Redemption for Larry
CBS SportsLine Wire
Daytona Beach, Florida (February 15,
The first person Dale Earnhardt embraced after
ending his personal nightmare Sunday with a victory in the Daytona 500 was crew chief
Nothing could have been more appropriate. Although McReynolds had nothing to do with 18 of
Earnhardt's first 19 defeats in The Great American Race, he was held largely responsible
for seven-time Winston Cup champion's first winless season in 16 years.
He was criticized by many in the huge legion of Earnhardt's fans for not working hard
enough, and lambasted by some for doing television commentary on weekends when there was
no Winston Cup racing.
"I remember there was one particular fan that wrote a letter to the editor of Winston
Cup Scene about halfway through the year that said, `We're really getting tired of seeing
Larry McReynolds on television,' " he said. "He needs to be practicing pit stops
"That hurt me because I know how hard I work. I wanted to get this person's number
and call him one night about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I still had an hour's
drive home and say `Is it OK if I go home now?' "
Despite a highly successful career that included 22 victories with some of NASCAR's top
drivers, McReynolds was considered a flop in his first year as Earnhardt's crew chief with
Richard Childress Racing. Perhaps the focal point was the team's failure last year at the
Daytona 500, when shockingly slow pit stops helped lose the race.
McReynolds regrets that, but offers no apology.
"We made the call on race morning that we would not let guys go over the wall because
of some things that went on the night before," he said. "Just like a football
coach, if you had some teams members that didn't adhere to the rules you would make a call
to leave them at home."
The substitutes performed so badly that Earnhardt was losing about five seconds on every
pit stop. That forced him to overdrive the car, and eventually he flipped on the
backstretch at Daytona International Speedway, the hallowed track that seemed destined to
haunt him forever. He was fortunate to escape without a serious injury.
But McReynolds was determined to improve that situation, and the team began to get better
about the middle of last season. On Sunday, it completed its long journey. Quick stops
helped keep the seven-time Winston Cup champion in front.
"I don't know what he thought was going on after last year," said Earnhardt, who
came into the season-opening Daytona 500 mired in a career-worst losing streak of 59
races. "He came back this winter with the look in his eyes."
It was a look of determination, but McReynolds admitted he had some doubts.
"If you're successful and focused, and you go a through a period where you don't win,
I think there's always this little voice that haunts you," McReynolds said.
"Until you actually do it, there's a little voice that haunts you. Hopefully it went
McReynolds insists that there was no lack of chemistry between himself and Earnhardt
despite reports to the contrary.
"I honestly think there was never a non-click between Dale and I," said
McReynolds, who came to the team in 1997 after several seasons preparing Fords for Robert
Yates Racing. "It was me understanding Chevrolets, understanding what Dale Earnhardt
was looking for in a race car."
Now, all that hard work has paid off.
"It was a tough year last year, but nobody gave up," McReynolds said. ``We kept
pulling together, and it paid off.
"And we pulled that Goodwrench Chevrolet right into Victory Lane today. That's
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