Hendrick - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

Teleconference Transcript - Rick Hendrick May 28, 2009 An interview with Rick Hendrick MODERATOR (JESSE ESSEX): "Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your time. We understand it's a travel day for a lot of people. "Mr. Hendrick is here, and...

Teleconference Transcript - Rick Hendrick
May 28, 2009

An interview with
Rick Hendrick

MODERATOR (JESSE ESSEX): "Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your time. We understand it's a travel day for a lot of people.

"Mr. Hendrick is here, and he's available to take some questions. First off, Mr. Hendrick, why don't you address the announcement this morning and talk about some of the key players involved in this effort with the No. 88 team?"

RICK HENDRICK: "Thank you, Jesse. Like Jesse said, we apologize for catching people this close to the race, but this decision was just made late yesterday and last night. I want to first say that I've never felt any different about the talent that we had one the team between Tony Eury Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The frustration has been for the fans, the sponsors and everyone involved in the team, especially the team itself. It just seems the harder we work, the further off we get. So it became very obvious that we just needed to make a change, and we talked about it at the first of the week and all day yesterday and that decision was made, and I do want to emphasize one thing -- I've read and heard some stories here that Tony Eury Jr. was fired. That's not true. First, I kind of want to address him. The guy's got tremendous talent. I think a lot of him. I wanted him to be a part of our organization for a long, long time. He has accepted a new role in the R&D department. He's very good at working with SIM and simulation, and his job now is going to be to try and help us win a championship with all the teams and he's looking forward to that. You can talk to him next week. He's going to take a few days, and he will be available next week. But I wanted to clear that up.

"Now I'm going to talk about the folks that are going to be involved with the team that maybe you know, and maybe you don't know. Brian Whitesell has been a team manager and was the architect of the 48/24 team putting it together and growing the 48 team, and he's been involved in the 5/88, but now he's going to be directly team manger of the 88 team. He is an engineer, has been a crew chief. He's won races with Jeff Gordon, one of the most talented guys that we have, and he's been with me for, I think, about 15 years, so we're really going to lean hard on Brian. Lance McGrew will be the interim crew chief, and Lance has done a super job. He has worked with Dale, and they've had success together in the Nationwide car. (Lance) he has won Cup races. He won this year with (Tony) Stewart at Daytona. Lance is a super-strong crew chief and really a field general that does a great job calling a race. We're assigning Rex Stump, who is our lead chassis engineer that works with all the teams. He's going to be there on point working with all these guys. If you remember T-Rex the car that Jeff Gordon won the race at Charlotte with and then it was outlawed -- that's where the name T-Rex comes from. He's our lead chassis engineer.

"We're pulling out all the stops. We're going to do everything we can to get this team to where it needs to be, and I think the thing that I want to say, too, is it's hard to put your fingers on what the problem is or was. We just feel like with all the frustration, we just need a fresh start. I made that decision and Tony and Junior have accepted it, and I think I'll let them speak for themselves, but everybody has said from the very beginning if we need to do it, then let's do it. We've all given it the best shot we could, and the guys that are going to be lined up now on this team, my commitment and every employee and driver and engineer and crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports, I've tapped them all and said look guys we've got to fix this, we've got to all work on it. We've just rolled up our sleeves, and we're going to refuse to lose. We're going to refuse to quit until we get it fixed."

MODERATOR: "Thank you, Mr. Hendrick. We'll now turn it over to our operator and open the floor to questions from the media."

Q: CAN YOU CLARIFY TONY'S ROLE WITH THE R&D TEAM? WILL IT BE SIMILAR TO WHAT LANCE IS DOING? WILL HE BE THE CREW CHIEF WHEN BRAD RUNS?

HENDRICK: "They're just going to swap spots there and that's exactly right."

Q: AND WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT 2002, BUT REALLY 2003-04 AND NOW, DO YOU SEE ANYTHING DIFFERENT? IS THERE ANY QUESTION THAT DALE EARNHARDT JR. IS MENTALLY TOUGH ENOUGH TO GET THIS DONE IN 2009?

HENDRICK: "I believe that Dale is plenty tough enough. He has done everything I've asked him to do. He's on a workout program now. He's engaged with the engineers, and I think the frustration comes when you're trying and it's just not happening. I think a lot of it is just the simple fact that we're showing up and we're just not able to run like we think we should. If testing was allowed, I think we could go figure it out; but for whatever reason we just missed it somewhere. He knows how to drive a race car. He hasn't forgotten how to drive a race car, and he's mentally tough enough, for sure, to get the job done. I've seen this with everybody from Jeff Gordon to Jimmie Johnson. I don't care who you are. When you get in a situation when you just get so frustrated nothing seems to work, and that's why we're going through this change to see if we can't spark some magic. And I wish I could say that it's any one thing over the other. And I think the frustration after Charlotte just reached a point with all of us that we just said let's try something different."

Q: ONE OF THE REAL IMPORTANT THINGS OBVIOUSLY DURING THE RACE IS THE COMMUNICATION THAT A DRIVER HAS WITH THE CREW CHIEF IN TERMS OF GIVING HIM FEEDBACK AND MAKING ACCURATE ADJUSTMENTS. HOW BIG OF AN ISSUE DO YOU THINK THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN THIS SITUATION?

