Hendrick Motorsports' shuffling of crew chiefs for three of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams was not aimed only at helping Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebound from his long slump, team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday.
"This was not a move we made because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick told reporters on a conference call. The whole organization "just kind of got complacent, and other teams were just getting stronger and stronger," he said.
Hendrick announced Tuesday that Earnhardt would now be paired with Steve Letarte, who had been Jeff Gordon's crew chief. Lance McGrew will move from Earnhardt's team to be Mark Martin's crew chief, and crew chief Alan Gustafson was moved from Martin's car to Gordon's.
Jimmie Johnson, who won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup title on Sunday, stays with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. But Hendrick said even Johnson's team "was off" at times this season.
"We need to be better across the board," Hendrick said. "We’re going to get better; we’re going to work harder. I thought it was time to shake it up a bit."
Hendrick finished 1-2-3 in the Cup standings in 2009 with Johnson, Martin and Gordon, respectively. But this year, Gordon finished ninth in points, Martin was 13th and Earnhardt 21st. None of those three drivers won during the 36-race season this year.
Earnhardt, in fact, has gone 93 races since his last win in 2008, even though Hendrick in mid-2009 replaced Earnhardt's then-crew-chief, Earnhardt's cousin Tony Eury Jr., with McGrew.
"Sometimes it just gets to a point, the frustration sets in and it just can’t work," Hendrick said. "It doesn’t mean that Dale is not a good driver or Lance isn’t a good crew chief. It just got to the point where it was not working, and we needed to do something different.
"One of things I want to do before I hang it up is I want to make sure I give [Earnhardt] everything he needs to get the job done," Hendrick said. "It’s not for lack of effort on our behalf or a lack of effort on his. The pressure is there, I accept it."
Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) leads Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Nov. 14 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire