The Frontstretch: The Time is Now for Earnhardt, Jr. as Eury, Jr. Departs by Amy Henderson -- Friday May 29, 2009

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The Time is Now for Earnhardt, Jr. as Eury, Jr. Departs

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday May 29, 2009


Author’s Note: My advertised column on conspiracy theories and NASCAR will run next week. I felt that the Earnhardt, Jr. situation warranted some comment this week. But not to fear, The Roswell 500 will run next week.

The announcement that much of NASCAR Nation has been waiting for with baited breath came Thursday: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. will part ways, effective immediately. Hendrick Motorsports team manager Brian Whitesell will be on top of the pit box this weekend at Dover, and then veteran head wrench Lance McGrew will take the reins on an interim basis while a permanent replacement is sought.

Both Whitesell and McGrew have found victory lane as crew chiefs, Whitesell with Jeff Gordon and McGrew with several drivers from the Camping World Truck Series and up. Though it is easy to lose sight of with the way things have been going, Earnhardt has a decent record himself—his 18 Cup wins rank ninth among active drivers. He has more wins than Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, or Kyle Busch, in fact. The majority of his success came with a crew chief other than Eury, Jr. All of which adds up to mean only one thing.

It’s do or die time.

Many fans and media have called for Eury, Jr.’s dismissal in recent weeks as their performance was lackluster, to say the least. It came to a head this week at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt finished a miserable 40th in the Coca-Cola 600 with no immediate mechanical issues. Eury will remain with Hendrick Motorsports’ research and development division. Upon the announcement of the split, Eury expressed a myriad of emotions. “I have mixed feelings, and that’s just natural,” Eury said. “But I enjoy working at Hendrick Motorsports, and this is where I want to be. I’ll do whatever I can to help all of our teams and try to be a part of another championship. I think a new challenge will be good.” That may be Eury putting on a brave face, but it could also be a relief to the beleaguered mechanic, who has taken the brunt of abuse from Earnhardt’s legion of fans for their performance.

Even Earnhardt, who said a few weeks ago that he’d rather not win with Eury than win with another crew chief, was resigned to the need for change and disappointed, admitting that all was not well in the No. 88 camp. “We’ve been sort of at odds with each other over the last couple of weeks. As a whole, our relationship is really, really strong, and we’ve always really had a great enthusiasm to work together. We came to Hendrick with a little bit of a risk. We felt a lot of pressure when we went to Rick to work, but we jumped in with both feet and really felt like we were going to make it happen. It’s really, really disappointing that it didn’t work out like we wanted.”

Since their win in the Bud Shootout back in February, things have gone downhill quickly for the No. 88 team leading Hendrick Motorsports to reassign crew chief Tony Eury, Jr.

Earnhardt has a reputation of being kind of, for lack of better words, high maintenance. While able to communicate a racecar effectively to a crew chief—he was praised for just that ability by teammate Jimmie Johnson, who is possibly the best in the business at communicating what a racecar is doing—he has a tendency to let emotion get the better of him when things aren’t going well, and Eury’s weakness was the inability to rein him in when that happened, a combination which often led to a minor (or major) meltdown of the team structure. Earnhardt and Eury are probably the closest driver-crew chief combination in the business. Not even Johnson and Chad Knaus are as tight as the two cousins who grew up racing together.

Which, ironically, may have been the problem all along. It’s hard to tell someone who is your best friend to shut up and drive, even if he needs to both hear and heed it. It’s hard to listen to someone you regard as your equal when they are telling you to shut up and drive and the racecar he gave you isn’t cooperating. And so the vicious circle began: the car not handling right for Earnhardt, Earnhardt growing frustrated as pit stops rolled by and Eury couldn’t fix the car, and finally the communication dissolving completely, causing the car to remain stagnant, at best, while all around them, cars were slowly being adjusted into improvement.

And now race fans everywhere will know for sure if Eury was the problem or if Earnhardt is, as some suggest, overrated as a driver. It’s not an observation to be made in a week or two, but as summer heats up, it will be time to take a long hard look at the No. 88 team, as well as the driver. If they are running where most think Earnhardt is capable of, top 15 each week at the bare minimum, then it’s time to reevaluate what the driver truly is capable of. That doesn’t mean his job is unsafe—there is a lot to be said for having a driver as marketable as Earnhardt is among his HMS teammates whose age and seeming polarization of fans make them slightly less marketable than Earnhardt in today’s world where winning races is only a piece of the puzzle. But it does mean that many people, fans and insiders alike would have to come to an uncomfortable realization that as popular as Earnhardt is, he may never be a championship caliber driver in today’s NASCAR.

If McGrew can turn Earnhardt’s season around, he will find himself a popular man indeed. And it is certainly possible. McGrew has guided drivers of all personality types from wise-beyond-their years Ricky Hendrick and Brian Vickers to the volatile, sometimes explosive Kyle Busch to victory lane. If he can stand up to Earnhardt’s frustration, turn it around so that Junior communicates racecar and not emotion, and then use it to turn the racecars around on the track, then this could be a very successful team indeed. Success remains sight unseen, but it cannot remain that way for long, for the sake of team, driver, owner, and fans. Change blew into Hendrick Motorsports, and with change comes hope.

The time is now.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

MJR in Springfield VA
05/29/2009 07:28 AM

“And now race fans everywhere will know for sure if Eury was the problem or if Earnhardt is, as some suggest, overrated as a driver.” I’m not an Earnhardt fan…neither one. But in order to maitain peace in my house during races I must bit my lip most of the time (my wife even owns green fuzzy Amp88 slippers). However, Jr. has a lot to prove right now. He may be NA$CARs most popular driver, but he is far from their best, and I don’t think team member changes are going to fix that…sorry Jr. fans.

05/29/2009 08:00 AM

The excuses are running out!

(of course I still don’t trust NA$CRAP in that they probably will not inspect Jr.‘s car as close as they would, say a Robby Gordon car, or Carl Long car)

After all, NA$CRAP will do what it takes to fill the stands!

And then say: “yes, the crew chief change really worked”!

Wanna bet?

Fits right in with you next column on conspiracy theories & NA$CRAP!

05/29/2009 10:06 AM

JR. NATION fans now have been given a renewable EXCUSE for their OVER-HYPED, OVER-RATED, HIGH MAINTAINCE AVERAGE DRIVER. The renewable 88 LUCKY DOG EXCUSE will now be repeatly used, as the revolving crew chief door begins to spin.

05/29/2009 10:48 AM

Is Eury Jr. responsible for driving past the Pit Boxes? I think the loose nut on the seat needs more adjusting than any other part on the car. Jr. is filling the void left when Kyle Petty stepped off. The much coveted “Famous name, less talented, also ran, space filler” driver.

don mei
05/29/2009 11:06 AM

Amy, its “bated”, not “baited”..unless of course you have a worm on your breath.

Carl D.
05/29/2009 11:45 AM

A few of the comments above attest to the fact that, for some reason, there are fans who feel that if Junior isn’t a championship-caliber driver with somewhere even close to his Dad’s level of talent, then he’s over-rated, a prima-donna, and obviously the bastard step-child of Michael Waltrip.

Junior is just a driver named Earnhardt whose name earned him a few breaks that we’d all accept if we were in his shoes. I’m not a huge Earnhardt fan, but if he never wins another race; if he gets fired and never drives in Nascar again, I won’t get the least bit of satisfaction from it.

mr ed
05/29/2009 01:32 PM

First off I’m not a member of the JR nation so I’m not blined by the light. Jr. just has not had his head in the game for what ever reason for sometime now this maybe just what he needs to get things going better .Being Dale Earnhardt JR. can not be fun a times always in the spotlight.It is the life he choose but sometimes I bet he wishes he was Joe nobody just another driver.

05/29/2009 01:51 PM

MJR… Hope she wasn’t peaking over your shoulder when you snuck your post in:)

05/29/2009 08:04 PM

I remember about ten years ago, watching the Busch series. There was this dude named Earnhardt that won two championships in a row. The kid was absolutely dominant at times. I mean, he just ran away and hid. What happened to that guy?

He’s had flashes of brilliance in the Cup series. Mostly mediocrity. The anus is now on him, for sure.

05/29/2009 10:17 PM

Jr. had a competiveness in him during his first few years that seems to have disappeared. It seems to me that he is more interested in being a celebrity rather than winning.

Even in Jeff Gordon’s most successful years he and Ray Evernham were constantly working on getting every little bit of performance out of their racecars. Jr. seems to be content coasting along on his prior success and the marketability of his name.

Now is the time for him to decide if he is going to make some personal sacrifices and help get the team back where it needs to be.

And David, I hope the word you were looking for is ONUS.

05/29/2009 10:26 PM

Amy, thank you for at least not picking Jr’s bones clean as some have done. I am proud to be a Jr fan, always have been and always will be. I have never advocated the removal of Tony Jr as Jr’s CC, instead I have hoped and prayed that Rick would provide some technical leadership to TEJ. Remember that the Jrs’ came to HMS the same year the COT was run at all tracks. The company they came from had none of the technology that is available at HMS. Also bear in mind that in 2007 R&D was put on the back burner at HMS in order to help JJ and JG get a championship. When 2008 came around, just as the Jrs came on board, Jr’s was the best car of all. It was only when they tried some experimental things that 2008 went south. At Homestead, a few laps before the checkered flag, Jr was running in the 8th chase place when a part failed on the car making it undrivable.

Now in 2009 the #88 car has had problems. So has the RCR camp and many others. Hopefully a CC can be found who understands the mechanical issues of the COT and Jr will be able to end the year on a good note. That would make a lot of people happy, and Nascar will be revitalized.

MJR, you a prince of a man. Say hi to your wife and congratulate her on her choice of drivers.

05/30/2009 08:40 AM

@don mei
Your comment: “Amy, its “bated”, not “baited”..unless of course you have a worm on your breath.”

Your dead wrong. Amy has spelled correctly. Type both into a dictionary app. if you don’t believe.


As for Jr., he either needs a new crew chief or a sports psychologist (or both) to get out of this current situation. Some drivers can’t move past a horrific crash. Maybe the one he said he felt his father pull him out of the car is now a physical fear block that even he doesn’t recognize.

Kyle Bush is always blunt, but he’s right. This is it. And in the past, Jr Nation has blamed everyone around Jr. if things don’t go right, Crew Chief, Car Owner, Team, drivers on the race track. I pity whoever becomes Jr.‘s Crew Chief. They better have skin as thick as an alligator.

05/30/2009 08:59 AM

@Don Mei

P.S. . I read further in the Dictionary entry, it says both are becoming acceptablein today’s spellings. Though it admittedly says bated came before baited. : )


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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