important. Jimmie Johnson without Chad Knaus would likely be David Stremme--a very talented driver who has a knack for being where the trouble is while running in the pack. Chad Knaus has been very instrumenal in getting Johnson out of that kind of trouble, repairing the damage and set backs, and giving him the opportunity to win three, maybe even four, consecutive championships.

We are not saying that Tony Eury, Jr is not a good crew chief. Perhaps with some experience in other parts of the Hendrick organization, he will, some day, be right up there with Knaus, Zippadelli, or Osborne. However, even though he had a lot of chemisty with his cousin, Dale, Jr, it just doesn't seem like the right kind of chemistry for success.

With Lance McGrew coming on board as crew chief for the #88 team there is a new hope among the fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It is a fresh start, that may change Junior's perspective, and hopefully get him back on track. To add to that hope, Kyle Busch talked some smack on Junior at a press conference on Friday, Darrell Waltrip style. That publicity stunt fired up the rivalry, fired up the fans, and should fire up Junior. Kylr Busch wants Junior to prove him wrong. Dale Jr isn't only popular among the fans, he is also very well liked among the other drivers, including Busch. They want to see him back to his winning ways as much as his fans do. Perhaps he will respond to Busch's smackdown with a renewed "I'll show you" attitude.

We can't expect immediate results, but we should see some change in the momentum of the #88 team from negative to positive. NASCAR racing is a team effort, and with the excitement of a new "coach" and team support, we should see an attitude of renewed hope. The fans are encouraged, and, in the near future, we should see some encouraging performance from the sports most popular driver.

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