NASCAR: Eury Jr. at ease with split
By Dan Gelston
JOLIET, Ill. ó His race day results with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a steady decline, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. lost confidence in his setups and strategies.
He quit talking with Earnhardt on the radio because every brief conversation was dissected by fans and media.
Earnhardt can feel the weight of NASCAR and its fans on him at times as the sport’s most popular driver. When he failed, it was his cousin and loyal crew chief who often took the often unfair hit.
When team owner Rick Hendrick pulled the plug on the unproductive relationship in late May, Eury was ready to move on.
“At some point in time you have to weigh it and say, ‘Is it worth it?’ ” Eury said. “And it wasn’t.”
Eury was back at the track Thursday for the first time since the longtime duo were separated with Earnhardt in the midst of one of the worst starts of his career. Eury will be crew chief for Brad Keselowski’s Hendrick Motorsports team for Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Eury was excited, relaxed and talked about racing with “nothing to lose” this weekend.
A series of mistakes and distractions forced Hendrick into shuffling the lineup. Eury was moved into a research and development role, and Lance McGrew took over as Earnhardt’s crew chief.
Earnhardt has shown flashes of improvement, but his final results haven’t been much better since the switch.
“A lot of people put him on a pedestal he doesn’t need to be on,” Eury said. “They put a lot of pressure on him to be somebody he’s not going to be.”
While Eury remained positive he could spark Earnhardt into a Chase for the championship contender, the results showed it was time for a change. He had mixed feelings about the decision. On one hand he was ready to leave the daily scrutiny that comes with the job. On the other, Eury felt he let down his cousin by not living up to the lofty expectations.
“Dale Jr. is a great race car driver, but I just think that he’s got so much pressure on him that he doesn’t enjoy it right now,” Eury said. “I told him, ‘Man, you just need to start enjoying yourself more.’ That’s kind of where I was at.”
Eury Jr. and Earnhardt exchanged some texts and emotional phone calls after the move, but their more recent talks have been about anything but racing. They planned hunting trips and other activities far removed from the track.
“In no way, shape or form am I going to let this sport get in between me and Dale,” Eury said.
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