Thursday, July 31, 2008

Champion Teams Vs. Also Rans

First of all, forgive me. As a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I feel like I must make a few comparisons between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

The two drivers are teammates this year. The drive the same races, so it's doubtful that either one of the above mentioned drivers get to hear much of the radio conversations that go on throughout the race between driver and crew chief. Of course I mean they don't get to hear what the other guy is doing, most of the time.

Jimmie Johnson is a 2 time Cup winner who has an almost magical relationship with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Jimmie and Chad almost seem to complete each others sentences on the radio. Chad has the ability to anticipate Jimmie's wishes for making the car run better. Such is not always the same for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr.

Dale Jr. has not always been known as the greatest of communicators on the race track. It's little wonder, because he's a very busy man out on the track. Dale Jr. gives feedback on the car, but sometimes it appears to me that Tony Jr. is making an educated guess at best about how to adjust the car the next time Dale Jr. pits. Sometimes Tony Eury Jr.'s decisions help Dale Jr. Sometimes they don't. Chad does much the same thing, but it would appear that most of the time, Chad's adjustments work to the benefit of the 48 team, while somewhat more frequently, Tony Jr.'s adjustments work to the detriment of the 88 car. All racing is a fine line between getting the car right and not quite hitting the mark, but Chad and Jimmie have an advantage here, it would seem, because Chad almost always makes the car better, it would seem.

I'm walking a fine line myself here, because Dale Jr. currently runs 2nd place in points, which is better than Jimmie or Jeff Gordon or the forgotten member of Hendrick Motorsports, Casey Mears. Dale Jr. is certainly running much better this year than he has over the last couple of years at Dale Earnhardt Inc. That is beyond dispute. But I fear that Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. lack the communication to seal the deal with a Cup this year. I hope, desparately, that I am wrong, but I just don't see the cohesiveness on the 88 team that I'm seeing on the 48 team so far. The situation is much improved, but there's a couple of places where they just don't seem to be clicking along on all cylinders.

Driver and crew chief disagree over the number of tires to be taken on a pit stop. Net result, lots of track position lost, and not enough time to make it all up.

Driver and crew chief not clear over what will be done in the pits. Driver expects more time, and subsequently leaves the pit a fraction of a second over when he would have, had he known all the details.

I've seen a little bit of all of this so far this season on the 88 team.

I'm proud of my favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and for the job he's doing at Hendrick Motorsports. They are much improved over last year, and they are still a championship contender. I just think that they need to tighten up the communication a little to make it all come together. It's part driver and it's part crew chief. If they get the kind of chatter over the radio that I've listened to between Jimmie and Chad, I think they'll win it.

But they've got to communicate first. The driver, crew chief, and the entire team all have to be on the same page, every single pitstop. There is virtually no room for errors when it comes to winning the Cup. Every person has to be perfect almost every week.

Dale Jr. can win it, but they need to make sure they all know what's going on in the pits.

1 comment:

  1. Jimmie believes in Chad's decisions almost 100%. I wish I could say that about Dale Jr too but he is his daddy's son, and like father, like son. I remember his father going against his crew chief's decisions and suggestions more often than not. Once Dale Jr. lets go of being like that, perhaps he can communicate better with Tony Jr. Just my honest opinion, and nothing else.


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