It's as if Junior is looking over his shoulder at what once was.
Since the departure on Tony Eury Sr. from atop his pit box after the 2004 Cup season, Dale Jr just hasn't enjoyed the same success with Tony Eury Jr, Eury Sr.'s son. Sr. and Earnhardt Jr's best season without a doubt was 2004.
They started off with a bang by dominating speed weeks by finishing second in the Bud Shootout, and winning his 125 mile qualifying race, the Nationwide race, and his first Daytona 500. From there his season took off and never really slowed down.
All in all, Earnhardt Jr piled up six victories, including three in the first 11 races, 16 top five finishes, 21 top tens, and finished in the top five of the championship standings for the second consecutive season.
2004 was the inaugural season of Nascar's new points format, known as the Chase. Junior started off very strong in the first half with one win, three top fives, and five top 10s, in the first half of the chase. With all the success, the team was imploding on itself, and we would only find out later that a major switch was in the works for Junior.
With four of the last five races in 2004, being outside of the top ten, Junior claimed it was time for a change because he couldn't get along with the Eury's anymore. This led to an internal switch within DEI that sounded confusing at the time.
I'm going to try and explain it so bare with me. Basically all of the No. 8 cars became No. 15s and vice versa. All of the teams worked in the same shop, just the cars were different colors, and had a different number.That year I went to Michigan and happened to run into a pit member of Junior's "new team," and my father asked him, "How do you like being on Junior's team?" The pit member turned to us offered a chuckle, and just smiled.
I'm glad he was happy because his Junior's fans we're anything but.
2005 in a word was an abysmal season for Earnhardt Junior. He only had one win, which was based off of a strategy call, seven top fives, thirteen top ten finishes, and only finished on the lead lap in 19 of 36 races.
That's right. The sport's most popular driver only finished on the same lap as the winner half the time. The team switch wasn't exactly a match made in heaven, but Junior said it had to be done so he could truly appreciate the Eury's, and they could appreciate him.
DEI put things back to the way they were in 2004, per Junior and Eury Jr's request. The only difference was that Eury Sr. was no longer working with the No.8 team on raceday. We, as Dale Jr. fans, thought that Eury Jr had learned enough from his dad over the years to bring back so much of the success Earnhardt Jr had early on in his career.
Boy were we wrong.
Since the team switch in 2005, Dale Jr has been less than stellar, that's for sure. In almost four full seasons he's only won three races, finished in the top five 34 times, and in the top 10 57 times in 142 races. Statistically, this hasn't even been his best season since 2005, even with the move from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports. Since Eury Sr left he's only had one great season, including the chase and that was 2006, where he finished fifth in the final standings.
The five seasons that Eury Sr was atop the pit box of Earnhardt Jr, Junior enjoyed much more success, and his performance showed. From 2000-2004 Earnhardt Jr complied 15 wins, 52 top five finishes, 78 top 10s in 178 races , and finished in the top 10 of the points standings three times.
Some of those victories include his Daytona 500, emotional win in the 2001 Pepsi 400, his five wins at Talladega including four consecutive, and the Dover race after September 11th where Junior celebrated on the track with the American Flag blowing in the wind.
Junior nation, which I'm a proud member of, had such high expectations for Junior this season, after joining the superpower at Hendrick Motorsports. We expected him to win multiple races, and be right in the championship hunt come Homestead.
These were possibly lofty expectations, but all the pieces at Hendrick are there. Not to mention having Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to bounce set-ups off of, and having the best equipment in the business, it was all there for Junior.
He just wasn't able to take advantage of it.
He ran better than his statistics show because a few of his races could have been top tens if not for a blown pit call by Eury Jr. He cost Earnhardt Jr a good finish at Watkins Glen by leaving him out on the track way way too long.
I don't know what strategy Eury Jr was on, but most teams run the race backwards when it comes to fuel. Then when his strategy backfired he lashed out with "All of the other teams are playing the same freaking strategy, it's just ridiculous."
Whether it's ridiculous or not Tony, none of the other teams told you to leave Earnhardt Jr on the track and lose a second per lap so you could stretch his fuel to 40 laps. Just come forward and admit you made a mistake, and blew the race for him instead of blaming the other 42 crew chiefs.
We have to take the good with the bad I suppose, and he did get one fuel strategy call right at Michigan, and I was happy for that, especially since I was at that race, calling him home.
Earnhardt Jr won't take to many more of Eury Jr's blown calls, family or not. You've got to be wondering if inside of Hendrick Motorsports, there is talk of moving Eury Jr to car chief of the No.88, and promoting Earnhardt Jr a new crew chief. We all saw what Darien Grubb did with Jimmie Johnson's team after Chad Knaus got suspended.
Just something to think about.
Whether Earnhardt Jr. is happy with Eury Jr. or not, he's got to be wishing he still could walk into the garage area, and see Tony Sr., wrenching on his race car.