Continued from part 1 Q: JUNIOR SEEMED DEJECTED AT CHARLOTTE. DOES THIS TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OR, IF YOU CHANGE CREW CHIEFS, DOES IT PUT THE PRESSURE ON HIM FOR COMMUNICATING AND DRIVING THE CAR AND IT BEING ON HIS SHOULDERS? HENDRICK: "I'm...
Continued from part 1
Q: JUNIOR SEEMED DEJECTED AT CHARLOTTE. DOES THIS TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OR, IF YOU CHANGE CREW CHIEFS, DOES IT PUT THE PRESSURE ON HIM FOR COMMUNICATING AND DRIVING THE CAR AND IT BEING ON HIS SHOULDERS?
HENDRICK: "I'm hoping that it's going to give him a spark to work with the new person with new ideas, and I've heard him work with other crew chiefs in our group and the Nationwide cars. I think he's going to take this opportunity to step up even more than he has to. Let's face it. Whether it's Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson or whoever it is. They are the guy that leads the team, and when they tell the team, 'Hey guys we can get this done,' -- that's going to rally the guys. I'm not saying he would have raised his hand to say it's time. I'm not saying that at all. He's bound to have some reservations about it, but at the end of the day, we'll never know unless we try something. If we stay like we are, we'll never know and this way we're going to start eliminating things and we're going to get results."
Q: WILL THIS CREATE SOME OPTIMISM?
HENDRICK: "Again, nothing will make anybody feel any better than running well, and I was convinced we could go to Charlotte and run good in that all-star race, and then we'd go into the 600 and run really well so that would give us the spark to ignite us and get on a roll and go forward. But that didn't happen. You can have all the pep rallies you want, but until you win a game it's hard to show up thinking you can. At the beginning of the year, everybody thinks they can win the championship and everybody's focused on winning races. We're trying to start over again and give all of us a little spark to make our organization better or make that team better, give Tony some relief where we can use his talents, and he's not beaten down and Junior gets excited about something a little bit different. Hopefully it will make us all take a deep breath and step just little bit harder. If it backfires, I'll take all the blame."
Q: YOU HAVE A LONG HISTORY WITH TONY EURY JR. DOES THAT MAKE THIS MORE DIFFICULT OR EASIER TO HANDLE BECAUSE YOU'VE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR SO LONG?
HENDRICK: "I think in a way it made it a little bit easier because Tony knows when I told him I wanted to be with this company, he knows that. He knows I'm not just saying that, and I do care about him a lot. If it weren't for his granddad, I probably wouldn't be in this business. I think the world of him, and he's a very smart guy. He can be a contributor to our organization. To me, it hurts me to see those two guys as frustrated as they've been, and I can't help them. You can see it in their faces. I've seen it again. I'm repeating myself but I've seen Jeff Gordon get out of the car and throw his hands up, and I've see Jimmie Johnson do it. We had some kind of spark to get the car back to running good and everybody feels better about it and everybody's confidence is back. If you'd asked me three or four weeks ago if there was any doubt that this would turn around, I'd tell you absolutely without a doubt. But Monday, we were pitiful and all of us were embarrassed. But Tony is part of the family, and he will always have a job with me as long as I'm racing if he wants it. And he says he does, and I'm excited about it. He is very, very good in this area. He likes this area, and there will be no pressure on him. I'm excited about seeing him smile and laugh and be Tony again."
Q: WHEN DALE EARNHARDT JR. FIRST CAME OVER TO HENDRICK, YOU MADE A BIG DEAL ABOUT THE PRESSURE ON YOU. HOW MUCH PRESSURE WERE YOU FEELING IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS? DID THE SPONSORS PUT PRESSURE ON YOU FOR A CHANGE?
HENDRICK: "The question that you hear on Monday and Tuesday is 'What's wrong? What can you do to help us?' Clearly they were not happy with the way that we're running. The pressure I thought I would have having these guys -- I was concerned with having to manage Dale Jr., the superstar. I thought that was going to the pressure. I never thought it would be a competition or a failing to run good pressure. He's been unbelievable. I haven't asked the guy to do one thing that he hasn't done. He has fit in like a glove. That part I worried about was nothing to worry about. This pressure is the worst kind of pressure because the better you have teams do and then you have a team falling behind, then the world feels like you aren't paying attention to it. I take that personally. Then you've got the pressure of it's Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in the sport and the guy that the sponsors have endorsed and he's endorsed them. I can tell you this is the most pressure that I've felt in racing since I don't know when. Hopefully we're going to ease some of that in the weeks to come."
Q: DOES THIS DECISION BRING RELIEF?
HENDRICK: "Now I've got a new kind of pressure of whether I made a mistake. I feel relieved because I feel like we've got a new direction, and I've challenged everybody to let's go get it done. I'm confident we will. And I just feel like I have at least given everybody an opportunity to take a deep breath and they won't be talking about it. And the media won't be writing about the cousins fighting and the cousins this and the cousins that. We won't have that to talk about. We'll just have to talk about whether I made a mistake or not. I think this is going to help us all go to the track with a little bit of relief. The pressure's going to be there, but I think we're motivated that we're at least trying to do something different."
