Crew Chief Lance McGrew Understands Deja Vu
Heading into the Lowe¿s presents The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 300 Friday night, Oct. 15, at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway, McGrew once again finds himself guiding a rookie driver¿s quest for the NASCAR Busch Series championship.
He meticulously directed tyro Brian Vickers to the Busch Series title last season and is hoping to do the same for 19-year-old Kyle Busch.
McGrew¿s involvement in motorsports has covered the entire spectrum of jobs. He¿s swept shop floors, cleaned team transporters, became a student of shocks, tutored under championship crew chief turned team owner, Ray Evernham, and even got behind of the wheel, racing on dirt tracks in his native Louisiana.
But it is in his most recent¿and unofficial role¿that he has found the most success.
In many ways, McGrew, 36, has become the defacto head of Hendrick Motorsports¿ driver development program.
¿I enjoy working with younger drivers because of their eagerness and enthusiasm,¿ said McGrew, whose three most recent drivers¿Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and Ricky Hendrick were 18, 19 and 20 years old, respectively, when he started with them.
¿The painful part is all the mistakes they are going to make and you just can¿t steer them away from all of them. The toughest part of working with rookies is, there are 10 million things they could do wrong, and the one thing you forgot to tell them about is the thing that bites them every time.¿
McGrew got his first opportunity as a NASCAR crew chief during the 2000 season, working with the Busch Series team co-owned by four-time NEXTEL Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Evernham, and then the next season for Ricky Hendrick¿s full-time ride in the Craftsman Truck Series.
He guided the young Hendrick to his first and only Truck series victory.
The next season Hendrick and McGrew moved to the Busch Series, but Hendrick suffered a shoulder injury early in the season, forcing the team to use several fill-in drivers.
Hendrick made a brief return late in the season, but after realizing he would not be able to perform as he wished, gave up his ride and retired from driving.
When Hendrick got out of the car, the team turned to veteran David Green. With Green at the helm, the team, which had been struggling, sparked.
¿David Green stepped in and showed what this team was capable of. At the time Ricky left, it hurt. Ricky was like a brother to me. Ricky and I are still very close,¿ McGrew said.
¿I didn¿t want anything I was doing to take away from his racing and he did the same thing. He said he felt the deal could be so much more successful with somebody else. He could have just easily sat behind the wheel and turned left. He wasn¿t going to get fired.
¿It was so satisfying to see how he dealt with the whole thing.¿
Hendrick became the owner of the No. 5 Busch team along with his grandfather, ¿Papa Joe¿ Hendrick, who passed away this season.
Green¿s success in the No. 5 showed Hendrick that McGrew and the team had the ability to compete, but now they needed a new driver.
Hendrick tapped little-known Brian Vickers of Thomasville, N.C., who had run a limited schedule the previous season with a family-owned team.
More experienced than a rookie, but still not groomed on many of the Busch Series¿ toughest tracks, Vickers was eager for the opportunity to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.
It didn¿t take long for the McGrew and Vickers combination to produce results. He showed flashes of great potential in early races at Darlington and Texas.
His first victory came in what is still described as one of the best Busch races of all time ¿ last season¿s event at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind. He and Shane Hmiel battled side-by-side, lap-after-lap¿each looking for his first series victory¿until Vickers pulled away with the win late in the race.
¿I had talked to Brian some around the garage. I knew he had a lot of talent. Did I think we would achieve everything that we did? No. I wanted a good, respectful year and I hoped we would win a race,¿ McGrew said.
Vickers added two more wins and eventually captured the Busch Series championship, giving Hendrick Motorsports one NASCAR title that had eluded it during its stellar history.
But after one very successful season, McGrew again lost his driver as Vickers moved into the Cup series in Hendrick¿s No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet.
So McGrew started over¿kind of.
Every member of Vickers¿ Busch team remained and rookie Kyle Busch, younger brother of Cup star Kurt Busch, was brought in to drive.
¿I told Kyle earlier this year, ¿I don¿t mean to put pressure on you, but the team is better this year than last¿,¿ McGrew said.
¿Last year we were developing a new car body, we had a new Busch series engine program. It took us a lot of time to get built up to where we are. I just told Kyle, ¿I think you¿re in a better situation than Brian was last year.¿ ¿
Now, it appears McGrew and the team may have the No. 5 Lowe¿s team on schedule for a repeat championship. They have won five races, including the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway in May, and are battling Martin Truex Jr. in a two-horse race for the championship.
¿I try not to change any of my philosophy at the race track or the shop. Kyle and Brian are different people. They think differently about things, but they are both extremely talented,¿ McGrew said. ¿All Kyle thinks about is racing. That¿s all he knows. You have to try to make Kyle comfortable in the car, just like we had to make Brian comfortable in the car.¿
Busch¿s No. 5 Lowe¿s Chevrolet will sport a special SpongeBob SquarePants paint scheme for the Lowe¿s presents The Sponge Bob SquarePants Movie 300 on Friday night, Oct. 15. Tickets for the 300-mile event start at $17 and are by calling the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455- FANS.