The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: Chase Down To Two? Hendrick Hiring Help? And Bye, Bye McGrew? by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday September 27, 2010

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There Are More Than Two Viable Chase Contenders
FICTION

Coming into Richmond, both Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were dead even with five wins apiece. The storyline was already written; Hamlin scored the victory on his home turf, taking the points lead and the point position as the latest challenger to stand up to the vaunted the No. 48 team. The stage was set… Johnson vs. Hamlin, the title chase that had been talked about since the preseason, was on.

After the aberration that is always the first Chase race at Loudon (only once has the winner of that event become the eventual champion), Dover made clear that Johnson vs. Hamlin is going to be the story of this ten-race playoff from here on out. On the one hand, you had Johnson as the class of the field, even on an off day for his pit crew (the No. 48 ranked sixth in total time on pit road, behind all three JGR entries, Kurt Busch’s No. 2 team, and teammate Jeff Gordon). His win slammed the door on the hopes of many competitors and race fans alike that after struggling at Loudon, the four-time defending champs were suddenly vulnerable.

On the other hand, Hamlin was returning to the same track that ended his title hopes one season ago, a combination of an ill-handling race car and a mental breakdown following a Nationwide Series race that he and his team never recovered from. This Sunday, at a track on which the team was averaging a finish outside the top 25, Hamlin stayed under the radar and out of trouble to run ninth. Instead of being within 80 points of the lead following Dover, which he said was the team’s goal, Hamlin now leads Johnson by 35 markers heading to Kansas.

Sure, there’s five other drivers within 80 points of the lead, and among them Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards were top-5 finishers Sunday. But between Kyle Busch fading late, Kurt having no teammates to lean on going forward, Carl still unable to find the lead and RCR as an organization laying an egg the day after the entire team had an inferno lit under them, yes, the rest of the 12-man field is ready to be written off. Hamlin vs. Johnson will be the story of this Chase.

But, speaking of team issues, be it a lack of teammates or a letdown in performance…

Hendrick Motorsports Is Fielding, Oh, Eight Cars
FACT

Consult any team sheet out there, and Hendrick Motorsports consists of the Nos. 5, 24, 48, 88. Four cars. But that’s ignoring the fact that Stewart-Haas Racing’s Nos. 14 and 39 are all but de facto HMS entries. And that’s ignoring the latest additions to the Hendrick farm system, at least for Dover and likely much of the Chase: the No. 09 of Phoenix Racing and the No. 71 of TRG Motorsports.

A walk down pit road prior to Sunday’s race indicated that the ever-expanding HMS tree had two more branches. TRG’s No. 71 entry, being driven by former Hendrick development driver Landon Cassill, had sticker tires in their pits despite being a start-and-park, and a number of crew members decked out in Stewart-Haas Racing gear that were observed both servicing the car and dismantling the TRG pit box after the team parked for alleged electrical issues after 126 laps (funny how Cassill’s crew chief mentioned to his driver prior to the green to let his team know if they had any misses in the motor).

More notable, though, was the Hendrick presence in the No. 09 pit box throughout Sunday’s 400-miler. Not only did this unsponsored team have a full allotment of sticker tires in their pits, there was also a direct presence of HMS personnel there throughout. The team had what appeared to be a pit coach present in their stall the entire race, with at least one other visit from other Hendrick personnel throughout the afternoon.

Between a partnership with owner Gene Haas (and Tony Stewart) along with giving support to both TRG and Phoenix Racing in various ways, Hendrick Motorsports is using all of its available options to improve during the Chase.

The Phoenix Racing example paints a clear picture of a win-win situation for all parties involved. For Phoenix owner James Finch, his team gets the best in the business offering input on his cars, and likely footing the tire bill (Finch has shown no hesitation to start-and-park when he doesn’t have the money). For driver Bobby Labonte, it means no more start-and-park. And for Hendrick Motorsports, it’s just another way to test more and skirt the rules on ownership limitation.

Is it really too hard to believe that a Hendrick pit coach being dispersed to a part-time race team isn’t just doing them a favor, but scouting and cultivating pit talent in case of injury or a need to sub on the No. 24 or 48 crew? Is it really too hard to believe that for HMS, spending the money to throw a few sets of tires to a former development driver and a former champion in Labonte is worthwhile if they can have two test squads running under race conditions every weekend?

One thing’s for sure; it’s a lot harder to believe that Hendrick Motorsports is just doing TRG and Phoenix Racing a favor.