"For the record these are the hardest questions you guys have ever asked me."
Q: THERE'S NO DOUBT JUNIOR IS THE MOST POPULAR DRIVER IN NASCAR. BUT HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR NASCAR TO SEE HIM PERFORM BETTER? AND THE OTHER QUESTION I HAD FOR YOU WAS, IF THEY DON'T MAKE THE CHASE THIS YEAR, IS IT POSSIBLE THAT BASICALLY THEY CAN START BUILDING FOR NEXT SEASON?
HENDRICK: "Jeff Gordon has missed the Chase, too, and I keep using Jeff as an example, and I know Jimmie has sweated through making it. I think the change we've made is an effort to run better. To run better we should have a shot at making the Chase. If we miss the Chase, I've got to see some real momentum in this team before the end of the year. I can't go into the offseason thinking it's ok and we'll be good next year. It's the same thing I said earlier. You've got to see some improvement or you've got to change something and NASCAR needs Dale to run well because he's got a tremendous following. We need him to run good because he's in one of our cars and the pressure on me is that he could have gone anywhere he wanted to go. He picked our place to come. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on me to get the job done. I don't ever want to let anybody in our company down. I feel that. I will do whatever it takes to get him where he needs to be.
Q: WHAT WAS DALE JUNIOR'S REACTION TO THIS? WAS IT A WEIGHT OFF HIS SHOULDERS? ALSO, REX STUMP WAS IN CHARGE OF THE COT DEVELOPLMENT -- WHAT ARE YOU PULLING HIM OFF OF?
HENDRICK: "He's (Stump is) always working on the future and one of the things that has happened -- with no testing and NASCAR not changing the car -- we don't have quite as much to do with the really out-there development that he had to do with this car, and right now it's a good time for him to jump on this project. We've used him before, we just never told you guys. We put him in situations and we sent him with other teams. He's been with Chad, he's been with Jeff, and he's been with Alan. He's been doing this kind of behind the scenes, but this is different. This is going to be showing up there with them at the track and going through the process of getting the car ready.
"And the other question (about Earnhardt's reaction), I can't answer that. I think you have to ask him that. I think he's probably got mixed emotions, and he and Tony and I have had this conversation at the end of the year -- we had it a few weeks ago. Probably three or four weeks ago and both of them said, 'Hey if you think we're better off apart, then you've got to tell us that,' and I promised both of them, when I get to that point, I'm going to tell you. And I got to that point, and I told them. I think 24 hours after I told them, both of them feel a little bit better, actually Tony was laughing excited, and I think Dale was looking forward to getting to Dover. He's not looking forward to the media as much as the race, but I think both of them feel a little bit of relief."
Q: WHY IS McGREW LABELED AN INTERIM CREW CHIEF? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU DO FOR ALL CREW CHIEFS MID-SEASON?
HENDRICK: "I think because we made a bunch of changes and we're shifting people around, that's just standard. If we were at the end of the year, beginning of the year, and we've all had a chance to look back at our record and say, 'Yeah this is what we want to do,' then we'd put it in stone. This is just kind of standard procedure for us mid-year change. This is kind of how we approach it."
Q: WILL McGREW KEY IN UPON EURY'S NOTES OR WILL HE START FRESH?
HENDRICK: "I think the good news about our organization is there's a file on each car from each race of every adjustment that was made and how they work and why they didn't work and the Monday morning debriefs. He's got all that to lean on, but again, I think this sport changes from week to week from tire to tire from pavement to pavement and what you've had doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work the next time you go to the racetrack. So we're going to draw off the other cars and we're going to draw off their knowledge and we're going to have a baseline off what we have. Then we will adjust accordingly, and I hope I answered your question. But they know every adjustment that was made to each car during the practice and the race, so he's got all that information that he can pull from."
Q: HAVE YOU AND LANCE TALKED ABOUT AS LONG AS YOU SEE POSITIVE IMPROVEMENT, HE'LL STAY AS THE INTERIM?
HENDRICK: "I think it's a situation that we just don't know. The chemistry is so important and Lance has been a great asset of our company. He has been the guy that's like that -- you could put him anywhere and he-could-do anything-kind-of-guy. And he's shown us that he's got tremendous talent -- he's taken a car and won Daytona; taken a rookie (Brad Keselowski) in his first time at Darlington and run seventh and been competitive throughout the race. But at the end of the day, they've got to mesh, and they've got to like working together, and there's got to be good chemistry. We're just going to take it and I'm not meaning one race at a time. It could be three races, five races, the end of the year. We'll just see how things progress."
Q: ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE REAL-TIME INVOLVEMENT ON THE BOX OR ARE YOU JUST GOING TO MAKE NOTES AND HAVE A MEETING BETWEEN THE THREE OF YOU TO EVALUATE?
