The last two weeks have brought major shakeups to the JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team. It all started with the organization’s release of competition director Tony Eury, Sr. Having joined the team in 2007 after 21 years with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Eury garnered seven wins 28 top 5s and 86 top 10s while serving as crew chief for the No. 88 team. Then, just ten days later Tony Eury, Jr., who had been serving as Danica Patrick’s crew chief, was released Monday.
“Unfortunately Tony, Jr. is no longer with the company. I had hoped he would be here for a long time, but as we’ve discussed the direction of JR Motorsports moving forward, it was clear out differences in ideas were too vast to overcome,” Earnhardt, Jr. said in a statement. “I love him like a brother and you’ll never hear me say a bad thing about him. I know he’ll have much success in anything he does going forward.”
Back in June, Eury, Jr. told espnW.com that being a part of what could become a historic run was his motivation to work hard for Patrick.
“When I took this job, I told (Eury, Sr.), I can’t wait because what’s cool about this is when has a woman come into this sport and somebody given her 100 percent?” Eury said. “That’s why I did it. I thought it was a challenge. I thought it was something cool nobody else has ever done. If you can win a race with her, you’d be the first person to win it in this series. That’s something to shoot for.”
In his place, Ryan Pemberton, who replaced Tony Eury, Sr. just ten days ago as the organization’s competition director, will serve as interim crew chief for Danica Patrick this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The future atop the pit box for the remainder of the season has yet to be determined according to JRM general manager Kelley Earnhardt-Miller.
But what does it all mean for Patrick as she closes out her first full season in NASCAR and prepares to head off to the Sprint Cup Series next season? Stability atop the pit box is one of the most important parts of a successful race team. After all, driver ability only goes so far when you’ve got some of the smartest people in the sport making the calls from week to week.
With that being said, instability atop the pit box is not always a bad thing. Earlier this year, in an effort to help improve rookie Cole Whitt’s performance, JRM performed a crew chief swap. Eury, Sr. was moved to the part-time No. 5 team shared by Earnhardt, Jr. while Bruce Cook took over as crew chief for Cole Whitt.
And what was the result? Whitt followed up with two top 5s and eight top-10 results in 19 races while the Earnahrdt, Jr. / Fellows duo finished top 5 in three of four events. Right there, you’ve got evidence that a fresh set of thoughts making the calls in a split-second can make a difference, and it’s not like Patrick has run terribly this year, especially considering she’s making a transition to a much heavier car than she’s accustomed to driving. While she’s got just two top-10 results in 26 races, the driver of the No. 7 has a disappointing six DNFs, most of which were not of her making.
In the end, Patrick loses a crew chief that has made her feel comfortable and has given her 100% through the year without that victory he’d hoped to snag. But Eury has been replaced by someone who has the future interests of JRM in his mind and sits on the same page as majority team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And a fresh set of thoughts and decisions this weekend and for the remainder of the year could make the difference.
Can Patrick grab that victory before the season is up? Of course she can, but I’m not quite sure she’s there just yet. I’ve been quite impressed with her improvement thus far, and provided she continues to focus and doesn’t get too frustrated, there is a future for her in NASCAR. Let’s just hope the changes that have affected her team don’t distract her to the point where the performance level heads backward.
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