Lance McGrew Will Not Be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s Crew Chief By November
FACT

Despite their best efforts to test and utilize every resource imaginable, Hendrick’s No. 88 team still continued to flounder at Dover. Any semblance of the momentum that Dale Jr. and his crew had following a fourth-place run at Loudon went out the window, with Jr. spending much of the first half of the race complaining about the tires and how the way they wore was not appropriate for Dover’s racing surface, as well as another ill-handling race car. This lasted until lap 189, when Jr. told crew chief Lance McGrew over the radio, “I don’t want to be talked to today.”

From that point on, the team radio was nearly silent for the next 200 laps, with McGrew obliging the driver’s wishes and taking feedback when it came. It didn’t do much good, with the No. 88 finishing three laps down in 23rd, the only Hendrick (well, HMS) car not to finish in the top 15 or on the lead lap. The story of 2010, played out again, in a drama that’s lasted for well over a year.

Well, push has got to come to shove now. The driver says he doesn’t want to be talked to, and the crew chief obliges? When they’re struggling to score a top 25? It doesn’t matter if this is Hendrick Motorsports or PRISM Motorsports, that’s an unacceptable state of affairs. And that it came on the heels of the team’s best race since the Daytona 500 only underscores the depth of the problem facing the No. 88 team. No matter how much Jr. might not want it, this driver needs an authoritarian on the box that’s going to kick him in the ass.

Call it a hunch, but I feel a change is going to come very, very soon. And the McGrew era of Earnhardt’s career will go out with a whimper, much like the fight McGrew put up with his frustrated driver on Sunday.

Dover International Speedway Will Host Two Cup Races in 2012
FICTION

NASCAR’s estimate for Sunday’s crowd at Dover was 88,000. Yeah, right. Between having sections of the grandstands closed and thousands of seats covered by tarps advertising Hershey’s Milk and Heluva Good!, there were maybe 88,000 empty seats. I’m assuming NASCAR mixed up the attendance estimate with the empty seats count; it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve screwed something up.

That said, there probably isn’t another venue on the Sprint Cup circuit that has seen such a dramatic drop in attendance that’s so visible in the grandstands. Not even five years ago, Dover was reporting crowds of over 140,000 fans, and there was no exaggeration involved. Today, ESPN’s cameras couldn’t even try to conceal just how many empty seats there were.

For fans of the racing at Dover, that news is about as bad as it comes, for multiple reasons. For one, it gives the France family’s ISC ammo in seeking a replacement second race for Lesa France Kennedy’s pet Auto Club Speedway (kidding, kidding).

What Dover’s second consecutive poor showing in attendance on Sunday does is raise very valid questions as to whether the race track can stand on its own as a viable business. Sources employed with the track informed Frontstretch over the weekend that the casino portion of the Dover Downs complex will not in any way shape or form be used to bankroll the racetrack. If the track can’t stand on its own, it will be shut down. And as the shutdown of Memphis Motorsports Park after last season’s Nationwide Series event demonstrated, Dover Motorsports, Inc. will not hesitate to pull the plug on a facility, whether it has a NASCAR date secured or not.

In fact, having secured dates really doesn’t seem to factor into DMI’s decisionmaking at all. It’s a simple question of dollars and sense. Just look at Gateway International Raceway. Despite having scored a second Nationwide Series race for the facility this season, DMI announced that the facility will no longer host a Nationwide Series event following the 2010 season, citing the fact that the cost of sanctioning such races would not make playing host to NASCAR’s AAA level a viable business decision.

You’d better believe that those same sanctioning costs for Cup races are higher. And if 2011 has Dover drawing at best 55,000 fans for a Cup race, betting that DMI will pull the plug on at least one Cup race for 2012 will be the safest bet a gambler could make. On a track that has a casino on the premises, no less.

Monday on the Frontstretch:
Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Dover-2 Race Recap
The Cool-Down Lap: ‘Dinger Does Dover – What His Good Run Means
Bubble Breakdown: Sadler Smooth While Smith Struggles At The Monster Mile
Running Their Mouth: AAA 400
Tracking The Trucks: Smith’s Food & Drug Stores 350

Connect with Bryan!

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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DoninAjax
09/27/2010 09:08 AM
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She’s not Lisa, Her name is Julie, er Lesa. Sorry Jessi.

Max
09/27/2010 09:41 AM
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There is something bad to the core with Junior’s team, and it just isn’t McGrew.

Could it be possible that Junior is unwittingly providing R & D for HMS?

How in the world can you explain the hideous finishes?

