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Earnhardt Jr Gets New Crew Chief In HMS Shuffle

[1]Two days after the Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Rick Hendrick shuffled his crew chief lineup, moving Steve Letarte from the No. 24 and driver Jeff Gordon to the No. 88 and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Lance McGrew, Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief this season, moves from the No. 88 to the No. 5 and driver Mark Martin, who will be entering his final year at HMS in 2011. Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Martin this season, moves from the No. 5 to the No. 24 with Gordon.

The only crew chief-driver combination left in tact was that of five-time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said:

This will improve us as an organization, across the board. We had a championship season (in 2010), but we weren’t where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We’ve made the right adjustments, and I’m excited to go racing with this lineup.

Earnhardt Jr is  coming off a 21st-place finish in the points, and his second consecutive season missing the Chase. While Letarte and Gordon have won only one race in the last three seasons, Letarte has helped guide the team to the Chase in each of those three seasons.

As a part of the re-alignment, the No. 88 shop will be housed with the championship team of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. The No. 24 and Gordon will move to the same facility as Martin and the No. 5.

Hendrick plans to discuss the shakeup on Wednesday discussed the move in more detail on Wednesday. In an Associated Press [2] article, Hendrick said:

This was not a Dale Earnhardt – not a move that we made, this major of a move, because of Dale or his situation. I am excited about making all four teams better. We need to be better across the board. We are not going to leave any stone unturned. … A tremendous amount of thought went into it, and it was not a (decision) from the hip. It’s not one of those things that you can vote on; it’s one of those things you have to pull the trigger and go do it.