Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s passion shows how far his No. 88 team has come

March 24, 2010|By Tania Ganguli On auto racing

Dale Earnhardt Jr. screamed into his radio at Bristol like he often does, but the tone of his shouts this time around was different from a year ago.

He wasn't screaming out of frustration that the rest of his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports were so far ahead.

He wasn't frustrated by his car's inability to keep up.

No, those things no longer apply. Instead Earnhardt screamed profanities into his radio because a speeding penalty stymied an otherwise strong day for his team. Then crew chief Lance McGrew screamed right back at him, telling him not to "lay down."

"I can't lay down here," Earnhardt said over his radio. "This is Bristol. I don't ever (expletive) lay down. Don't ever say that again on the radio. Don't need the whole world hearing that."

It's not a sign of a problem brewing in the shop that Hendrick Motorsports spent all winter revamping. It's a sign things are going exactly as they should.

Some who were listening to Earnhardt's in-race radio thought Earnhardt was angry with McGrew.

Not so, according to Earnhardt.

"When we're running pretty good and you can almost reach that top-five, or see yourself almost in a position to get a win, and it gets snapped away from you that quick, man, it's hard to bite your tongue," Earnhardt said. "Running my mouth, that's my pop-off valve. It gives me a little bit of relief so I could get back to what I was doing. It's open for interpretation, I guess."

Earnhardt's speeding penalty sent him from fifth place to 25th Sunday and McGrew was exactly right. Earnhardt knew he had the car to get back into the top 10. Because he knew that, he put everything he had into getting it there, and he finished seventh.

Now Earnhardt is eighth in points overall, higher than he has been in 48 races. He's not falling behind his teammates. He's right there with them.

"He trusts me enough that he values what I have to say and the team," McGrew said after the race. "It's not a one-man band here. It took a lot of work for this team to get stronger in the offseason to where he's confident, 'Hey, the car's good enough where I can get back to the front.' Not, 'OK I was carrying it before, now I have no track position and I'm totally screwed.' "

Success breeds trust for the No. 88 shop.

"People respond to different things," McGrew said. "Until you have a level of trust in me and I have a with him, he's just going to doubt everything you say. He's kind of skeptical about everything. If you have talked to him much, you probably have realized that. It took a while for our relationship to get to where we could talk to each other with respect."

tganguli@tribune.com

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