And no, Junior didn’t just wake up 3 or 4 years ago and forget how to drive a race car.

I would not bet any amount of money on whether Rick Hendrick is a honest man.

There is something to this – I think Junior has been had.

Think about it – even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then – Junior can’t even hardly stay on the LEAD lap!

Sharon J
09/27/2010 10:04 AM
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Great eye opener on Hendricks. Thanks.

Stephen HOOD
09/27/2010 10:37 AM
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Its the COT. Junior can’t drive the damn thing, Gordon can’t win in the damn thing, and it has generated some great races on a few tracks but snoozers on many more. I like that people are surviving wrecks, but I can’t hardly stand the racing anymore. The only places it seems to put on great shows are places where the car part of the car doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

AncientRacer
09/27/2010 10:53 AM
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Jr. should have gone with RCR. That’s family for all intents and purposes. Look at what he did with the 3 in the Nationwide race. Look what Austin Dillon is doing with trucks prepared by his Grandfather’s shop.

I predict Jr. will end up at RCR. Not next year, but maybe the one after that when Kahne arrives. I think the signs are there — notice, for example, how coy Mark Martin is about HIS future.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I do not think so. I’m not a Jr. fan really, but I, like many others like me, do have a soft spot for him and I would like to see him do well.

When it happens Richard Childress will spare no effort on Jr., and he will give him back Tony Jr.. That will be good. Jr. has proven he has a limited number of people he feels really comfortable with and who can blame him? It is among the hardest things in the world to be the son and namesake of a legend. JFK, Jr., Frank Sinatra Jr., etc. with the rare exception proving the rule (off the top of my head) George W. Bush.

And, no, I’m not a W. fan either.

Robin
09/27/2010 11:28 AM
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Dale, Jr. – Rick Hendrick should kick his ass and then kick him to the curb.

Jacob
09/27/2010 11:43 AM
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When it comes to Jr., I have said what u say many, many times Bryan.

Dale Earnhardt was not the type of father that was overly concerned with Jr.‘s emotional integrity. Dale was the type of man that didn’t ask Jr. what he wanted, Dale TOLD Jr. what he was going to do.

Like in his rookie year when he was getting drunk all night before the races, Dale told him he would NOT be doing that and drive for DEI.

When Tony Sr. was his crew chief, he had a man that he had to obey as a child telling him what to do. Then, he ran up front and won races. When Tony Jr. took over wrenching the car, Jr. didn’t have somebody to say, “Do ________, or I’ll shove my foot up your ass,” and he fell off the top of the world. They would argue and Jr. wouldn’t listen. If you listen to Jr’s radio it’s like listening to a six year old throw a temper tantrum. “No, I don’t wanna!, No, I don’t wanna!, No, I don’t wanna!”

That’s the problem with Jr., EVERYBODY is so busy asking him what he WANTS to do, that NOBODY is telling him what he NEEDS to do.

Glenn
09/27/2010 12:02 PM
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2 responses: first, it is JR’s head that is the problem. I don’t know if it is too much time at whiskey river, or being distracted with other ventures, but his head is not in the game. He has proven he has skills, but he needs to focus. Follow his Dad’s example. Second, Dover Management is GARBAGE and deserves everything they get. They gave up on Memphis and Gateway promotions and started cutting corners well before either were closed. Dover blew it by focusing of cutting costs, cutting advertising and promotion then wondering why the fans didn’t show. If there is any justice the entire management staff at Dover will be pushing a broom by next year.

AncientRacer
09/27/2010 12:20 PM
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Jacob is, as usual, graphic. Good comment, but we know all that. I do too, but being kind and gentle I subsumed it all under the phrase, “…Childress will spare no effort on Jr….”

In other words, he will begin by making Jr. mind and among all owners he is, I believe, the only one who can.

Jacob
09/27/2010 12:32 PM
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A. Racer: I loathe to call you “Ancient” lol I am not politically correct. And while many people that have been around longer than the chase know what I said is true, many others want to point at it all being a conspiracy contrived to ruin the Earnhardt legacy.

While I agree that Childress would be a man that commanded respect from Jr., the phrase “spare no effort” can be twisted to serve the conspiracy by it’s theorists.

My language might be a little rough, but I pull no punches and it is clear that (my opinion) is that Jr.‘s problems are 99% Jr.

As an aside, Joe Gibbs could also handle Jr., although the Toyota connection rules that partnership out completely.