HENDRICK: "I don't get involved in trying to second guess the guys that are trying to call the race. That's not my job. But when you look at that team -- there'll be four engineers there plus Lance, and those guys know what they're doing, and they can figure it out. With me it's more about chemistry and how they're performing, preparing the cars, showing up at the track and how it's flowing. Then we'll look at the results, but I don't try to make calls on the box, so I won't be doing that Sunday."
Q: HAS THE ADDITION OF MARK MARTIN ADDED PRESSURE ON EARNHARDT?
HENDRICK: "I think Mark has put a little pressure on all our guys. He's been a big contributor because he's got so much knowledge of the car, and he sets a tremendous example for the drivers from a standpoint of taking care of the crews, knowing how to adjust the car, what's important and how to run a race. Jeff Gordon told me this a year ago when I talked with him about Mark coming on board. He said 'Hey, he'll make us better.' Anytime you've got three cars that are running good and you're not there, it's a lot of pressure. And a year ago about this time, Junior was our best car, and Alan was feeling the pressure because he and Casey (Mears) weren't performing, and it was working on him a ton. When you're in a four-car team and you're the bottom car, it's a lot of pressure. His performance has added a little pressure, but I'd say what he's brought to the table has more than just made up for the pressure."
Q: HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IS KNOWN FOR ITS TEAMWORK. WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A TYPICAL HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS EMPLOYEE?
HENDRICK: "I think it's a lot of the times it's the individual and again with Tony and Tony said and meant it, 'If you think I should do something else, just tell me, but I want to be with the company.' And Alan Gustafson said that a year ago, and we work hard to take care of those folks and show them that we care about them. We're going to take care of them and hopefully create a work environment where they feel like they want to be involved, and they don't want to have to leave to go find something else. We work hard in that area and the loyalty pays off a lot. There's time and time again we've had guys that would step up. A Darian Grubb when Chad was not able to go to the track; just different people along the way have taken the challenge and don't mind stepping back and doing something different. We try to promote that -- yeah, Dale Junior and Tony Eury were the two with the (No.) 88 team but really over 200 people cosigned that note, and we all feel like we've got a responsibility to make that deal work.
"I can't tell you exactly how it's generated, but I'm proud of our people for rallying and when Mark Martin calls and says, 'What can I do?' And so does Jimmie and Chad and Steve -- they all want to do what they can to help. I'm very proud of that and I feel like that's one reason we've been as successful as we have."
Q: DID YOU CONSIDER GOING OUTSIDE OF THE ORGANIZATION TO FIND A NEW CREW CHIEF?
HENDRICK: "Absolutely. I'm open to talented people. Tony came from outside so yeah. I'd look at folks from the outside, but we had to make a decision based on what we know. The reason we went inside, I think Lance is an excellent guy, and I know that he and Brian and Rex together make a pretty strong tandem. You can't go out and find that kind of talent. But yeah, I'm not opposed to somebody from the outside. We'll just have to see."
Q: DOES IT TAKE A SPECIAL PERSONALITY TO BE DALE EARNHARDT JR.'S CREW CHIEF BESIDES THE THICK SKIN?
HENDRICK: "I don't know. I'm not trying to be smart, but I don't know. We haven't tried it. I've listened to him with other crew chiefs, and he does a good job with them. Certain drivers like crew chiefs to give them information in a certain way. But I think Junior is wanting to do good, and I don't think he's going to be set in his ways as the way the crew chief has to act or react. It's always a learning experience when you make a change. If I sat here and told you I knew how this was going to turn out, I'd be lying to you. But we have got too many talented people, and he has too much talent for us to fail. Now saying that, we'll just have to tune it every week."
Q: JUNIOR HAS A UNIQUE WAY OF COMMUNICATING WITH TONY EURY JR. HOW WILL HE HAVE TO ADJUST HIS APPROACH AS A COMPETITOR WITH SOMEONE ELSE ON THE BOX?
HENDRICK: "I've seen him adjust to a different voice on the radio. We're all looking for some positive results, and he wants to run well. And he will be a team player, and he knows the effort that we're putting into this and he's going to do his part. I'm not really concerned about so much personalities and how they mesh. I do know that Lance and Brian Whitesell can just about get along with anybody, and Dale's not a hard person to get along with. He's a very easy to get along with kind of guy. I feel like the stumbling block for all of us is the pressure associated with Dale Earnhardt Jr. I'm doing my very best to tell these guys, 'Look, we're going at something totally new. Let's just roll our sleeves up as a team. No one person is going to carry this thing. We're all going to do it together and we're all going to make some adjustments and we're going to go out here and get the job done.' So I've just got faith in the organization and faith in Dale Junior and these guys that we will make the team better and show some improvement or a lot of improvement and tweak it week to week. It's almost like you've got to go to school or you're having to do it under the watchful eye of the world. But this is a professional sport and we're supposed to be pros and we're supposed to be the best when you get this level. We're supposed to be able to handle a certain amount of pressure. We're big boys, and we've just got to go get it done."
MODERATOR: "Mr. Hendrick, thank you for being so generous with your time today. We appreciate all the time with the media, and we'll look forward to seeing everyone this weekend at Dover."
HENDRICK: "Thank you, folks."