Commentary

Eury 'couldn't be happier' after Earnhardt's test debut in the 88

Why was Tony Eury Jr. smiling? His driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was No. 2 on the speed chart in the No. 88 Chevrolet during Monday's testing at Daytona.

Updated: January 16, 2008, 11:55 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The unmistakable big round face of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. looked cheerier than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve when the first test session ended Monday morning.

Eury's man -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- was No. 2 on the speed chart. Welcome to Hendrick Motorsports.

[+] EnlargeTony Eury Jr.
AP Photo/Terry RennaCrew chief Tony Eury Jr.: "Dale Jr. is more pumped up than I've ever seen him."

Earnhardt and Eury settled right in with their first laps in the No. 88 Chevy. Life is good.

"We have to get a little bit faster, but all in all, I couldn't be happier," Eury said from Daytona International Speedway. "I've been pumped, and Dale Jr. is more pumped up than I've ever seen him."

Earnhardt's first day in the car caused a mild media frenzy around the garage stall, a rare site for a January test session. But it was a much-anticipated moment.

So far, so good. Earnhardt elected not to talk about it until Tuesday, wanting a day to get acclimated with his new crew.

This is easy stuff for Junior. Just get in the car, mash the gas and point the car in the right direction. That's pretty much it for single-car runs at Daytona. As Tony Stewart once said, "A monkey could do it."

For Eury, it's a little more complicated. The entire transition this season from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick is a gigantic adjustment for Eury.

He's the coach of this team. He has to make the decisions that ultimately will determine Earnhardt's fate in his first season with the big boys of NASCAR.

Eury says he's loving every minute of it, even the 15-hour days he's spending at the shop.

"My wife asked about that," Eury said. "I haven't been home earlier than 9 p.m. because I'm enjoying my job and everything I'm learning. I'm really into it right now. I want to make sure I know everything I possibly can know."

There's a lot to learn. Eury is a little like a kid with a special new toy, the one that has all the cool electronic gadgets everyone wants.

"That's how it is," Eury said. "But I have a good group of engineers behind me to explain things to me."

Eury is an old-school kind of guy, a good ol' boy who followed his father into the sport, as so often happens in NASCAR.

Now, he finds himself at the MIT of Sprint Cup with the Hendrick brainiacs. Lots of guys with letters behind their name making fancy charts based on physics instead of gimmicks.

Not that Eury didn't see that at DEI. He just sees a lot more it from more people now.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt Jr.
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayDale Earnhardt Jr.'s testing session Monday at Daytona went about as well as expected.

"It's not a whole lot of difference, but we have a little bit more depth," Eury said. "The last two months here have really helped me out. I've been hanging out with these guys, going out to dinner, learning their personalities and finding out what each person is great at, then putting him to use in that area.

"You still do the same things you've always done to get the car nailed down. The difference is the people who surround you and the organization."

Eury is one of the most likable guys in NASCAR, as unpretentious a person as you could ever meet. He is unsophisticated, unusual for a Hendrick employee. But Eury is no dummy. He knows the key to being successful is learning to use his resources.

"There are a lot of people here that know a lot of things," Eury said. "But you have to find that one person to pull the information from. That's kind of the crew chief's job here."

His job also is to make sure Earnhardt is comfortable and happy, not always an easy task. Nothing new for Eury. He does it well because he knows his cousin better than anyone.

They fought and they separated for a year before realizing they needed each other. Now they've moved on together because Rick Hendrick believed that bond was worth keeping.

"They have trust in each other," Hendrick said when he hired Eury. "That's the biggest part of the relationship between driver and crew chief."

Eury is convinced they can make the most of that close relationship and win races this season, something that didn't happen in a lame-duck year at DEI. How many will they win?

"I'd be very disappointed if we don't win at least four," Eury said. "I don't think that's out of line at all. We can get the job done. It's just a matter of getting the right breaks and making the right calls. If we do that, we have a shot at getting in the Chase and winning the title."

If Earnhardt is back in the championship hunt, everyone in NASCAR benefits. Even the other drivers realize how much it means for the sport's biggest star to run up front.

"I think everybody in the garage is rooting in them," said defending Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick. "I know there's a lot of pressure on Junior, but he's happy and he has everything he needs."

Including Eury, the man who has to answer for how it all works out. It's Earnhardt's car, but it's Eury's show.

"This is exciting for me," Eury said. "There's pressure, but no more than I've always had. Pressure comes when you're with Dale Earnhardt Jr. The expectations are huge, so that's the same. But I have a lot of help here. I just have to pull out what I need and go race."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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