Wednesday, April 2, 2008

DEI crew chief swap

When you win six races in a season and are a championship contender like Tony Eury Sr. was this year with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and you are moved away from the crew chief position, that's scary. With the level of competition in Nextel Cup today, it's a tough challenge and an accomplishment to win just one race much less six races.

I would have to believe it was a joint decision made by Dale Earnhardt Inc. executives like Teresa Earnhardt, Richie Gilmore and others. Even though they had an awesome season, inconsistency still existed as it has almost every year with the Budweiser team. They'll win a race and then finish 30th the next week. Then they'll win two races, and then they'll be back in 25th. With the way the Chase is structured, consistency — as champion Kurt Busch demonstrated — is still the key in those final 10 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won two races in the final 10, and Jimmie Johnson won four, but consistency — even over just 10 races — is still what it took to win the championship.

After five years, DEI saw that the chemistry just was not there to be consistent and take the team to the next step — winning a championship. Like Richard Childress showed when he switched Kevin Hamlin and me in 1998 and Jack Roush showed a couple of years ago when he swapped Pat Tryson and Jimmy Fennig, DEI knows it has talented people. When you win six races, obviously the crew chief knows what he's doing. They just wanted to try something a little different.

The goal is consistency for the 8 car so it can really contend for a championship. In Busch and Cup, Earnhardt has never worked with a crew chief and car chief other than Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. They've been there since the day Earnhardt started running Busch, and they won two championships together. But Pete Rondeau has an engineering mind which may be what Earnhardt needs.

I get the feeling that Dale Jr. is a lot like his dad. He'll go out there and drive the wheels off of the race car, but he's not going to give you a lot of feedback on the race car. He's definitely not going to give you remedies to fix the car. With an engineering background, Rondeau will complement Earnhardt. At the same time, the 15 car is on the hot seat. Maybe some freshness with Tony Jr. and the confidence the Eurys have gained with their success will help turn around Michael Waltrip's team.

In the perfect world, no different than when Childress made that first swap even though nobody had ever thought of doing it, you fix both programs. But in the halfway-perfect world, the DEI change should at least fix one of the teams. Nobody was really hired and fired. Richard "Slugger" Labbe resigned and moved to Evernham Motorsports, but otherwise, DEI just moved around people to try to make a change.