Craig
09/27/2010 12:41 PM
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I would think that SMI and Bruton Smith would be the first to try and gobble Dover up. Shutting it down would give SMI a second Vegas date and a date back for Atlanta. I hope Dover doesn’t go because it’s a unique track on a circuit dominated by 1.5 mile cookie cutters. I still hope they bulldoze Pocono.

Mark
09/27/2010 01:10 PM
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I’m always impressed when a member of the media is willing to admit he knows very little about his chosen profession . Thanks for coming clean on this already decades old information Bryan . There are MANY teams who lease cars and engines from Hendrick . And you’re the only person surprised that the 09 and 71 teams lease cars and engines . There are some who lease cars and / or engines from RCR . There are a bunch of teams who lease engines from Rousch , and of course almost every Toyota team gets it’s cars and engines from TRD . Since this has been going on for a number of years ( decades actually , Petty engines and cars , Wood Brothers engines , etc. ) , please explain how it’s suddenly news again . Well , at least news to you .
Hendrick footing the tire bill for the 09 ? Another of your phantom radio transmissions advising Cassell to let the crew know of misses in the motor ? Now that last one is a little suspicious i grant you . As we all know there is a long standing rule in auto racing that the driver is never to mention possible engine problems to the crew . It spoils the surprise of smoke , oil , and parts coming out of the engine unanounced .
If i may make a suggestion , i really think you’re wasting your obvious talent of unbridled inuendo , not to mention your complete lack of journalistic ethics . You really need to be writing for TMZ or Access Hollywood .
And another brilliant analysis of the Dale Jr. situation . Boy , if only bloggers would write about Dale Jr. at Hendrick .

DoninAjax
09/27/2010 01:31 PM
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So five years ago the attendence was OK. Isn’t that about the time The Chase started?

mikeyfan5599
09/27/2010 02:23 PM
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First Junior will not ever race at RCR the other drivers don’t want him there and Dillion will be the next new driver coming to RCR to take Jeff Burton’s or Paul Menards place.

Second: So someone just woke up and realized that HMS is getting over on the race fans and that NASCAR has turned a blind eye to it’s Rich benefactor. I’ve been saying since day one of the SHR deal that Rick has a owner’s interest in that team. Never has Rick went to victory lane for a team he sold engines and chassis too and that included DW in the early 90’s. Now if Tony wins Rick is there and you are just now finding that odd. How odd indeed.

leftturnlady
09/27/2010 02:26 PM
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Rick Hendrick is a user. He signed Jr because of merchandise sales, and possibly because Dale was dating Ricky’s girlfriend. Rick replaced his son and Dale replaced his father.
But it’s not working. Only 3 people could tell Junior what to do….his father, pops, and Kelley. He is past the age of growing up. Everyone thought that once signed with Hendrick, a championship was a lock….but lack of chemistry between crew chief and crew members, and Junior sucks big time. So, what does Hendrick need to do…maybe split up the Gordon/Johnson garage, a new crew chief – whoever is it needs to be older..does Evernham take a stab at it??
RCR wasn’t a fit…that belongs to Senior and still dealing with Teresa. The mistake made when Junior left DEI is that he didn’t take the entire team with him.

keeping it real
09/27/2010 03:05 PM
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There are other s&p teams out there. What’s stopping RCR, Gibbs, Roush, etc, from doing what you are alleging Hendrick is doing? Sounds like a smart move to me.

keeping it real
09/27/2010 03:15 PM
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RE: attendance at Dover – I assume you are aware that Daytona does not even attempt to sell tickets along the entire backstretch for the July race. That entire section has been empty for the last 3 years. So, where’s your suggestion that Daytona should be closed?

Bubba d hyde
09/27/2010 05:03 PM
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Another plethora of BS from Jr. nation about this, that and the other.

Jr. has Tony Eury Sr. exactly where he wants him. Out of his hair.

Anyone who thought that Jr. would get the best equipment at HMS ahead of Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson is using their brain very much. Jr. won races when he was handed the best equipment money could buy. When his “evil stepmother” started wanting more from him than he “wanted” to give, he and his sister villified her to make his departure look like her fault. It was Jr.‘s ddecision. Jr. is a loser. Believe it, and get over it.