HENDRICK: "I think this car calls for a tremendous amount of adjustments during the race. I've said this, I guess it was a few hours ago, to someone inside our company. I've never listened to a race that the car wasn't off a pretty good amount because of the lack of downforce. The car was designed this way to make it more competitive. You might hit it once in awhile like Mark Martin did at Phoenix, and you're just dead on it and you run the whole race. But I can look back at times at other races when our other cars won this year when we were out in left field, and we worked at it and got it back. A critical part of fixing the car is the communication between the driver and the crew chief, and I think some of the frustration may be that these guys have been together so long in so many situations that another attitude or another way of getting the information. Junior is going to have to adapt to a new way of giving information because he's going to be listening to someone who's asking for the information in a different way.

"That will be a big part of the success going forward. If you've been successful doing something a certain way, you don't want to change much. This is part of this new effort is that Dale's going to have to break the corner down different for Lance and for Brian because they're going to be asking for information in a different way. This is part of the process we're going to start working on this weekend."

Q: COUPLE OF QUESTIONS -- ONE ABOUT REX STUMP. HOW IMPORTANT IS HE TO THE ORGANIZATION? HOW WILL HIS ASSIGNMENT TO THE NO. 88 NOT AFFECT YOUR OTHER CARS? WHY NOT ALLOW EURY JR. TO REMAIN THE CREW CHIEF AND ASSIGN HIM TO THE TEAM IN THAT REGARD?

HENDRICK: "I think if you go back to what Tom said a minute ago, Rex has already been in and around that team. He works with all the teams. He is available as needed. He will still be back at the shop during the week and can answer questions for the guys as they need it. But his focus right now is to help us get this car going. He's a very, very bright individual. He understands these race cars. He has tremendous respect and any, probably most of the stuff we come up with, he's the guy that does it. So, right now we have one boat that has a hole in it, and we've got to fix it. So his effort is going to be there. I don't think it's going to bother the other guys.

"Why we hadn't done this before now is we've given as much as they wanted or needed. I want to say this again, Tony Eury Jr. has been open-minded. He will try anything, he will listen to anyone. He will go get the setup from another team. He has not been stonewalled any of the assets that we have there to use. I think this is a pure and simple situation if you're frustrated and everybody's frustrated and everybody's kind of down. If you go back to play the game with the same deal, you're going to be looking for the same results. We feel like, I feel like, if I shake it up a little bit everybody will stand up a little bit. We'll try some new things; we'll try some different things and I think we'll all be better off."

Q: CAN McGREW WIN THIS JOB WITH A GOOD PERFORMANCE OR ARE YOU GOING TO BE LOOKING OUTSIDE TO OTHER TEAMS OR ELSEWHERE IN THE GARAGE FOR A POSSIBLE PERMANENT REPLACEMENT?

HENDRICK: "Sure he can. We're open. Lance and Junior, or Brian and Junior might be magic. That might work fine. But we're going to keep all options open, and we're going to take it a race at a time."

Q: WHAT WAS THE TIPPING POINT TO MAKE THIS DECISION AND HOW MUCH OF THE PERFORMANCE OF THE NO. 88 HAS TO DO WITH HOW MUCH PRESSURE THEY HAVE PUT ON THEMSELVES?

HENDRICK: "I'll answer that (second) part first. I don't know how Tony Eury Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have managed to function with the pressure that they have on them. I feel a lot of it, but nowhere near the pressure that they do. At least I've got other things that occupy my time, and I can celebrate when one of the other teams win. But the load that Dale Earnhardt carries on his shoulders I would not want. Not for all the publicity, for all the most popular or all the money or whatever it is, I would not want that much heat on me. And the same for Tony Eury Jr. And Tony Eury has had some of the toughest skin to take some of the things that he's taken from fans, media, everybody. And that's why when you guys ask me what I was going to do, I would say I don't know anything to do -- here's a guy and this car was our best car last year and then all of a sudden the wheels come off, and what's the deal. You get behind, you try different things. You go in one direction, but you just can't put your finger on it. I think I'm rambling and going back over it again. Again once you've got all that pressure on you and you've got frustrated and you've got to handle it out in front of the world. You just get wound up so tight that it's hard to do your job.

"I'm hoping what we're doing is going to take some of the heat off these two guys and put some of the heat on some of our other people and let us help them carry that. They're much better than they looked at Charlotte and Darlington, and I think the load and the pressure and the frustration just finally got to everybody till we had to call a timeout. We're getting ready to go to Dover, and we're at the office talking to Doug (Duchardt, vice president of development) and Ken (Howes, vice president of competition) and all our guys, and we're analyzing things and looking back at the setups and said we just can't go through this anymore. For the sake of those two guys. You just can't handle so much, and I think this will take some of the heat off, and we're just going to try a different approach."

Q: HOW WILL YOU EVALUATE WHETHER THE McGREW/EARNHARDT PAIRING IS SUCCESSFUL? SHOULD THEY MAKE THE CHASE? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?

