2010-12-02 / Sports

Shakeup At Hendrick Motorsports

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

On the morning after Jimmie Johnson won his fifth Sprint Cup championship, Hendrick Motorsports announced that three Hendrick teams, all except Johnson’s, would have different crew chiefs.

Jeff Gordon will move from the team led by crew chief Steve Letarte to the team led by crew chief Alan Gustafson; Mark Martin will move from Gustafson’s team to that of crew chief Lance McGrew; and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will move to Letarte’s team.

“It’s not one of those things that you can vote in,” Rick Hendrick said. “It’s one of those things that you have to pull the trigger and go do it.”

“It’s probably one of the most radical moves I’ve made in my years in racing to do this many at one time. When you know the guys – these crew chiefs and drivers, I know well – I felt like the strong personalities, and knowing the motors, chassis and the bodies are all the same, it’s got to be the chemistry inside the team.”

The crew chiefs will keep the cars they have worked with; they will just be repainted and renumbered. The pit crews, for now, will stay with the crew chiefs they were working with at the end of the season.

Steve Letarte said he did not question Rick Hendrick’s decision to move him from working with four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon to Earnhardt Jr., who has struggled the last three seasons at Hendrick under crew chiefs Tony Eury Jr. and Lance McGrew.

“I have 100 percent faith in Mr. Hendrick and the decision he makes,” Letarte said. “I was excited for the opportunity. I was humbled. It’s a task that he has given me that is not a small task, it’s not an insignificant task.”

While Hendrick Motorsports was reorganizing their four teams, the down and almost out Richard Petty Motorsports announced they were downsizing from a fourteam operation to two teams in 2011.

Team co-owner Richard Petty issued a statement on the organization’s Sprint Cup plans. “Richard Petty Motorsports has completed its restructuring process and is now in the process of moving forward. RPM will shift from running four cars to two in the Cup Series and that is never an easy process for the people involved. Currently, we are concentrating on building two solid programs with AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel of the No. 43 entry and Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford. We are very fortunate to have an extremely loyal family of partners and are looking forward to the future.”

Cup drivers banned from Nationwide championship

Nationwide Series teams expect that NASCAR will allow Sprint Cup drivers to compete in as many Nationwide races as they want next year, but that they will not earn points toward the series championship. NASCAR has not announced the change, but Nationwide owners believe that when a driver applies for his NASCAR license prior to the season, the driver must declare whether he is racing for points in Cup, Nationwide or the Truck Series.

“I don’t think the Cup guys are going to be getting points at all if they’re running the Nationwide Series,” team owner Rusty Wallace said last week. “Once they get their license, they’re going to have to commit, do you want your points in the Nationwide Series, do you want your points in the Truck Series or do you want your points in the Cup Series? That’s just a guess.”

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said an announcement would be made in January about the exact changes. The last five years have seen full-time Cup drivers win the Nationwide title, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. Only two races last year were not won by Cup regulars, Justin Allgaier at Bristol and Boris Said at Montreal.

Keselowski and Edwards say they are committed to run full schedules next year, not just to their sponsors but to the crews that work on the cars.

This past week, a tidbit of news in our local newspaper caught my eye.

Ann-Margret was being honored as grand marshal of the Veteran’s Day Parade in Mobile, Ala.

I was not directly involved in the Vietnam War, but I was in the Navy and news about her visits to troops reached me onboard ship in the middle of the ocean.

She helped offset the negative war news, which was brought about in part, by Jane Fonda, who openly supported the Viet Cong.

Ann-Margret traveled to Vietnam with the United Service Organization, better known as the USO, and entertained troops on stage, along with Bob Hope and other Hollywood stars.

“I am genuinely humbled to be chosen to receive the Patriot of the Year award in such distinguished company,” she told the group gathered at a luncheon after the parade. “I’ve always had a deep appreciation for what our military does.

“I can never put into words what it was like looking out from a makeshift stage and seeing so many faces. I remember the applause and the laughter and then we would go home. But those men would have to face another day. You know each of you hold a very special place in my heart. And you represent the America I love and cherish.”

“Freedom does not come cheap and I am grateful for all those who have served their country.” America could use a lot more entertainers like Ann-Margret.

Note: The Sprint Cup Awards Banquet, which is being held in Las Vegas, will be shown Friday, December 3, 2010, on SPEED from 9:00- 12:00 pm/ET.

Racing trivia question. Which former driver was known as “The Intimidator”?

Last week’s question: Richard Petty has 200 Cup wins, the most of any driver. Which driver has the second most number of wins? Answer. David Pearson with 105.

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