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Minter: Earnhardt-Eury Saga Leaves Lots to Ponder

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 28 2009
It started off well enough as Dale Eanrhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. won at Michigan last year.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It started off well enough as Dale Eanrhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. won at Michigan last year. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The reunion of Tony Eury Jr. and his cousin Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports came to an end Wednesday night, with Eury being replaced as his cousin’s crew chief by a group of Hendrick veterans – Lance McGrew, Brian Whitesell and Rex Stump.

The news isn’t surprising, given the poor performance of the team in recent weeks. But it also makes one ponder the “what-ifs” of the Eury-Earnhardt saga.

What if Earnhardt hadn’t raced Carl Edwards so hard in the fall race at Atlanta in 2004, when he was in great position to win the championship, and wrecked his car, turning a six-win season into a disappointment, points-wise?

And what could they have done in 2007 if not for six blown engines?

What if Earnhardt hadn’t made mistakes on pit road and then wrecked with Brian Vickers in this year’s Daytona 500?

It also makes one wonder what happens if this shake-up doesn’t work.

Will McGrew, Whitesell and Stump become like Pete Rondeau and Steve Hmiel at Dale Earnhardt Inc.? Remember when they took over for Eury at DEI and failed to return Earnhardt to his winning ways, other than a gas-mileage victory at Chicagoland in 2005. 

Meanwhile, during that stretch Eury led Michael Waltrip’s old DEI team to some of its best runs at places other than Daytona and Talladega.

But when the driver is the sport’s most popular, there’s really no choice but to do something drastic when the performance isn’t there.

Speaking on a teleconference Thursday afternoon, team owner Rick Hendrick said that in the end, the bad results and the things they bring simply became too much for any of the parties involved to bear.

“The pressure and the frustration finally got to everybody, and we had to call a time out,” he said. “It hurt me to see those two guys as frustrated as they were and I couldn’t help them.”

Now Hendrick is giving Dale Earnhardt Jr. another chance at a fresh start.

Two years ago he gave the sport’s most popular driver a chance to escape from the family drama at Dale Earnhardt Inc., where his step-mother was his boss and his performance was lagging, and get a new start at Hendrick. But so far, that major move has only produced one points-paying Sprint Cup win.

Eury is getting a second chance too. He essentially takes McGrew’s job as head of the research and development team at Hendrick. McGrew, already set to crew chief Brad Keselowski’s car this weekend at Dover, takes over as interim crew chief for Earnhardt next week.

Throughout Thursday’s hour-long teleconference on Thursday, Hendrick seemed to go out of his way to keep from dumping the blame on Eury, saying he’s a talented mechanic who will continue to be a key asset for the team. He also headed off any criticism of Eury’s ability to utilize the resources at Hendrick.

“He’s been open-minded to anything,” Hendrick said. “He has not been stone-walling any assets.”

Likewise, he didn’t place an inordinate amount of blame the driver, saying he has the skills and determination to succeed.

“I believe Dale is plenty tough enough,” Hendrick said, adding that Earnhardt is on a workout program and is engaged with the team’s engineers in discussions about his car, which is mired in 19th place in the points standings with just one top-five finish in 12 races this season.

But he also acknowledged that the two Juniors are under a tremendous amount of pressure simply because of Earnhardt’s popularity.

“The load Dale Earnhardt carries on his shoulders, I would not want that much heat on me,” Hendrick said. “The same for Tony Jr.”

One obvious question is whether the latest changes will cause any long-term hard feelings, and Hendrick said the best way to avoid that is by improving the performance on the race track.

“Success will take care of anything,” he said.

But what if there is no such success?

That’s a question no one in the sport wants to think about right now.

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 28 2009
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Leon Hammack says:

    It was inevitable that the Dale,Jr.-Tony,Jr. thing was not working, and a change was over due. Reflecting back to DEI, that relationship had its ups and downs, too. But this is a business and the race teams must perform. If the combo doesn’t work, you got to find the right combo to make a run at the championship!!

    Rick Hendrick knows the NASCAR race business and I think that he will find the right combination that works well on the #88 team. I think that Mc Grew has proven himself as a quality crew chief. Now we just have to see if he and Dale, Jr. have that thing called “chemistry”!!

  • John says:

    I’m not a Jr. fan, but I’m definitely not anti-Jr. either. I admire Rick Hendrick and what he does to make all of his teams the best they can be, and the patience he has when they struggle. I think everyone had simply come to the realization that it was time for a change with the 88 team, not because anyone was necessarily failing, but there was just a need for new blood. I certainly hope this puts Jr. and the team on a new footing and helps them improve their performance.

    Eury Jr. has been in a rough spot as well. When a team is failing, fans call for the Crew Chief’s head. The pressure they have put on themselves, the pressure the fans put on them, combined with their uniqued relationship as cousins may have been more than they could overcome. I wish him well in his new position at Hendrick Motorsports, and hope he finds it fulfilling.

  • [...] Earnhardt-Eury Saga Leaves Lots to Ponder By Rick Minter | Senior Writer The reunion of Tony Eury Jr. and his cousin Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports came to an end Wednesday night, with Eury being replaced as his cousin’s crew chief by a group of Hendrick veterans – Lance McGrew, Brian Whitesell and Rex Stump. The news isn’t surprising, given the poor [...] http://www.racintoday.com/archives/4968 [...]

  • Gabriel D. says:

    Dale obviously has the skills to success in the sport. But I think he is not being so smart as a driver this year. While others demonstrate their strategy to manage the pit stops and the race, Dale is struggling to keep a decent performance.