- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Eury Jr. barely had hung up the phone when it registered that he'd just referred to Danica Patrick, the IndyCar Series driver he was charged with introducing to the world of stock cars at JR Motorsports, as "babe."
"I'm like, 'Dang! I probably shouldn't have called her babe on the second phone call,'" Eury said as he and Patrick began a new adventure with a three-day ARCA Series test at Daytona International Speedway this past weekend.
Eury laughs a lot lately, much more than he did six months ago when Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick severed his relationship as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Eury's cousin.
He has a new lease on life, one far away from the pressures of making NASCAR's most popular driver into a Sprint Cup champion.
Not that being Patrick's crew chief as she makes the transition from IndyCar to the ARCA and Nationwide Series -- with the hope of one day two or three years from now getting to Cup -- doesn't come with pressure.
But the expectations are different than they were with Earnhardt, and so is Eury's job description.
Feeling partially to blame for their split at HMS, Earnhardt made Eury a co-owner of the organization he began with his sister, Kelley. He put Eury in charge of developing the new COT for the Nationwide Series and overseeing the development of Patrick.
So if Eury wanted to call Patrick "babe," technically he could. He's the boss now.
Well, to everybody but Tony Eury Sr., JR Motorsports' director of competition, who still holds a trump card as Eury Jr.'s father and understands better than most why his son is so happy these days.
"He went in to Hendrick thinking he was going to magnify what we did at DEI, but going to Hendrick it didn't happen and it cut his feet out from under him, sort of," said the elder Eury, who teamed with his son to help Earnhardt collect 17 of his 18 Cup wins at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before both moved to HMS two years ago.
"He was pretty beat up when they took him off of that car."
Hendrick moved Eury to research and development, but that wasn't really what Eury wanted to do. He actually wasn't sure what he wanted to do until three other Cup organizations tried to hire him as a crew chief, including one in particular that Eury Sr. said "really beat the heck out of him trying to come there."
That's when Earnhardt stepped in with the ownership proposition, which coincidently happened about the same time JRM was courting Patrick.
Eury took about four weeks to think about his options. He spent quality time with his family and realized a 13-race Nationwide Series schedule with Patrick for two seasons beat the heck out of the grind of a 36-race schedule in Cup.
"I'll be honest with you, there would be weekends I wouldn't even turn the [Cup] race on," Eury said of his time away from the track. "That was a sign to me you've pretty much had enough of that. Go to where you enjoy, where you will be happy."
Some might say Eury went from one circus to another, because the intense fanfare around Patrick is a lot like it was around Earnhardt when Junior came into Cup.
"I don't know if it's really throwing him back in the fire," Earnhardt said. "Our company needed him. He didn't have to do it. I just wanted him to be happy I wanted to give him that opportunity to grow, you know, take on a little different challenge."
Patrick is a challenge. Eury Jr. almost had to learn a different language to translate the terminology she uses in IndyCar to stock-car lingo. She says understeering and oversteering instead of tight and loose. She talks about making adjustments from the left front to the right rear instead of the left rear to the right front.
For a country boy like Eury, that's a lot to decipher.
"I'm trying to do [it] where she doesn't have to change her thinking when she's running her IndyCar," Eury said.
Getting used to a female driver, particularly one as health conscious as Patrick, presents other challenges. Earnhardt never turned down Krispy Kreme doughnuts because he was watching his figure for a swimsuit photo shoot.
Patrick recently did and a surprised Eury responded by saying, "You're missing the best thing in your life!"
Eury eventually convinced her to try one the day after the photo shoot. He and the rest of the crew actually sent over eight dozen. Team building, one might call it.
"She said, 'That was the craziest thing I ever ate. There's got to be drugs in them as good as they are,'" Eury said with a smile and look of accomplishment. "She said from now on that's all she's going to eat."
That might be a bit overstated. Reminded of the doughnut story after a breakfast of cereal and a granola bar Friday, Patrick said, "I can't believe how skinny all these NASCAR drivers are."
"Babe" comment aside, Eury also talks differently to Patrick. They don't argue and yell over the in-car radio as he and Earnhardt did, although Eury is prepared for the day when Patrick gets upset with him.
Patrick actually soaks up everything Eury says like a student would a first-grade teacher. Earnhardt often acted like the rebellious high school senior who knew everything.
Yes, life is different for Eury now. He has to not only watch what he says but apparently what he eats.
But he's loving life. Asked how much happier he is heading into Christmas than he was a year ago, he said without hesitation, "Ten times."
"I'll be honest with you, everything about this makes me happy," Eury added. "It's been like the old days. I'm building ARCA cars, setting up cars. I'm doing everything I used to do and love instead of sitting in front of a computer."
That makes Earnhardt happy. Part of his misery the second half of last season came from knowing the heartache he caused one of the most important people in his life.
"It's just a great opportunity for him to sort of change direction and see if he can't find a job that he enjoys," Earnhardt said with a chuckle, taking a shot at himself. "He has a lot to offer."
Patrick seems to think so. Eury even has her using the Southern expression "y'all" and getting used to the idea of playing video games to improve her driving skills.
She's getting Eury, whose idea of style is a pair of blue jeans and a work shirt, used to seeing four-inch stilettos in the garage.
"The first day I met her she had them heels on," said Eury, shaking his head. "We told her to hop in the car and she dropped four inches when she took them off. The first car we ever put her in she disappeared from under the door top.
"But she's been a lot of fun, takes things real easy, jokes around."
That's something you didn't hear Eury say often the last few years with Earnhardt.
Of course, you never heard him call his driver "babe" before, either.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tony Eury Jr. has seen his share of media circuses as the former crew chief for cousin Dale Earnhardt Jr. So what does Eury think about tutoring Danica Patrick? He's loving life.