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Minter: Without Pops, Earnhardt Has Lost Crackle

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 26 2009
During the good old days, it was Tony Eury Sr. who was guiding Dale Earnhardt Jr. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

During the good old days, it was Tony Eury Sr. who was guiding Dale Earnhardt Jr. to victories. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Throughout the long-running debate over why Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t enjoying the same success as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, one fact gets consistently overlooked: His best days in NASCAR were with Tony Eury Sr. running the show.

“Pops” Eury, with able assistance from his son Tony Jr., guided his nephew Dale Jr. to consecutive Busch Series titles and to a remarkable debut in the Cup Series.

But since he turned the reins over to Tony Jr., the magic just hasn’t been there. Without Eury Sr., Earnhardt becomes like Jeff Gordon without Ray Evernham or Matt Kenseth without Robbie Reiser or Ryan Newman without Matt Borland. You get the point.  A winning chemistry between driver and crew chief is a rare thing, something to be preserved as long as it lasts.

The problems in Earnhardt’s case are magnified because being crew chief for NASCAR’s most popular driver is arguably the toughest job in the sport. If the driver isn’t winning, the crew chief most likely will get the blame eventually.

Eury Sr. set the standards high. His 2004 season with Earnhardt Jr. saw them win six times and be on track to win the championship until a late-race run-in with then-rookie Carl Edwards at Atlanta Motor Speedway took them out of contention.

Since then, it’s been mostly downhill for Earnhardt and his legions of fans. Tony Jr. took over as crew chief when the two were still working at Dale Earnhardt Inc., but failed to find consistent success. Then others tried, with similarly disappointing results. Then when Earnhardt moved to Hendrick Motorsports, he was reunited with Eury Jr., and the two for a time had the best car in the Hendrick stable.

But midway through the 2008 season, the wheels ran off again and after the first Charlotte race this year, Eury was replaced by Lance McGrew.

Though promising at first, the pairing isn’t working. Back at Charlotte last week, Earnhardt qualified 39th and finished 38th with transmission troubles. It was his sixth straight finish of 20th or worse. Meanwhile his three teammates are battling for the championship in a year that Hendrick or Hendrick-affiliated drivers have won all the Chase races so far and hold the top four spots in the standings. Earnhardt is winless and 24th in points.

Earlier in the weekend at Charlotte, he expressed his frustrations in a meeting with reporters.

“It’s really encouraging one day and the next day it’s equally discouraging and that gets really old,” he said. “I’m about to the end of my rope on it…I’ve been riding it out, but I think there comes a point when you don’t want to ride it out any more.”

He also talked about the kind of crew chief he needs, and his comments showed that he’s well aware of what led to his early success in NASCAR.

“Whoever I work with needs to be a dictator,” he said. “The most success I had was with Tony (Eury) Sr. and you know how he runs his ship.”

Interestingly, Eury Sr. now works for Hendrick as crew chief for Brad Keselowski’s Nationwide Series team.

In the past, he’s expressed little desire to return to the Cup circuit. There likely are a lot of people in the Junior Nation who would like to see him change his mind.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 26 2009
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • Debbie says:

    I also listen to the radio either at the races or from home the last 3 out of 4 races lance has said on the radio to Jr ” I don’t know what to do to fix the car” I’m so glad he is suppose to be a crew cheif and know all this stuff. And at Charlotte’s race Lance was not even listening or answering Jr When his transmission went.All of us fans heard JR why didn’t Lance?So don’t put all the blame on JR.

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  • Randall says:

    What Dale Jr. needs may not be a different crew chief. After listening in on the scanner during the Martinsville race it seems the Golden Boy has issues with respect. The attitude caught me off guard as I listned to him belittle his crew. How will he ever win again without the support of his crew? He can’t. No Eury can fix this. It will take Jr. realizing that learning to respect others begins with self respect. When that happens he will once again enjoy the success of the past, plus more.The talent is certainly there, but it takes more than ability to win.

  • Marcus says:

    I diasagree that Eury would need a whole year to get used to the COT chassis. I thought about that myself about a week ago, but I now think that being around the NASCAR garage enough, Eury has been able to hear and learn about the reaction this chassis has to changes. It was just announced that Steve Addington will be replaced by the CC of the #20 NNS car. Rogers will not be given a year to adjust. I am more and more for Eury Sr. pairing up with Dale Jr. again, although I believe that is merely a dream. Eury Sr. does not want that job at this stage in his life. Dale said that Eury Sr runs a tight ship…I am in the NAVY and I know exactly what that means and what that does. I can’t guarantee Dale Jr will be any faster with a Dictator for a Crew Chief(although I think he would), but I can tell you that these mechanical errors would dissapear, and that Crew errors on pit road would significantly lessen.

  • LC says:

    I think Pops is well aware of his LACK of COT experience. All the success the two did have was with the old car. The COT, besides being a piece of garbage, is a bear to adjust. Pops has little experience with this car. Why on earth would anyone want to jump into the fire with Jr. and the COT? Pops would more than likely need a whole season just to get used to how the COT reacts to adjustments. No Jr needs a dictator alright but Pops isn’t the answer.

  • Tom says:

    Please, please, please … Tony Sr. come back to Cup!!!!