Everything in place on the team for the 88 to succeed in 2010, so will they?
This year, Dale Earnhardt Jr has commented that he is really enjoying the off-season, and that's....encouraging. I hope he took some time completely away from the race track, to go hunting or skeet shooting, or any number of pasttimes he has said he enjoys. Let's hope with the break he will be ready to get back to racing for wins.
Lance McGrew has been at the shared garage of the 5 and the 88, getting the team meshing, working hard on ensuring Dale Jr has everything in place to win races in 2010. Rick Hendrick announced earlier that his priority is to focus on the 88, the only team at HMS without a win last season, the only team with minimal (nonexistent) success in 2009.
The building that houses the two teams has become a two team garage, rather than a building that houses two separate teams. The vision was to have a more cohesive unit, more like the 24 and 48 teams are, in their building. Adjustments to the two teams have been made, with some of the engineering crew moving over to become primarily 88 crew members, all while keeping the over-the-wall gang intact.
A lot of the names are just that, names, and mean little even to those of us who are fans, but not in the garage with the teams on a daily basis. However, one name popped up that Lance McGrew commented as being a very positive move for Dale Jr. Chris Heroy was the Chief Engineer for the 5 team in 2009, and although he undoubtedly contributed a great deal to the five wins Mark Martin and his team put together last year, he has been moved to the 88 team. His presence will allow Tom Stewart, last year's lead engineer on the 88, to stay home and work on future races, meaning the team should have information for the coming races well in advance. Additionally, Dale has said that he likes working with Heroy, a more extroverted personality than Dale. The two seem to mesh together really well, and that could be exactly what Dale needs to find success on the track.
Dale commented last year that he had found the most success in his career so far with Tony "Pops" Eury at the helm. Pops is Dale's uncle and undoubtedly another father figure, someone Dale would respect and follow as an authority figure. With Tony Jr., who is Dale's cousin, there was more of an equality. Dale wouldn't blindly follow what Tony Jr told him, because he viewed him as an equal. Lance sees this as another positive move, saying
"Dale commented on how much he enjoyed working with him," McGrew said. "Chris is just a real upbeat guy. That goes a long way when you're dealing with somebody introverted like Dale is. You've got to have strong characters around him."
It seems all the pieces are in place for a leap forward in 2010. Is it?
Much is made of the need for Dale Jr to succeed. He is called all number of names, a has been or never been, a no talent driver, and a marketing dream. He is accused of riding on his daddy's coattails, and aspiring to be his daddy. People love him just because of his name, and people hate him just because of his name.
Dale has had all kinds of projects on the go, some completely uninvolved with racing, such as Whiskey River, and others entirely racing related, such as the hiring of Danica Patrick to drive the no. 7 Nationwide car in 2010. It has been said that he is spreading himself too thin, and that he needs to concentrate more on the racing.
JR Motorsports is now owned by Rick Hendrick, Dale, his sister Kelley Earnhardt and cousin Tony Eury Jr. He has, in effect, stepped back from that somewhat. Whiskey River is successful and likely doesn't require his day to day input. It seems Dale only has racing to concentrate on now, and hopefully that will be a good thing.
I only hope he had enough of a break to allow him to refocus and prepare himself for the season to come, because if he isn't aching to get in the car and race, isn't chomping at the bit to fly around that track at better than a hundred miles an hour, it won't matter what moves HMS has made in the shop.