Be you a fan or foe, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now for sure the boy we can’t ignore.
With the announcement of Tony Eury Jr’s recent firing by Rick Hendrick the negativity from the naysayers is buzzing like static on the radio blocking out any positive thoughts.
The pessimists out there have a tendency to only anticipate and emphasize the bad. So quick to complain and criticize rather than offer constructive commentary.
While I can appreciate their perspective on things, I’m not ready to turn in my Junior Nation membership just yet.
Was this the right move? It is impossible to say at this point, but I think that everyone agrees that something needed to be done, including Earnhardt Jr. himself.
"This year we're not even mediocre, and in the last two weeks, possibly, quite arguably, have been one of the worst teams on the track," Earnhardt said.
"Whenever you decide that something needs to happen, you just make the change you want to make," Earnhardt said. "I told Rick that whatever he wanted to do, to do it, and that meant whatever.
"If he thought I wasn't able to get the job done, then I would be fine if he wanted to change who was in the seat, if he wanted to change certain particulars on the team — whatever — to not necessarily involve me in it.
"They run race teams. That's their business. They put together champions. I want 'em to just do whatever it takes, and that's the way Tony Jr. felt, too."
This time last year Earnhardt Jr. was sitting pretty in the points standings, his team was performing well by consistently putting a good setup out on the track. Based on that success, Eury Jr. made the decision to stick with last year’s setup. After 14 races and dismal results, that setup is just not competitive in 2009. The understanding the dynamics of chassis setups fall on the shoulders of the crew chief, not the driver.
With the right direction and focus Junior has proven to be a contender. To proclaim that Junior can’t drive, in my opinion, is nonsensical.
Before Eury Jr., Tony Eury Sr. sat atop of the pit box.
Eury Sr. led Earnhardt Jr. to two Busch series championships and during his first five years in the Sprint Cup series, the duo went to Victory Lane 15 times and sat on the pole six times.
At the end of the 2004 season, Eury Sr. was promoted to a team management position within DEI.
In 2005 Junior cycled through two crew chiefs before settling with Tony Eury Jr. after Richmond’s fall race.
Peter Rondeau served as Earnhardt Jr.s crew chief until the Coca-Cola 600 when he was replaced with DEI chief engineer Steve Hmiel. Together they scored that year’s only win at the Chicagoland Speedway. He failed to make the Chase.
With Eury Jr. calling the shots, Earnhardt Jr. won only once in 2006, but did make the Chase finishing 5th in the points standings.
2007 proved dismal with no wins and missing the Chase once again. He shocked the NASCAR world by announcing that he would be leaving DEI to join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
In his first race for Hendrick, Earnhardt’s 2008 season started out promising. His new No. 88 team won the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade Duel. Despite winning only one race in a controversial fuel conserving, under caution finish, a string of top-5 and top-10 finishes kept him consistently in Chase contention.
2009 has proven to be Junior’s worst to date. Every imaginable excuse has been made for his poor performance, but the fact that Eury Jr. has only scored two wins in the last four years for his driver speaks volumes.
In his second year of a five year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, owner Rick Hendrick had to do something to justify his investment, something needed to change within the No. 88 team.
There were two major parts of a dilapidated machine that were in need of desperate repair. Hendrick was under pressure to make a crucial decision and live with the consequences.
Not ready to part with NASCAR’s most popular driver, Hendrick chose to focus on Team 88’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr.
The crew chief change could backfire and Hendrick is well aware of that.
"Now I've got a new kind of pressure," Hendrick said. "Whether I made a mistake, I don't think so."
"If we stay like we are, we'll never know."
Earnhardt said the result at Lowe's Motor Speedway was "a catalyst" for the decision. The lack of success certainly had an effect on his relationship with Eury, but Earnhardt doesn't understand how the partnership disintegrated so quickly.
"The only thing I can say was a little bit of an issue was, most of last year, we ran on right-front bump stops, and we were running good with that," Earnhardt said. "We had studied and learned that. During the middle of the season, Jimmie (teammate Johnson) was trying some different stuff, and he started having some success with it.
"We started trying it and trying to make it work and trying to learn it, so we could be ready to go to the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) and not get our butts kicked, and we really kind of got lost trying to develop this other idea of how to set the car up. And we got away from what was working and never really regained that momentum."
Earnhardt continues to defend Eury and believes "he will do great things again, but maybe we're not meant to do them together."