The Frontstretch: Time Is Ticking For Tony Jr. by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday May 14, 2009

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Time Is Ticking For Tony Jr.

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday May 14, 2009

 

Rumor and speculation continues to circulate in the NASCAR community this week that Tony Eury, Jr., crew chief of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet piloted by the sport’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will soon be replaced. With no credible insider connected to the rumored change atop the pit box, it seems clear that any speculation concerning Eury’s job security is little more than an educated guess, but still a prediction that very well may prove to be accurate before the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway a week from Sunday.

It is not necessary to be a Mensa member in good standing to conclude that Eury, Jr., first-cousin to Earnhardt, Jr., might be in jeopardy of losing his position at Hendrick Motorsports. Not only is the No. 88 team that the 36-year-old calls the shots for currently ranked 18th in championship points, his car’s performance pales glaringly in comparison to the other three HMS teams of championship points leader Jeff Gordon, three-time defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson (4th), and Mark Martin (11th), a two-time winner this season. With only one top 5 and three top 10 finishes to their credit so far in 2009, the Eury-led group is clearly the weak link in the Hendrick organization — and the one most in need of retooling.

There is little argument from any quarters as to whether the team has performed at an acceptable level this season – it has not. Much is, and has been, expected of the team since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. defected from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. at the beginning of 2008 to race for Hendrick – an organization that Junior believed gave him the best chance of winning races and successfully competing for championships. However, expectations have yet to be met fifteen months into the partnership.

Fueling the conjecture that the time was at hand to make a crew chief switch probably has as much to do with the timing as anything else. Wherein a personnel change earlier this week would have provided more breathing room for a new crew chief to organize and familiarize himself with the team, the two-week break between point-earning races seems the logical time for HMS management to make the change — a change in direction that might put Earnhardt, Jr. back on the right track. With 15 races still to go to make a run at becoming eligible for the ten-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, there is no better time than now to adjust the crew on the No. 88.

Tony Eury, Jr. will be the first to go should things not soon turn around for the No. 88 team.

The current trend for Earnhardt, Jr., Eury, Jr. and company is not encouraging. The last five races have resulted in four finishes of 20th or worse, with a second place finish three races ago at Talladega being the team’s lone bright spot of the year. In fact, it is the team’s only top 5 performance but, in all probability, not a run that will bolster Tony Eury, Jr.’s chances of saving his job. Considering Earnhardt, Jr.’s known skills behind the wheel at restrictor plate events, the lion’s share of credit for that runner-up finish can be expected to go to the driver.

With Earnhardt and Eury, the analysis has been beaten to death … but the bottom line is things just aren’t working out. Often times in driver/crew chief relationships, poor communication is blamed for poor performances. However, considering the longtime working relationship that the two have had, if they are not able to speak the same language by now there is no reason to believe they ever will. The two are not only cousins, but childhood chums as well — Tony Eury, Jr. has been a part of Junior’s racing career for more than 18 years. Yet despite that expansive length of time spent together, more often than not this season they simply cannot seem to get on the same page during races and dial in an ill-handling racecar.

Of course, complicating the issue of replacing Eury, Jr. is the wishes of his famous cousin, who prefers to take the blame for the underperforming race cars and mediocre results. “I’ve said it 100 times, and it just doesn’t seem to make a dent, but the guy that I feel bad for is Tony, Jr., because he gets criticized so badly,” Earnhardt stated prior to the Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in late March. “And everyone in this [media] room, some of you have criticized him yourselves, know how smart a guy he is, truly know that he’s a good mechanic and a solid crew chief. He just wanted to do this for a living, just like I do. I’ll take the fall. I’d rather be crucified than him, because every time I read in the paper that people are on his case, I feel like people are sending my brother to jail for a crime I committed.”

To be sure, Earnhardt has made his share of mistakes this season, too. Most notably, a rash of recent pit road gaffes has had fans scratching their heads and questioning the driver’s focus. However, Junior’s miscues aside, his cars have just not been capable of running up front to the point they’re frequently incapable of even running on the lead lap for long. Besides, the thought of replacing a driver here is not an option or a consideration. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the No. 88. He is, due to his immense popularity and revenue-earning capabilities, untouchable.

As a result, Tony Eury, Jr. has been in a no-win situation since he and Junior teamed up for their first points race with Hendrick at last year’s season-opening Daytona 500. Prior to the two Junior’s debut with HMS, this column stated in January of 2008:

“…it seems the first finger pointed at any hint of a slump will be at a Junior; but not Junior the race car driver. Tony Eury, Jr., the crew chief of the No. 88, will play as much of a critical role as Earnhardt in getting this team in line with the Hendrick system, absorbing all the similar expectations about his performance in the coming year. Speaking of working in a pressure cooker, no one in NASCAR can be in more of an unenviable employment situation than Eury, who has worked with Junior almost his entire professional racing career as a tire changer, car chief, and crew chief. Having left Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in early October for HMS, Tony Jr. has been paving the way for Earnhardt, Jr.‘s debut ever since – a road that will be paved with either gold or potholes around every turn. However, with nothing but praise for the management and resources at Hendrick, Eury, Jr. has confirmed that everything on the team owner’s side is up to snuff; so, if poor performances were to visit the No. 88 bunch, look for Tony Eury, Jr. to take the brunt of the criticism. Simply put, there will be no other direction – albeit the driver – to point fingers.”

