NASCAR: Hendrick mum on Junior’s crew chief
By Mark Long
CONCORD ó After months of firmly backing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, car owner Rick Hendrick was noncommittal about Tony Eury Jr.’s future Tuesday.
Although Hendrick said no personnel changes have been made on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet, he declined to give Eury a vote of confidence a day after NASCAR’s most popular driver was 40th in the Coca-Cola 600, his worst finish of the season.
Hendrick left open the possibility that Earnhardt could have a new crew chief this weekend in Dover, Del.
“Could it change?” Hendrick said following the sport’s “town hall” meeting. “We’re talking about things. We’re meeting. We’re going to make decisions as the days go by. But we haven’t made any decision as of right now.”
Earnhardt ran near the back of the pack Monday and was two laps down in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600, his worst showing since last season’s finale in Homestead, Fla.
Earnhardt wasn’t involved in a wreck and didn’t have mechanical problems at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. His car handled poorly all afternoon.
When the race was over, Earnhardt was left with his third consecutive finish outside the top 25. He’s also been 20th or worse five times in the last six Sprint Cup events.
“We just missed a setup,” Hendrick said. “I can’t explain why because basically we’re the same, all four cars. They all fought a lot of the same problems early on. Probably as a group, we were off. We’ve been better at Charlotte than we were yesterday. I was disappointed; our teams were disappointed. We’ve got to go back and look at what we did.
“We just never could get (Earnhardt’s) car adjusted back.”
His teammates did.
Jimmie Johnson ran up front all day, but wound up 13th because of the final red-flag situation. Jeff Gordon finished 14th in what he called a “horrendous” car, and Mark Martin was three spots back after falling way behind because of a pit-road violation.
Earnhardt, who was testing on the road course at Virginia International Raceway on Tuesday and unavailable for comment, was way back all day. He’s been in that position often in the last 11 months.
Earnhardt joined Hendrick before the 2007 season in what was arguably the biggest free-agent move in NASCAR history, and many believed getting the sport’s most popular driver in the sport’s best equipment would land Junior in Victory Lane early and often.
It hasn’t happened.
He won once last season, at Michigan in June, but has been mostly mediocre in the 33 races since. He’s finished outside the top 20 a telling 14 times during that stretch.
Some believe the problems have started to get in Earnhardt’s head. Hendrick has said he was looking for new ways to get the team turned around. He said there had been several meetings and tons of information sharing with his other teams in hopes of finding some solutions.
But he’s strongly backed Eury the whole way, insisting that Earnhardt’s cousin and longtime crew chief is the right man for the job.
Hendrick was asked specifically if Eury would be atop the pit box at Dover, but for the first time, did not give a firm confirmation.
“We’re always concerned when we have a car that doesn’t run well,” Hendrick said. “We’re always meeting and trying to figure what to do and how to make it better. That’s just an ongoing situation. We’ve got to come up with a plan and we’ve got to work toward it.”