Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Up & Down Day in Long Awaited Reunion With Tony Eury
“This pair used to be deadly,” were the words Mike Davis of JR Motorsports wrote on his Twitter page earlier today.
The pair that Davis was referring to were JRM Nationwide Series crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and nephew Dale Earnhardt Jr. who between 1998 and 2004 were a force to be reckon with each weekend.
When Earnhardt Jr. began his NNS career in 1998, it was Eury Sr. that was hired as his crew chief and they won 13 races and back-to-back championships—1998 and 1999—before being promoted to the Sprint Cup Series in 2000.
Their rookie year consisted of two points wins, Texas and Richmond, as well as becoming the first rookie team to ever win the Sprint All-Star race. The next four years saw the then No. 8 Budweiser team compete for championships, finishing third in 2003 and winning six races in 2004 and bringing home a fifth place championship standing.
All Earnhardt Jr. fans most likely will remember the 2004 season as the best year of his career. Along with the team’s six wins, Eury Sr. was atop the pit box to guide them to their first Daytona 500 victory.
They must have been the best years of Earnhardt Jr.’s life as he got to work as well as win with family, whom he’s always been close to. When he founded his own team, JR Motorsports, it didn’t surprise anyone that half of the company is made up of family members.
But as everyone knows, after the 2004 season things began to change.
In order to make every car at Dale Earnhardt Inc. run well, people were moved around within the teams. That included removing the Eury’s from Earnhardt Jr.’s team and sending them to teammate Michael Waltrip.
It was all for not as the two teams missed the Chase, even though Earnhardt Jr. was able to pick up one win. In 2006 one Eury was reunited with the driver, cousin Tony Eury Jr., until midway through the 2009 season.
Tony Eury Sr., hasn’t been atop Earnhardt Jr.’s pit box, or any Sprint Cup Series pit box in years. He has however, been working as a crew chief for Earnhardt Jr. in a different way.
The last three years he’s been an employee of his nephew at JR Motorsports, crew chiefing the No. 88 car of Brad Keselowski from late 2007 to 2009. The duo won six races and finished third in points two years in a row.
This season Eury Sr. is back in that position and will be looking to take Kelly Bires to both victory lane to the first time and to the same success he led Keselowski to. However, before that can happen there will be a reunion between Eury Sr. and Earnhardt Jr.
When preparing for the Nationwide Series’ first race of the 2010 season JR Motorsports knew they would be taking two cars to the Daytona International Speedway.
The No. 88 for Kelly Bires in his attempt for a championship, and a second car that would have been driven by Earnhardt Jr. The last few years doing double duty at Daytona is something that Earnhardt Jr. has become accustomed to.
But once the company signed Danica Patrick to 12 Nationwide Series races and she decided after last weekend to participate in the Nationwide Daytona race, things got complicated. Bires was moved out of the No. 88 because sponsorship from Hellman’s had a contractual agreement to put Earnhardt Jr. in the 88 car.
Which meant that Bires wouldn’t get the second JRM car either since Patrick will be aboard it. The last few days saw many begin to focus on how fair it was, who was to blame, and if Bires’ championship hopes would be dashed because of him not being in the first race of the year.
Lost in all the hoopla was the fact that Earnhardt Jr. now had Tony Eury Sr. back in his ear and calling the shots for the first time in five years. Ask any Earnhardt Jr. fan and many of them might tell you they’ll pay Eury Sr.’s salary if he’ll come back to the Cup Series as Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. He’ll forever be the man that Earnhardt Jr. had the most success with unless things change over the next few years.
If all the rumors are true about Eury Sr. never wanting to be a Cup crew chief again, then Junior Nation will just have to remember the good ‘ol days. But for a few hours on Saturday they got their wish of seeing the two together again.
Earnhardt Jr. started third in the Drive-4-COPD 300 after qualifying was rained out, his position was decided by owner points from last season, and as mentioned Keselowski finished third in points.
Much of the race looked just like how many expected it—Earnhardt Jr. at the front mixing it up with Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and many others. Never lower than the bottom part of the top ten, things went smoothly like they did back in Eury Sr. and Earnhardt Jr.’s golden days.
Just passed the halfway point the No. 88 went to the lead for the first time but nothing at a restrictor plate track stays the same for long and soon Mr. Daytona himself, Tony Stewart, took the lead seven laps later. But Earnhardt Jr. was still a factor as pit stops were right on schedule and had no mistakes.
But with 30 laps to go as he rode second behind Stewart his day ended.
Carl Edwards said he was attempting to get back in line behind Keselowski when he clipped the No. 22 car. That contact sent Keselowski into hooking Earnhardt Jr.’s right rear quarter panel and sending him end over end down the backstretch.
He walked away unhurt but with a very torn up racecar.
Afterwards he was able to have a sense of humor after both his JR Motorsports car were torn up. Danica Patrick was caught in the big one just a few later before his accident.
“You don’t want to flip one upside down and it not be spectacular. You don’t want to waste your opportunity, right? It’s good to flip upside down every once in while, but it’s just too expensive for me.”
With a warm-up and fun run done with his uncle, Earnhardt Jr. turns to Sunday where he’ll look to win his second Daytona 500. This time with Lance McGrew atop his pit box calling the shots.
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