There is little doubt that Tony Eury, Jr. has been aware that he is the number one guy responsible for the on-track success of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – and if the wins and top 5s don’t materialize, it will be him that will be held accountable. And if the rumors are to be believed, sooner rather than later it’s his head that will be the one which rolls — right or wrong.

Whether Tony Eury, Jr. keeps his job for now is still a big guessing game. But what is not is that without a significant turnaround in performance, there will inevitably be a change atop the pit box before long.

And…that’s my view from Turn 5.

Contact Tommy Thompson

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Kevin in SoCal
05/14/2009 01:29 AM
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Oh look, another article on Dale Jr. Must be a slow news day.

Gordon82Wins
05/14/2009 07:35 AM
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Given how Eury has been fried in the press, who would even want that job? There’s no good side, that’s for sure.

And last I checked, it wasn’t Eury who drove the car right past the pit box on several occasions.

Kevin, the Frontstretch is looking for more writers, why don’t you go for it? I read your comments on here and you’re clearly convinced you could do a better job.

don mei
05/14/2009 10:06 AM
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Let me put my helmet on first….OK, done. Now, perish forbid but has ANYONE considered the possibility that Dale Jr. is simply not as good a driver as the rest of the Hendricks squad? (Ducking for my life!)

Racingdude3
05/14/2009 11:40 AM
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The way Dale Jr. has been missing his pit box and making driver errors on the track, why hasn’t NA$CAR drug tested their cash cow? Are they afraid of yet another black eye if their “image of NA$CAR” tested positive? Let’s face it…either Jr. has given up or he’s doing drugs.

Overra88ted
05/14/2009 12:16 PM
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I wish Rick Hendrick would just pull the trigger on this move sooner rather than later. So JR. NATION can finally check off the Tony Jr. box on their EXCUSES Checklist. Then as crew chiefs for JR. come and go in the future, more EXCUSES can be made by JR. NATION for their average at best driver, whose performance proably peaked 5 years ago.

gwsp3
05/14/2009 12:38 PM
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Two or three years ago, I believe a lady commented that her driver needed to make up his mind whether he wanted to be a race car driver or a celebrity. I guess he decided to be a celebrity.

mike
05/14/2009 01:32 PM
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I sure wouldn’t want to be the crew chief for Jr.

Why go through all that hoopla?

Kevin in SoCal
05/14/2009 04:01 PM
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Gordon, I thought about it, but I dont have enough time, nor am I creative enough to be a writer here. I also do not think I would do a better job. I simply provide another opinion. It would be pretty boring if we all agreed with each other, wouldnt it?

ginger
05/14/2009 05:21 PM
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gwsp3
That was no lady.

Michael Baker
05/14/2009 05:56 PM
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Hey Guys, I know Junior hasn’t had great finishes lately, but last season something out of their control kept happening late in the race……anyway……I would suggest that you look at the stats for active drivers – and realize that Junior is in the top ten on that list – so, there are really very few active drivers that can even pretend to be statistically better than him. This may change over the next few seasons – or he may hit his stride again and make fools of all ya’ll. I think the COT is one tough mutha to figure-out – and some of the best active drivers have only recently figured it out. Give him a few more years before you let your jealousy make fools of yourselves. That’s all – I have spoken!

mike
05/14/2009 06:42 PM
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Sure seems like all the other Hendrick cars have the COT pretty much figured out. Hmm…..

gwsp3
05/14/2009 07:09 PM
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Ginger
And you madam, have no manners.

Bobbie
05/14/2009 11:07 PM
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So IF there is a change on the pit box, who replaces Tony Jr and how does that affect the driver?

Just curious if there’s someone out there raising his hand when the call goes out…

Douglas
05/14/2009 11:35 PM
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YEP!

It’s all Tony Jr. fault!

Never mind he crews for a no talent driver who cares less about racing and more about hanging with is “gang”!

18th and falling fast!

Well deserved Dale Jr., well deserved!

Now please, just go away!

wizzle
05/15/2009 09:17 AM
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wow so many junior haters have any of you guys wondered why your even reading this article if you dont even like the guy as a racecar driver. people must forget before tony jr took over jr averaged three wins a year so the guy can drive. but if the car is always ill handling all the time it will make it look like he cant drive. bottom line when the car is hook up right for jr he goes to the front tony jr just cant do that for him

james
05/15/2009 11:01 PM
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Are you kidding me.I have always thought that the crew chief sat on top of the box leting the driver know when too stop at pit.He can not even count..I can do a better job than him…Anybody could do better..He does not want Jr. to do well…good bye cuz…

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