The whole NASCAR world was turned on its ear when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would be racing for Hendrick Motorsports. Everyone from his staunchest supporters to his biggest detractors all chimed in with one undeniable opinion: There would not be any more excuses. He would be in top equipment, driving for the best organization in the sport. If he couldn’t get it done for Hendrick, then he couldn’t get it done for anyone. Well, one year and 10 races later, he’s not getting it done. Placing blame or pointing fingers is not going to right the ship, but something needs to change before this season is lost. It’s time for Tony Eury to step aside and let someone else take the helm of the ship that is the No. 88.
The problems for the No. 88 are many and varied. The pit crew, which rarely lost places despite not setting the world on fire in 2008, has consistently put Junior back on the track further behind the lead than where he was when he came into the pits. Whether the other teams have gotten better or the chemistry has fallen off, the pit crew is not helping out the situation, and the crew chief needs to light a fire under their butts to get their act together. The spotter has not made any glaring errors this season… with the exception of getting his driver into his pit box. Aside from clearing the driver in traffic, making sure he gets his car into the pit box is probably the most important job of the spotter, and he’s failed at that task more than once this year.
The tire specialist may or may not have something to do with something that invariably afflicts this team every race, every year. No matter where this team runs, at some time during the race, they end up with a set of tires that “doesn’t agree with the car.” Whatever the heck it is, you do not hear that even mentioned nearly as often by any other team in the garage. It happens with such frequency for the No. 88 team that it cannot be purely happenstance. The crew chief may have to rely on others on the team to do their job, but he also needs to recognize when there is a consistent problem, and make the necessary changes to correct that. Eury Jr. has failed in this duty.
Finally, there is the crew chief himself. Even the masters of the obvious that call the races from the television booth have noticed on more than one occasion that the No. 88 does not keep up with changing conditions during races. When the team is running well, they fall off at the end of races; when they start off poorly, they never seem to be able to make the big change to get back into contention. Those decisions are purely the purview of the crew chief. He makes the calls and he dictates the adjustments to keep the car competitive. The pit-road problems are also directly on the crew chief’s shoulders. It is his job to count the driver into his pit box and he should be letting the driver know well enough in advance that he’s approaching his stall.
When it all comes out in the wash, the most popular driver in the sport with the backing of the most powerful organization in the sport should be more competitive. While Tony Eury Jr. is family and a familiar voice in Dale Jr.’s ear, he’s no longer getting the job done and is not leading this team to the results they should be attaining. Votes of confidence from the team owner aside, the time has come for change and Tony Eury’s head is the one that needs to roll.