Junior’s slow start may lead to Eury’s fast firing

Published 11:51 pm Friday, March 20, 2009

It has already begun. You knew it would happen, but didn’t know when and how intense it would get.

Calls for Tony Eury Jr.’s job are coming in loud and clear. Eury is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief and cousin, and he is taking much of the blame for Junior’s slow start to the season.

When Junior decided two years ago not to renew his contract with DEI and move over to Hendrick Motorsports the pressure to win, and win big, began. NASCAR’s most popular driver was moving to NASCAR’s best team. Why wouldn’t the expectation to win be present?

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Last season, the No. 88 team won one race and fell apart during the Chase, despite being in the position to win four or five times more. This season, Junior has run well at times but really hasn’t been a factor in any of the first four races. If this trend continues and Junior doesn’t turn it around soon, I expect there will be a change. But you can bet it will be over Junior’s objections.

Only once in his professional race career has Junior not had a crew chief named Eury. In 2005, Junior and Michael Waltrip, both at DEI at the time, had their entire crews switch.

Eury ended up with Mikey, and Junior ended up with Pete Rondeau. The bad experiment was over by June as Rondeau was replaced by Steve Hmiel. At the time, Junior said he never wanted another crew chief other than Eury.

But if the performance of the 88 team doesn’t change, I think he will get a new crew chief for the second time in his career. In all major sports, owners don’t fire players for poor performances. There’s too much invested and too much at stake. They fire coaches. In this case, the coach is the crew chief.

There is only one person who can, and will, make the decision. Most everyone calls him Mr. Hendrick, as in Rick Hendrick. Long considered the best owner in the garage, Hendrick will not hesitate to make the change if he believes it is in the best interest of the team and will improve performance.

I think a change will happen. And it will either give Junior the spark to win some races and get into the chase or it will give him an excuse for stinking all year and finishing 20th in the standings.

After a week off, the series moves to Thunder Valley in Bristol, Tenn. To me, this track produces the most entertaining races of the year, every year. Imagine 43 race cars on a half-mile track banked at 30 degrees in corners. Just lining the cars up to start the race takes half the track, and before lap 10, it’ll be a solid line of cars circling the track at 15 seconds per lap.

Adding to the excitement, this is the fifth race of the year, and the race that guaranteed starting positions will be based on 2009 points.

Look for Tony Stewart to pick up his first win of 2009 and his first win as a car owner. He’s my pick to take the checkers Sunday at Bristol.