DOVER, Del. - Predictably, the crew chief change for Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a much-discussed topic yesterday at Dover International Speedway. An owner doesn't switch crew chiefs with NASCAR's most popular driver and then go about his business without any attention on the team.
Earnhardt is 19th in the Sprint Cup points series, 203 points out of the 12th and final qualifying position for the Chase.
Earnhardt has 18 Cup wins, but only one in 48 races with Hendrick Motorsports.
On Thursday, Rick Hendrick relieved Tony Eury Jr. of his crew-chief duties with Earnhardt. Team manager Brian Whitesell will guide Earnhardt in tomorrow's Autism Speaks 400 race. Starting with the Pocono 500 on June 7, Lance McGrew will serve as interim crew chief.
"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," McGrew, 41, said yesterday. "It's going to be extremely challenging and require a lot of work. Constantly being under the microscope, having millions of people list to what you say on the radio [during races], obviously you have to be aware of that."
McGrew and Earnhardt worked together for a few races last year when Earnhardt's crew chief in the Nationwide Series was suspended. In 2003, McGrew won the Nationwide with Brian Vickers.
"I think Lance has a great attitude and [he] is a pretty tough guy," Earnhardt said. "He tells you like it is and he doesn't really pull any punches."
Whitesell, who won two races as Jeff Gordon's interim crew chief in 1999, was complimentary toward Eury.
"Tony and the entire team is very talented," Whitesell said. "What wasn't working was, we just weren't getting the results. The equipment is there, so I feel personalities and the fact of them being family may have been a factor [Eury and Earnhardt are cousins].
"A big part of the reason for the change is to do something different. We don't know exactly what is going to work, but we're going to make sure that something does."
Eury is staying with Hendrick Motorsports in research and development.
What if Earnhardt is part of the problem?
"If [Earnhardt] doesn't run well, then [McGrew's] going to be the problem again," Kyle Busch said. "It's never [Earnhardt]: It's always the crew chief."
Asked whether he was surprised by Busch's comments, Earnhardt said: "Not really, that doesn't really surprise me what Kyle says. He's always had a chip on his shoulder for me. I expect anytime he gets an opportunity to throw a jab in there he's going to do it. That's just his personality."
As expected, the improvements on pit road at Dover are receiving favorable reviews from the drivers. Pit road was extended into Turn 4, the pit boxes are 4 feet longer and the pit wall is closer to the track.
"It's going to be a better atmosphere for everybody," Kurt Busch said. "When I saw the photos [of the improvements] I said, 'Way to go guys.' "
Greg Biffle also is happy to see the improvements, but is taking a wait-and-see approach: "Once we get into competition and we're racing off pit road, then we're really going to see the difference."
Coming off his first career Cup win, Monday at the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's, David Reutimann won the pole for tomorrow's race with a lap of 156.794 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 22nd . . . The trucks race was rained out and rescheduled for 6 p.m. today, after the Nationwide race. *