Crew chiefs, past and present, weigh in on Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Cont.)
SI.com: When you were given the job with Dale did you think there was a lot of pressure on both of you?
McGrew -- "I think in general there is way too much pressure on Dale, period. He walks around with more on his shoulders than one human should have to deal with. He worries about that. That is part of his focus and that takes away from what he is trying to accomplish. He is always worrying about peripheral things."
Rondeau -- "It wasn't for me. It was more for him than it was for me. I didn't think it was that big of a deal myself. To me he is just another driver. Unfortunately he had the name and that is more pressure on him than it was for me."
Eury -- "No. Whenever we first started working together we were Nationwide racing. His dad and I were really close. His dad came to me and said 'We need to make a race car driver out of this kid. You know how he is. You've been around him.' He was really immature at that time. But we just had fun with it. We went out and did the best job we could, ended up winning two championships and had fun with it. I don't think the pressure ever came until we got in the Cup car in 2000. Even though the pressure did go up a little bit we still ran good and still had fun at it."
Letarte -- "I think the reason people work at Hendrick Motorsports is we put pressure on ourselves. When Dale and I sat down we both had something to prove. We had tremendous desire to improve our performance over the last couple of years. I know Dale was disappointed that he didn't run better than he feels he should have in Hendrick equipment. We both have a very, very high amount of desire. It's like a common thread between us. We know when we go to the race track what our goals are and it definitely helps."
SI.com: How do you compare him with your current driver?
McGrew -- "Mark Martin is probably on the opposite end of the spectrum from Dale Jr. where he is a gentleman racer. He will give you an inch if you need an inch, but he's not going to give you two. The racing in Cup is different than it ever used to be. Everybody is racing from Lap 1 and that means making some aggressive moves early in the race. Some guys are able to do that and some aren't."
Rondeau -- "It's just personality. They are all talented for sure. Some are better than others at different parts of their game and at different levels of their career. Regan Smith is on the upside of his career and he keeps climbing. Every time we go back to the track he gets better each time."
Eury -- "Any of the drivers we have here I can't say any of them are like him. Every Earnhardt that I've had in my car when they sit down in it they had the mindset they could win that race. We didn't go to the race track if we didn't think we could win it. When we left home we left with the intentions that we could win it. I think some of the drivers that we have the last couple years -- Brad Keselowski was more like Dale Jr. than anybody we've had here. He did whatever it took all week long. If he were in town he was in the shop making suggestions. He works hard to make his car as good as he can. I don't think any of the other drivers we have had here are like that. They want to show up at the race track and expect to have the car ready to race and ready to win the race. Even though you talk to them in the meetings that's the end of it -- you don't see them again. That is a lot of the problem with the drivers out there right now."
Eury Jr. -- "It's hard to compare him with Aric Almirola or Danica Patrick or Josh Wise. None of them are at the level of Dale Jr. Aric has a lot to learn, but is a good driver. He has to get some good runs under his belt and get some experience. Danica, it's so new to her. She has an awesome feel, but is totally different from anyone I've ever worked with. Josh is timid like Dale Jr., but his background is he's been on start-and-park cars his whole career. If you wreck that car you don't come back the next week and that is his mentality. We are trying to make him more aggressive."
SI.com: What's it like to have a disagreement with him that gets out in the public? How do you work around that?
Rondeau -- "Everybody is different at the race track than when they are not at the race track. You try to play it so that you talk about it when you are not at the race track -- when everybody's guard is down a little bit when everybody is not intense and exactly what it is focusing on the bad part and not necessarily the good part. When you are away from the track you focus on the good stuff as well as the stuff that isn't going right. It's something you have to work on. It isn't easy. You have good times to talk about stuff and times when it isn't a good time to talk about that so you push it off until it's a good time."
Eury -- "What people don't realize is all crew chiefs and race car drivers have differences. The problem is everything Dale Jr. does is magnified five times. Somebody is always listening; you can't say anything on the radio that somebody doesn't hear so everything is magnified five or six times what any other race driver is. That's been the problem Dale Jr. has had his whole career that everything gets blown out of proportion because of so much attention being put on him and everybody listening."
Letarte -- "We haven't had too many. The best thing we have always talked about is we don't worry about when it gets out in public. I try not to read the media. I try not to answer questions like, 'Dale said this. Can you comment?' My comment is if I hear Dale say it I will comment. We are private people. We have disagreements. We need to have disagreements. We can't always agree. He has to be able to voice his opinion about the race team and I need to voice my opinion. We are adults. We are professionals in our business. We are not afraid to close the doors on the trailer during the weekend or close the door in our office and have some good, heated discussions on how to get better. I think that open communication is a big reason why we are getting better."
SI.com: A lot of people look at his celebrity and overlook what he does well as a driver. Having worked with him what does he do well as a driver?
McGrew -- "He has a unique sense and feel for the car that most drivers don't have. He is very cognizant of the platform of the car, the travel of the car. He feels things in the tires and the chassis that a lot of people don't feel or don't worry about. That is a good thing and a bad thing."
Eury -- "Dale Jr. has a hell of a car control. He's a good race car driver. He gets frustrated real easy. If he goes to the race track and his car rolls off the truck and it runs good he is going to have a good weekend. If your car is way out to lunch and you fight it and fight it and fight it it seems like the weekend gets harder because he gets frustrated so easy. If he has a bad point about him that's it -- that he gets frustrated so easy. I think Steve Letarte has taken some of that away."
Eury Jr. -- "He has an awesome feel and is one of the best guys out there that runs the top lane of the race track. At Daytona there isn't another person out there that is better than him. He has taught people a lot of things in the garage area just by working with him. He is the best drafter out there."
Letarte -- "Everyone in the sport is talented and Dale is extremely talented. He is a student of the game. People underestimate that he understands racing. He has been at a race track since he was a little kid. You would assume all these guys understand racing but there is a big difference. Jeff Gordon is an unbelievable talent. His strength is he is very, very calm and rarely makes mistakes. Dale's talent is he understands how a race should flow. He understands how when you practice at Michigan or Sonoma the track should run this way. His strength is his experience and he should give you great direction throughout a weekend."
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