HENDRICK: "There's not going to be any magic wand that's going to turn it upside down overnight but our goal is to make the Chase, and we think we can do it. Some guys are going to have to have some bad luck and we've got run a ton better. We've got to be up there running in the top 10 and top five and going for wins.

"All I can tell you is we're going to do all we can do. And I take more responsibility for this than Lance McGrew or Dale Earnhardt or Brian Whitesell. I can't drive the car and I can't crew chief the car, but we're going to have every soul that's involved in that organization trying to make that deal better. I think we've been in a funk that I can't explain and they can't explain. Nobody can explain. But our goal is to try to get a lot better and make a real run at this chase and get back on track."

Q: WHY DID YOU PICK McGREW?

HENDRICK: "Lance has worked with Dale. He's won races with just about everybody over there including Tony Stewart. Mark Martin has won races with him and Mark has been very complimentary of his talent. He's running Brad this weekend. He's worked with the engineers; he's worked with everybody there. He and Brian have worked together.

"So you've got a situation where I think Tony Eury can have input into the other teams, now he has a tremendous amount of knowledge. He can go run the seven-post for Steve (Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet) or Chad (Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Chevrolet), and he can do things. And it will give him a new goal and a new way to use his talents to help the other guys. I think Lance on the box and Brian as an engineer and Rex are as good as I've got and they all work together. So that is a huge piece of trying to make something work. Junior has worked with him on the radio and he's driven his cars so I think that part of it makes it almost a natural."

Q: DALE EARNHARDT HAS TALKED OFTEN ABOUT HOW MUCH HE LOVED WORKING WITH TONY EURY JR. DOES WORKING WITH LANCE HELP HIM STOMACH THIS?

HENDRICK: "That's a hard question. Success will take care of anything. You love working with someone, but when you're not getting the job done, when it's not working and you become and everybody's kind of scratching their heads then you have to change something. You just can't go back the same way. I talked to Tony this morning. He was bubbly and laughing. Sure they would like to work together, and sure, they're cousins and they care for each other. But both of them want to be successful and I think both of them want to be successful first.

"They're still kind of working together, not in a one-on-one situation. Tony is still going to have input into the company and that car; he's just not going to be there as the voice talking to Junior at the track. These are not people that Junior doesn't know. If this had happened going into our relationship or the first 90 days of last year then he would probably have a hard time with it, but I think he'll adapt and we'll see."

Q: CORRECT ME IF I'M WRONG, BUT I WOULD ASSUME THAT YOU PREFER TO MAKE A CHANGE LIKE THIS PRIOR TO THE SEASON OR TOWARD THE END OF THE SEASON. WAS THERE SERIOUS TALK PRIOR TO THE SEASON ABOUT THIS OR WAS THE START THAT THEY GOT ON LAST YEAR ENOUGH TO GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE THAT THEY COULD TURN IT AROUND?

HENDRICK: "I was convinced a few weeks ago that we were going to be fine. I was in the middle of it with Ken and Doug, our competition directors, the engineers, Tony, Dale -- we all sat down, and we had a game plan. In that meeting I was convinced that we would get it worked out and I told all the people on this call a few weeks ago, and even at Charlotte, that I was convinced we were going to have a good Charlotte.

"This was a situation that I felt like needed to happen. We couldn't wait till the end of the year. I'm repeating myself, but I just didn't feel like it was fair to our sponsors, the fans or those two guys to show up anymore changing nothing. Not going back the same way. We were working our butts off behind the scenes, but it wasn't producing any fruit. That's why I hate doing it this time of year, and I hate having to do it period because I'd rather work things out. My M.O. is to fix it, not change it. But in this case, I thought it was time for that."

Q: IS THE REASON LANCE IS NOT ON THE BOX WITH THE NO. 88 THIS WEEKEND BECAUSE HE WAS SCHEDULED TO WORK WITH BRAD?

HENDRICK: "Yeah and the other thing is Lance has set up Brad's car, the cars are already gone. Brian Whitesell has been right in the middle of setting up Junior's car. The (Nos.) 5 and 88 were almost identical, and Brian has been all over that car. Brian also has been a very successful crew chief. He's the team manager. Rather than ask Lance to get in there with a car he had nothing to do with and try to shoot in the dark while he's got a car he's trying to get in the race, it made more sense to go with Brian."

Q: DALE HAD BEEN SO VOCAL ABOUT STICKING HIS ENTIRE CAREER WITH TONY. HOW DID YOU DELIVER THE MESSAGE TO HIM? WAS IT A SENSE OF RELIEF? HOW DID YOU DO IT?

HENDRICK: "It was a phone call. I talked to him on the phone, and I talked to Tony face to face last night. So we're all going to talk some more, and really you've got to look at it like this -- one of the things that Tony said to me a long time ago is, 'Hey, if I need to do something else here, I will. I just want to be here.' And Junior's willing to do whatever, too. Tony Eury hasn't left the company, and he's still going to be working on Junior's cars in a round-about way. I think that they need the break, and that's the way I talked to them about it."

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin