The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Earnhardt's NASCAR Family Failure by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday September 19, 2012

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Did You Notice? ... Earnhardt's NASCAR Family Failure

Thomas Bowles · Wednesday September 19, 2012

 

Did You Notice?… For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., there’s no such thing as a “family business” anymore? Just five years after leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc., getting scorned by stepmother Teresa Earnhardt by his bid for control of the organization Dale Jr. has turned a blind eye to a different set of relatives. Tony Eury, Sr. and Jr., his uncle and cousin respectively have been kicked to the curb from his JR Motorsports operation, a Nationwide Series team that admittedly hasn’t won a race in two-plus seasons but also features a car, the No. 88 solidly inside the top 10 in championship points with rookie Cole Whitt. Add in third-year driver Danica Patrick, 11th in the season standings and it’s not like this organization is the laughingstock of the league. Far from it.

So why make changes? The first move, letting Eury go the beginning of September was surprising enough. The crew chief of Dale Jr.’s Daytona 500 win, in 2004 his uncle is largely credited with guiding the driver through the most successful years of his career.

“I honestly thought he would be there until the place closed down,” Eury Jr. said to the Sporting News shortly after the announcement. “But things don’t happen the way we plan them all the time.”

Three years into his crew chief role with Danica Patrick, Tony Eury, Jr. was officially “put out to pasture” this week.

Less than two weeks later, he’s been handed a pink slip, too, on the outside looking in while former driver Danica Patrick gets paired up with fresh blood in Ryan Pemberton. Patrick, who has struggled this season has a total of five top-10 finishes in 51 career starts. In nearly three years with the organization, she’s led a total of 55 laps, failed to finish 21.5 percent of the time and is still searching for her first podium performance, let alone victory on NASCAR’s second-tier level.

Those numbers apparently weren’t enough to please Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley who “runs” the day-to-day operations while Junior focuses on driving. Of course, the problem here is that in any other situation, the driver would be the one to go and not the crew chief. Kelley knows that all too well; after all, she fired Kelly Bires from the No. 88 car, back in 2010 after collecting just one top-10 result in five races. Whoops; if you’re doing the math at home, that means he was on pace for double the results Danica’s accomplished with just over ten times the patience. Turns out at JR Motorsports, based on the example they just set all you need for driver immunity is breasts and a multi-million dollar internet company calling the shots.

And therein lies JR Motorsports’ problem: the family itself really isn’t calling the shots on their own. Sure, they’ll sit there and tell you this decision is all about preserving the future, kicking a team in the pants that hasn’t won a race since 2010. That’s a load of horse… you know. Earnhardt’s autonomy disappeared the second his team “merged” with Hendrick Motorsports’ operation to begin the 2008 season. Suddenly, the organization became more than a mom ‘n’ pop organization Junior craved, the DEI alternative where family members could keep jobs while trying to keep pace in NASCAR’s second-tier organization as best they could. Instead, they were commissioned as the “farm team” for future HMS drivers, whether it was Brad Keselowski or the once-presumed Jeff Gordon successor in Landon Cassill. As with any local business consumed by a corporate giant, the local bosses kept their jobs but only if profit margins and major sponsors maintained their support. Personal connections define the mom ‘n’ pop organization – that’s what makes it tick. But with big, bloated corporations (of which HMS is one?) you never let feelings cause you to fail to your bottom line.

What other reason is there for a mom ‘n’ pop business, built by family to not weather the ups and downs together? Obviously, times have changed with the arrival of Patrick, who after three years is headed to Stewart-Haas Racing and Sprint Cup full-time beginning in 2013. With millions in endorsements and the belief she can attract a larger audience into the sport, JRM has no choice but to not only employ but develop her as best they can. The biggest asset within the organization is no longer the family that once defined its makeup but the driver signed by a corporation above; Patrick is capable of making her backers millions regardless of on-track performance. Winning is tied to a bank account; if she is unhappy for any reason, or the sponsor dissatisfied with development blood doesn’t get in the way of a business defined by cold, hard cash.

That’s where the Eurys got tripped up. In a corporate environment, the direction Dale Jr. chose they’re considered expendable in the face of the client. Loyalty? There is none in a world where sponsors are becoming increasingly difficult to keep. It’s the latest sign that Earnhardt, when unable to get what he wanted in DEI chose the option of maximum equipment – for him – and minimal responsibility once stepping inside the Hendrick camp.

It was a world his cousins were never completely comfortable with, and now they don’t have to be.

Did You Notice?… Less than 4 million people tuned into the start of this year’s Chase? That’s the lowest audience for any race this season with the exception of Kentucky the end of June. So much for the playoffs driving up numbers and interest; a clear audience deduction at the start of this NFL season remains. Consider that in 2002, before this postseason format was even a thought more households (according to Nielsen) were tuned into the 27th race of a full, regular season slate (New Hampshire).

Considering the sobering reality of such numbers, the fact NASCAR wants to keep pushing the postseason smells like they’re not calling the shots, either. What normal person would look at this set of numbers and say they were healthy? You have to figure that, to some degree Sprint or the networks, as much as everyone wants to hate on Brian France’s “idea” may have a role in its retention.

Did You Notice?… Some quick hits before taking off:

- It’s great to see A.J. Allmendinger reinstated. Just don’t rush to the track to see him inside a competitive ride anytime soon. The damage, both personally and professionally in NASCAR has been done and the amount of available options at this time of year are slim and none. I expect an open-wheel transition in 2013.

- If anyone in the back half of the Chase can catch up, following a one-race disaster it would be Greg Biffle based on the fact his consistency propelled him to the front of the Sprint Cup standings for much of 2012. But right now, in a point system that punishes poor performances like no other you’ve got to be thinking the two favorites actually finished 1-2 on Sunday.

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Carl D.
09/19/2012 08:18 AM
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“Turns out at JR Motorsports, based on the example they just set all you need for driver immunity is breasts and a multi-million dollar internet company calling the shots.”

While I agree with you 100%, pease don’t do Mitt Romney any favors by writing speeches for him.

pepper
09/19/2012 09:30 AM
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As happens so often with columns Tom writes, the facts are swept under the rug and his warped opinions are the rule of thumb.

This piece is worthy of a National Enquirer publication suitable for lining a bird cage.

Tom, you just hit a new low. You have at last reached the bottom rung where you so appropriately belong.

Niner
09/19/2012 09:53 AM
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what a “hater” column here. wow… is it new to you that the sponsor drives the sport? do i have to use Paul Menard for an example? Would it be easier to look at the fact that the cars have not improved throughout the race as maybe being the reason for change? anywhere else it would be ample reason for change if the company is commited to a driver. happens all the time but NOW that, and i quote you “breasts” are involved it is different? only in your eyes and by you making it a big deal. wow.

JER
09/19/2012 10:58 AM
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Just another example of the power of the almighty dollar. Sell your soul. Neither Dale or Kelly run JR Motorsports, decisions are being made by three-piece suits at board meetings. Same goes for Jack Roush another example of not being in control. The Dillion brothers better take notice because Granddaddy Richard may not be able to save them if their performance is not up to par according to their sponsors’ expectations.

paltex
09/19/2012 11:57 AM
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Let’s face it. Danica will not become successful in any form of nascar. she has not shown any improvement in a year and don’t expect any improvement in the future. she is about sex and a sponsor nothing more. won’t be around in a couple of years and that will benefit racing.

midasmicah
09/19/2012 12:12 PM
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. nas$car sold it’s soul to the devil (tv networks) years ago. Brain fart and Mike Helton DO NOT control their sport. The chase is a complete joke and it’s the ruination of nas$car as we knew it. “Family” stopped stopped being a priority years ago too. Dale Jr. is just the latest to sell out to the highest bidder. I’ve been a nas$car fan (once a fanatic) for 30+ years, but for the few of those years my once avid interest has turned to apathy. I watched very little of the first chase race last Sunday because I knew what the script would be. Another boring race at a boring track. I keep hoping things will get better for the sport I’ve followed for over half my life, but I’m not optomistic. Because once apathy settles in, it’s all downhill.

Niner
09/19/2012 12:17 PM
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any driver with a sponsor being gone will not help. i was at chicagoland this past weekend and i think there were 32 cars running at the end. yeah 1 less car will be great for nascar. she is attempting to do it how “they” say she should by running nationwide and testing cup but we hope she fails and is gone in 3 years??? really? i hope her, Johanna Long, JJ Cobb all make it and are around because going to a track and seeing only 32 cars running at the end when 2 smacked the wall and suffer damage is not good for the sport either. at least with going to the race and paying big money is i get to see my driver battle for position all day long since i know the tv coverage won’t catch it. thank god for MRN and PRN. please nascar do NOT buy them and make them yours. they are our only hope

Jeff
09/19/2012 01:18 PM
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Danica may have the sponser dollars behind her but she has no talent nor breasts in front of her.

She is just waisting GoDaddy’s money, James Hitchcliff did better in the GoDaddy indycar then she did, just think what a driver with talent can do in the GoDaddy Nationwide or Cup car?

Rumleyfips
09/19/2012 02:48 PM
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What:
Hinchcliffe was less than a shining star this year; and I’m a cCanadian!

Patrick was the high point driver for Andretti for her hast 2 years. Better than Marco, better than Tony.

Earner
09/19/2012 03:23 PM
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Much as I like the Eurys I believe they are not up to the “tech world Nascar has become & Tony Jr has had a past negative experience with the Hendricks boys (engineers etc) …Danica may make it or maybe not & Tony Jr was a great teacher at the start (Nascar ins/outs/do’s don’ts etc) but she’ll need a lot more to advance…However the cash & viewing demographic are outstanding for Nascar..I To hope Joanna & long & Cobb make it…Also Danica lives in a world of constant press pics sexual comments IE: Real pressure all the time this has to be very hard to recall why she’s there in the first place..TBowls …Big miss on this one …& by the way isn’t the press who’s always pushing the breasts part to sell to readers?

Billy Hicks
09/19/2012 07:56 PM
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Stupidity on all sides is what I see here. Jr. knows Danica can’t get the job done but he keeps her around because he needs her money. Danica knows she can’t get the job done but has to keep racing for a living. Tony Stewart knows she can’t get the job done but she brings the money Newman can’t. The Eurys know she can’t get the job done but they weren’t going to quit and as a result got fired. Now I agree with whoever said that Eury Sr. wasn’t probably as tech savy in this day and age as he needed to be for the job he had, but Tony Jr. probably is. In fact, wasn’t Tony Jr crew chief for McMurray in the last race the JR Motorsports team last won? I know he was crew chief when Jr. drove the #3 to the win at Daytona in 2010. In a perfect world Danica would have been out on her ass and so would Cole Whitt and a real driver would have been behind the wheel and sponsorship wouldn’t be a problem and making the decisions, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Jr.‘s not just worried about sponsorship dollars for himself, he makes plenty of money. He needs the sponsorship to keep the team operating. There are other employees at JR Motorsports besides the Eurys and his sister, and if he shuts down for lack of money they’re out of a job.

Steve
09/19/2012 08:15 PM
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Tom, you really lost me on your contention that Danica (apparently because she has boobs and a .com sponsor) got the Eury’s fired….which is absolutley ludicrous. Danica is gone at the end of the year, so why would they dump the Eury’s because of her? Your biased towards her has reached an all time low.

Also, if you haven’t figured out the Chase is what Sprint and ESPN wants and the reason why we still have it, you haven’t been paying attention. I thought this was common knowledge from those that have been following the sport for a while.

Like a previous poster said, your opinions got in the way of facts in this article.

D . E .Tyson
09/19/2012 09:33 PM
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Larry Mac said about the same thing . He probaly got took off some x-mas card list for saying it .

janice
09/20/2012 08:45 AM
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when eury jr got canned, i knew it was the hendrick side of the ownership table that made the decision. jr let his sister run the joint but hendrick has a lot of pull in the organization.

dale jr best wake up and realize that this isn’t his father’s nascar. what has saved him was his ability to lure sponsors, but apparently that’s no longer true. he’s still a big name, but even gordon is having sponsor issues.

ezrider714
09/21/2012 12:49 PM
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With numbers like that, why would Sprint be for the Chase? Makes no sense at all, to push for something that can be shown as leading to declining viewership.
It’s all a matter of Brainfart not being able to swallow his pride and admit to a mistake, just take a look at his personal life, to get a view of his outlook on life. Why does he care na$car is getting their money from Sprint and the networks regardless of the numbers.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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