- Marty Smith, ESPN
- 0 Shares
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Eury Jr. is an even-keeled guy, and he has to be as conductor of Junior Nation. The only emotions the crew chief is apt to show are grins and giggles, maybe the occasional fist pump or high five.
But tears? Rarely.
So his visibly emotional response to Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning Saturday evening's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway was telling as to the importance of the evening.
Eury was shocked upon returning from the Sprint Cup test session at California Speedway to see Joey Arnold, one of his car setup specialists, working feverishly in the shop on one of the No. 88 cars.
Arnold's 5-year-old son, Cayden, had died just days beforehand.
"I said 'Joey, what are you doing here?'" Eury said. "I mean, what do you say to a guy whose 5-year-old kid just died? I didn't know. I couldn't believe he was there."
Arnold's response was one Eury won't soon forget.
"He said 'This is my best chance to win the Daytona 500, and I want to be a part of it,'" Eury said.
Eury was so deeply impacted by the scope of that statement that his eyes welled with tears recounting it Sunday just before pole qualifying at Daytona.
"His son had a lung issue, I think, and he couldn't run from here to that generator," Eury said, pointing out a distance of about 20 feet, "and he'd have to go back inside and lay down for the rest of the day.
"But that day [he died], he ran down the driveway, down into the cul-de-sac and back up the driveway. They all stood there like, 'Wow, what was that?' He came in, went to sleep and never woke up."
So when Eury's No. 88 opened the 2008 Sprint Cup season in Victory Lane, the win was dedicated to Arnold.
"To me, that kind of dedication from that guy -- that meant a lot to me, so I told Joey that was for him," Eury said. "It took a lot of heart and emotion for him to walk in that shop, so I told my guys in Victory Lane [Saturday] night: That [checkered] flag, hold on to it, it's going to Joey Arnold."
Saturday's victory was second only to the 2001 Pepsi 400 in Eury's career list of most memorable.
"Everybody talks about the [Daytona] 500 -- I always knew we'd win that race," Eury said. "But the 400, that year Big E died, we weren't supposed to win that race and we came down here and did it. That race [Saturday] night was No. 2. I mean, I started my career over, man."
The new beginning is bountiful, and it answered the two big questions facing Hendrick Motorsports entering the year: Will the HMS driving stable work together? And when will Junior win?
Immediately. Because of people like Joey Arnold.
"It is unbelievable that there is that much dedication and that much want to win these races," Eury said. "When things like that happen, it hits me emotionally and I am so thankful that I have people that dedicated behind me and I go out here and perform for them."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.