Jun 19, 2012, 12:06 PM EDT
FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. OTB was lucky enough to snag an interview.
His favorite racer to watch in today’s world.
“I love watching Kyle Busch race. You never watch Kyle Busch and question, ‘is he giving 100%?’ You know every lap he makes in his race car, no matter if it’s practice, during qualifying or in the race – that he is up on that wheel giving every ounce of energy he’s got. He’s the only driver we know that can run 3-wide by himself. He can put the car anywhere on the race track. One of the most unbelievable accomplishments I’ve seen him do was what he did in the Bud Shootout in Daytona this year. He was basically about to wreck twice – made some unbelievable saves – and came back to win that race.”
Favorite funny Dale Sr. story?
I worked with Dale Sr. for two years in 1997 and 1998 and even though we didn’t enjoy that much success together we developed a great friendship. We did get the big one – the 1998 Daytona 500 win. And after that win, we all went to Victory Lane and celebrated and spent all this time taking pictures. Once an hour or so goes by, things start winding down and they put Richard Childress (car owner), myself, Dale and Teresa Earnhardt in a police car and went to visit the sponsor and Bill France Jr.’s suite, etc.
Somewhere in one of those suites they gave all three of us cigars – symbolic of victory. I love cigars and Richard Childress loves cigars, but of course we didn’t light them because we were in and out of these suites. But we go back down to pit road and they have all of the television and radio affiliates lined up and we walked down and did interviews one by one. Most of them wanted to talk to Dale and rightfully so, but some wanted to talk to me and talk to Richard. Well, we were doing our interviews and going down the line and I looked over at Dale and he just looked horrible. I looked at him and I said, “Man, you look terrible.” He said, “Man I feel terrible.” I asked, “How long you been chewing on that cigar?” And he said 30-40 minutes! I said, “I think you should stop chewing on it because you actually are green-looking.” We had a lot of fun that day, but I don’t think he was a big cigar guy!
If Dale Jr. will ever get it all together and start living up to his father’s legendary career.
I don’t think Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s goal ever has been to mirror his dad’s career. He certainly wants to mirror the success his dad had but I don’t think he ever looked at his career and thought that he had to walk in the footsteps of his dad. He has worked hard to create his own identity but that’s a lot easier said than done when your name is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
You know, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not forgotten how to drive a race car. You don’t win18 Sprint Cup Series races and two Nationwide Series championships and not know how to drive a race car. I think the biggest thing Dale Earnhardt Jr. has struggled with over the last 4-5 years is ever since we introduced this new car that we race today, back in 2007, it doesn’t give the driver good feedback as to what it’s doing. As Darrell Waltrip puts it, it’s kind of a fickle race car. When the car is challenging to give feedback on it makes it tough on the crew chief and the team to fix it properly for the driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has only won one race in this new car – the Michigan race in 2008 when he joined Hendrick Motorsports.
But I do see a new Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2012. He and (crew chief) Steve Letarte have a year together now and I think Steve Letarte is exactly what Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs. He is a cheerleader and he doesn’t argue with Dale Earnhardt Jr. but he keeps him on his toes. And I think they complement each other well.
I watch the body language in drivers and in people and I’ve seen a difference in Dale Earnhardt Jr. this year. If you look at the last few years, when we would interview Dale Earnhardt Jr. his head was down, he was mumbling, you couldn’t understand what he was saying and you were looking at the top of his ball cap. This year, his head is up, he’s looking in the camera and he’s confident in what he’s saying. And I even heard him say over the past few weeks, “I’m the best driver at Hendrick Motorsports and if I don’t believe that, then I don’t need to be here.”
I think he’s going to win a race this year. If you look over the past two years, his history has been strong in the beginning of the season and then falls off in the middle and the end of the season. When he won that race in Michigan in 2008, he fell off the radar for the rest of the year. If we have this same conversation in July, August and September and they are still competitive and still at top-10 team I’ll be convinced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the best he’s been in several years. And he can take a major step toward doing that with a solid run at Richmond this Saturday starting at 7 p.m. on FOX!
The most stressful part about being a crew chief?
Well, I think the most stressful part is feeling like you’re working as hard as you can work every day – dotting every I and crossing every T, but you still know there’s so much of the outcome you can’t control. You can’t control a blown engine, a tire cut on the track under the green flag, changes in the weather or if the driver is not on his game on a given week.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about broadcasting is I feel like I control a lot more of my own destiny. Now, of course, I have to depend on the production team and the other talent and those involved. But you feel your hard work pays off every week.
As a crew chief I won 23 races; but I lost 447. Does that mean during those 447 I didn’t work as hard? Absolutely not. It just means the stars lined up those 23 times.
Are there enforcers in NASCAR, like in hockey, who put a licking on anybody messing with stars?
I was pretty impressed two years ago when in the Chase (for the championship) Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 race car had a rule infraction in post-race inspection at New Hampshire. Denny Hamlin was in contention for the championship and he was very vocal in the media center blasting the No. 33 team. Kevin Harvick, Clint’s teammate, took it upon himself to go back at Denny Hamlin and in fact they were beating and banging their racecars in practice on Saturday. And the teams even got into a pushing and shoving match after the race at Dover. I thought it was pretty cool that Kevin would stick up for his teammate like that.
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