Earnhardt, Eury hope to go out with a bang at Talladega
Tony Eury Jr. leaves DEI for Hendrick Motorsports on Monday. That gives Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his longtime crew chief one final shot to tame Talladega, writes David Newton.
Updated: October 6, 2007, 7:26 PM ETBy David Newton | ESPN.com
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Eury Jr. slipped out the side door of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s red No. 8 hauler early Saturday morning to sip on a cool Gatorade away from the ebb and flow of the rest of the garage. He has been keeping a low profile all weekend, as has his driver. He hopes that is not the case Sunday. That this is the last time Earnhardt will run a restrictor plate race for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and the last time he'll race for his father's company with his longtime crew chief has been lost in the drama of the Chase for the Nextel Cup and the Car of Tomorrow's debut at Talladega Superspeedway. Eury is beginning his new career with Hendrick Motorsports on Monday morning. Earnhardt will follow the day after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They'd like to go out winners at Talladega, where Earnhardt has five of his 17 Cup victories, where he's such an icon that there is more red in the stands than at a home Alabama football game, where fans have been known to throw a beer can or two onto the track when he doesn't win. "It would be huge to win this race," said Eury, who is leaving early to learn the HMS system. "It would be no different than when we went back to Daytona in July  and won after his daddy died." Earnhardt didn't put it in terms quite that big, but he believes he has the talent to make it happen. He doesn't believe anybody has been better than him at restrictor-plate tracks since his dad. Not even Jeff Gordon, whose nine plate wins are one fewer than the late Earnhardt. "I'm here to win, man," said Junior, who will start 26th after a run in which 15 cars ahead of him were faster because they used a qualifying setup instead of a race setup trying to make the field. "I've got a good enough car, and I'm good enough. I'm the best here. My car is good enough, and my team is great. We've got a great shot." That should thrill the army of Earnhardt fans waiting for the 2007 season to end before adding another 8 to the 8 already tattooed on their arm or stuck on their car bumper. But Earnhardt doesn't just want to win because this is Talladega and his last hurrah at DEI with Eury. He wants a win, period. His last came at the 2006 spring race at Richmond, a span of 55 events. "I want to win every race I start," he said. The last time Earnhardt came to the last lap with a chance to win a race was here a year ago. He finished seventh after being collected in the mess Brian Vickers created when then-teammate Jimmie Johnson tried to pass for the lead. "Anytime I show up here, I can win," Earnhardt said. "Anytime I come here, I feel I'm the man to beat. That's the way I feel this weekend, too." Earnhardt and Eury won four straight races at Talladega from fall 2001 through spring 2003. Junior won again in fall 2004 but has finished no better than seventh since.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"There's little subtle stuff, but nothing real different," Earnhardt said. "It's still the same principle as far as how air travels around the car, where the pockets are and how you draft. "The cars feel really slow and are very easy to drive. It's pretty fun, actually. It's kind of fun drafting." That doesn't mean Earnhardt doesn't anticipate the gloom and doom others have. He still expects the so-called "big one," particularly with the excessive bump drafting NASCAR is anticipating with the COT. "It's going to be pretty interesting," Earnhardt said. "I'm going to try not to be in the wreck because there's probably going to be at least one or two big ones. "You can run into each other with these cars." Earnhardt then went into a deep explanation about how the bumpers are so much wider with the COT, meaning when they meet there is more surface-to-surface contact than before. "The other cars ... there was a small amount of surface-to-surface, which meant you could slide a little bit and you weren't really steering the guy in front of you," he said. "Now, the bumpers are so broad and there is such a large surface of it that is meeting, the guy behind you, if he's moving at all, he can steer your car and drive you down the back straightaway." And that, Earnhardt said, could make for a wild finish that excites him and scares many of those competing for a title. "If anybody can get up there and mix it up at the end, the way the car drafts and the way you can pull up and slingshot, that's going to be a whole lot of fun," he said. "The passing is going to be tremendous. "It's going to be insane."
Starting deep in the field is no big deal for Earnhardt. Three of his Talladega wins came after he started 10th or worse. He was second in 2003 after starting 38th. "Nobody's better here," Eury said. "The reason we're not in the limelight now is because we haven't run that good in the last two years. When we were sitting there winning [four] in a row, all the limelight was on us."
Junior has got all the talent in the world to make it happen. We've just got to have the whole piece of the puzzle.
-- Tony Eury Jr.
Earnhardt doesn't let much bother him at Talladega. Unlike other drivers, who spent the past few days complaining that the COTs rear wing and taller greenhouse block their view, he said it was no different from the previous car. "The thing that I sort of missed is being able to see hand signals," Earnhardt said. "With the wings, it's tough to see them. Maybe all the drivers should be wearing white gloves or something." Earnhardt typically wears white gloves at superspeedways, where he's as popular behind the wheel as Michael Jackson once was behind the microphone wearing one glove. That won't change next year when he and Eury are reunited at HMS. If anything, they could become even more of a threat on restrictor-plate tracks. HMS has won three straight and four of the past five races at Talladega, plus three of the past seven at Daytona. "Things will be better over there." Eury said. "They've definitely dominated the last couple of years. We don't have to worry about the motors. The motors will be there." Eury was referring to the five blown DEI engines that kept Earnhardt, 13th in points, out of the Chase. "With the Car of Tomorrow, you can't do anything to the body anymore," Eury said. "So it's going to come down to a driver and a motor." And at Talladega, there's no better driver -- as Earnhardt said -- than him. "Junior has got all the talent in the world to make it happen," Eury said. "We've just got to have the whole piece of the puzzle." Both hope the pieces come together for one last hurrah Sunday. Although this isn't the end of their era together, it is the end of their era at DEI. "It was hard for me on Wednesday, leaving the shop and them guys for the last time," Eury said. "I don't think it will be as hard leaving on Sunday, and we're going to do everything we can to win one more time."David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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