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Minter: Without Pops, Earnhardt Has Lost Crackle

| 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

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 26 2009
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