Newracefan
09/27/2010 05:59 PM
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As a fan that has been going to Dover for the past 4 years there are definately some things the track can do to get fans back to the track. Decrease ticket prices for one, as a season ticket holder I have not had 1 price drop for tickets in the past 4 years. By the time the specials come out many people have already decided not to come or bought tickets and are angry about the special so they do not come back the following year. I am only keeping both races because I have been afraid they would lose at least 1 race and I want to ensure I can still get tickets when it happens. Get the area hotels to drop rates, I might consider coming for the entire weekend but the cost to stay is unbelieveable, not to mention limited close options unless you have a RV. I can make it a day trip; many can not therefore they stay home. Sell Pit Passes, you need to know someone or win something to get a pit pass or get the astronomically prices Velocity club tickets to even get close to Pit Road so driver access is always limited and then at a distance. Better information of which drivers are going to be where,souvenir hauler toyota stage whatever. How can I plan my day when I don’t know where anyone is going to be.

Marybeth
09/27/2010 07:11 PM
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“More notable, though, was the Hendrick presence in the No. 09 pit box throughout Sunday’s 400-miler.” On VL on Speed last night, Rick said that he had spent the day on the 88 pitbox. Since 6/07, Rick has very diligently been trying to teach me not to believe a word he says, & he has been successful. :)
Rick then went on to say that Jr. had trouble qualifying. Jr. qualified 32nd. That is the same place he qualified at Loudon last week…but when the green flew there, he went forward & finished 4th. :) Wonder what made the difference…? Last week Mark finished laps down, r&ding?, & Jr. finished 4th. This week Jr. finished laps down and Mark finished 12th, r&ding?

Jacob
09/27/2010 07:13 PM
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@ Bubba:

Yeah, that’s brilliant! Jr. wants Tony Sr. out of his hair. The only crew chief that saw Jr. succeed. Your astute knowledge impresses me (I say sarcastically)

It is far more likely that Tony Sr. just thinks he is too damn old to be babysitting Jr. anymore.

As for your Theresa crap, what have you been smoking?!? The DEI cars struggled for several seasons, and not just Jr.‘s car. Theresa was/is not a racer that understands where best to put the money. It is only since Chip Ganassi partnered with her and took control of the day to day operations, that DEI has re-gained some speed. Consistency is still sorely lacking, but hopefully that will improve over time.

I am NOT a member of Jr. nation. But I have to say you sound like one of the disillusioned Jeff Gordon groupies that got mad when Jr. inherited his father’s fans after the tragedy in Daytona. It’s not your decision who people choose to cheer for, get over it.

Borderrunner
09/27/2010 09:59 PM
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@ Mark: Bullseye! The only fault I can find in your message is in calling the blogger a “member of the media”. If he is, then so are you, me and everyone else who has ever spouted an opinion (however flawed) and clicked on “submit”. Loved that line about unbridled innuendo.

Overra88ted
09/27/2010 10:33 PM
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When newbie fans like Marybeth the Alien from Planet AMP have watched racing long enough, and their heads are clear of Bud/ Amp residue, they’ll realize that even drivers like Dale JR. will ocasionally fall into a top 10 finish by using their God-given average at best talent.

Sky
09/27/2010 11:31 PM
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“Sources employed with the track informed Frontstretch over the weekend that the casino portion of the Dover Downs complex will not in any way shape or form be used to bankroll the racetrack.”

It just hit the news that they merged….

Dover Motorsports, parent of Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., said Monday that it has agreed to merge with Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment Inc., eight years after the companies were separated in a spinoff.

http://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/2010/09/27/daily13.html

No Spin
09/28/2010 02:18 AM
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you guys are stating nothing.
Please say some thing, BS is BS

Frontstretch Staffer
09/28/2010 10:58 AM
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Sky,

As someone who was with Bryan when the tip was received, the source was both legitimate and privy to inside information so you wonder if they were trying to lead the media astray by throwing out incorrect info.

If these two companies merge (and while there needs to be approval from both sides, you would think it’s a no brainer here) two things come to mind. 1) Just like Pocono, the facility realizes the limited reach of NASCAR and knows the track cannot stand on its own anymore – it needs revenue from additional events/industries owned within the company to survive until such time (at this race, who knows) NASCAR can turn a profit once again. 2) You wonder about the future of Nashville Superspeedway, the only non-Dover track left under their ownership structure after this year. The crowds down there were downright dismal, and you wonder if the newly-merged company will concentrate on its local properties only and try and dump that track to a local buyer – and/or scrap races scheduled there for 2011 or earlier.

Food for thought.

Texasfan
09/28/2010 03:45 PM
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The #09 Team had a Hendrick engine and chassis at Dover. They have also announced a new sponsor.

Marybeth
09/29/2010 07:08 PM
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@Jacob, Teresa should have held unto Ty Norris at any cost. He is the one who built DEI as he is now building MWR.