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Earnhardt Jr. On Eury Sr.: It Had To Be Done

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 8 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says it was tough to let "Pops" go. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

RICHMOND, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. says parting ways with Tony Eury Sr., who was JR Motorsports’ competition director and a crew chief, was a “difficult decision that we had to make.”

“As a company, we just felt like we wanted to make some changes and I was telling Jeff [Gordon] earlier that the environment for our Nationwide team … is so different than what we have in the Cup Series,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “In the Cup series you have commitments that stretch over years and you can really map a future further ahead than just 12 months. In the Nationwide Series, a lot of our programs are structured over single years and you renegotiate each year. Every year you don’t really know what February is going to look like sponsor-wise whether you will have one full-time sponsor over an entire team, whether you are going to have three or four trying to outfit one car trying to get that car to the race track.

“During this kind of time of transition, we felt like we wanted to make some gains or make some changes and try to do something different, try to improve our company, our team. We need to do something directional that is different than what we are doing.”

Eury Sr. has been associated with Earnhardt Jr. for most of his racing career. Dale Earnhardt recruited his son’s uncle in the late 1990s to oversee Junior’s developing Busch Series [now Nationwide] career. With Eury Sr. at the helm, Earnhardt Jr. collected two Busch championships under the Dale Earnhardt Inc. banner before advancing to the Cup Series. When Earnhardt Jr. moved to Hendrick Motorsports, “Pops” remained with JR Motorsports.

“I think the change with ‘Pops’ was really difficult because he has meant so much to me and my career and me as a person,” Earnhardt Jr. said, “but at the same time we want to try to see if we can change our performance level and change a bit of the culture in the shop and see if that helps, if that gets us going in a better direction.”

Marcos Ambrose still doesn’t have a deal in place for next year and he admits that worries him “a little bit.”

“I’ve got unfinished business here in NASCAR,” Ambrose said. “I want to be in NASCAR and I’m working with RPM [Richard Petty Motorsports]. Hopefully, we can be with them for a long time to come, but there is no guarantee. Obviously, RPM has been through a lot this year as they have the last few seasons and I’m here to help them get to where they want to go and, hopefully, it works out for me.”

Ambrose said team owner Richard Petty had told him the team would field two cars next year. He also noted RPM had to work out a contract with a manufacturer before locking in its drivers. Most of the money Ford was channeling to RPM has been redirected to Penske Racing.

Matt Kenseth says most of the feedback from the fans, probably 95 percent or more, has been positive regarding his move to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.

Kenseth has driven for Ford his entire NASCAR Sprint Cup career, which began in 1998. After Kenseth’s move to JGR became official on Tuesday, the Wisconsin native went to the Roush Fenway Racing shop and “hung out” with his team for a while.

“They are fine,” Kenseth said. “They understand. I think they have been over that for a while and we are all focused on the task at hand.”

Kenseth says he is “kind of surprised” at how excited he is about the change for 2013.

“I am excited about starting another chapter in my career and a chance to go to another winning team that wins races and wins championships and go see how I can do over there,” Kenseth said. “It is hard because I am really excited about that, but I don’t want to slight the team I am at either.”

Kenseth said JGR contacted him around the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The two got together a couple of times and talked.

“It all happened within a month probably, something like that,” Kenseth said.

New father Aric Almirola said it was difficult to leave wife Janice and their new baby, Alex, to come to Richmond for the Federated Auto Parts 400.

“That is probably the first time in my life that I have been torn about leaving to go to the race track,” Almirola said. “My whole life I have gotten up to go to the race track and been extremely excited. Not that I wasn’t excited to come to Richmond, I am always excited to come drive a race car, but that is the first time in my life that I have been torn and equally had something at home that I wanted to be with as bad.”

NASCAR’s technical bulletin reconfirming the parameters Sprint Cup teams must use in setting up their cars’ rear end suspension has drawn some interesting comments.

Martin Truex Jr. said the things Hendrick Motorsports were doing to its cars worked differently at different tracks.

“Obviously, the high-grip places like Pocono, Michigan, the repaves, that stuff they had worked really well,” Truex Jr. said. “They were dominant. Indianapolis where, obviously the straightaways are long, the aerodynamics are huge because of the flat corners and the high speeds. It’s going to be tough to say how much their cars are going to change. We don’t know how much the bushings were actually doing.

“We all know they were doing something, but I don’t think it’s just the bushings that are doing it. And I don’t think them taking away a quarter of three-eighths of an inch of movement in the bushing is going to slow their cars down half a second.”

When asked if he thought Jimmie Johnson was being truthful about the Hendrick bushings, Truex Jr. replied: “I’m not going to say he’s lying. I’m just going to say maybe he’s stretching the truth a little bit. I think there’s maybe a little bit more to it than that. Again, these are all opinions, right? We all have one and they all stink.”

Howard Comstock, of Dodge’s SRT Motorsports engineering department, believes the teams that were involved in what some of the teams were doing are facing a “big deal” now that NASCAR has taken it away.

“If you stayed the course and stuck to what you knew was completely within the rules, I think that you’re going to be better off going to Chicago next week because the teams that have been fooling with that stuff now have to go back to what everyone else has been using,” Comstock said. “They missed the entire last half of the summer in what I’ll call traditional chassis development because they were depending on the trick that they had. Now that NASCAR has once again leveled the playing field, we’ll see who’s got the best stuff.”

NASCAR is now inspecting the cars’ rear ends before and after each event.

Kevin Harvick says he wants Gil Martin to remain his Sprint Cup crew chief for the rest of the year.

Martin stepped into the position after Shane Wilson was moved to a different job at Richard Childress Racing. Martin and Harvick worked together successfully prior to Martin being promoted to a supervisory position.

Harvick said as long as Martin remains his crew chief the “sky is the limit in the Chase.”

Drivers who have already locked themselves into the Chase said the Federated Auto Parts 400 weekend at Richmond International Raceway felt like the All-Star race since they could just race and not have to worry about points.

“It feels like a low-tension, high-reward weekend,” Brad Keselowski said. “You don’t want to wreck, but if you do, you kind of shrug your shoulders and go ‘Oh well’.”

Tony Stewart says he’s happy to have Ryan Newman re-signed, even though both teams have lost their primary sponsors for 2013 – Office Depot and the U.S. Army, respectfully.

“You have to start first with something,” Stewart said. “It’s kind of what is first, the chicken or the egg. It’s hard to get sponsors if you don’t have a driver. And it’s hard to have a driver if you don’t have sponsors. So, we had to start somewhere.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 8 2012
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