Commentary

Time for Earnhardt, Eury to part ways

Updated: March 10, 2009, 10:47 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr.AP Photo/Terry RennaDale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. celebrate after winning the 2008 Bud Shootout.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is capable of winning a Sprint Cup championship.

Tony Eury Jr. is capable of becoming a championship crew chief.

But Earnhardt and Eury never will win a Cup championship together.

There, I said it. No taking it back.

It probably isn't going to happen soon, but it's time to consider a new direction for both men.

This combination is like putting chocolate icing on a tamale. Both are great, but the ingredients just don't mix.

After an 11th-place showing at Atlanta and a 10th-place finish in Las Vegas, it may seem an odd time to advocate a separation. Results for the No. 88 Chevy have been OK the past two races.

The two cousins haven't even shouted at each other recently, keeping the peace among the team (although Earnhardt did jokingly threaten to take a hammer to the head of each crew member in Atlanta if his wheel came off because of an earlier mistake).

So now is the perfect time to suggest a split. It's easy to say a change is needed if a team finishes 30th in a few races.

Saying it when things are good makes a clear statement: It isn't good enough.

Earnhardt now has one victory in 40 starts at Hendrick Motorsports. That's one more than Jeff Gordon has over that span, but Gordon leads the standings after the first four races this year; Earnhardt ranks 24th.

Earnhardt has qualified worse than his three teammates -- Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin -- in all four events this season.

Whatever it is he needs out of the car, he isn't getting it before the race starts.

Last year Eury was criticized for making adjustments during the race that made the car worse than it was when the race started.

Earnhardt Earnhardt should have made a clean break when he left DEI after 2007, starting fresh at Hendrick with a new crew chief. Rick Hendrick went with Earnhardt's wishes when he should have insisted Earnhardt and Eury part ways.

That hasn't been true this season, but with the possible exception of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt hasn't been in contention to win. And Daytona was a disaster of his own making, with mental errors on pit road before causing a wreck.

Oh, they have plenty of excuses. Daytona was just a bad day that happens to everyone sometimes. The team had a transmission problem in qualifying at California, started in the back and then lost another engine during the race.

Earnhardt was one of many drivers who got caught a lap down Sunday in Atlanta when a crewman for Marcos Ambrose decided to play chicken and chase a tire on the infield grass.

They've had some bad breaks, but the statistics just don't add up. Earnhardt needs someone else. He needs someone like, well, Tony Eury Sr.

Pops, as he is affectionately known in the garage, is the man who made Earnhardt successful. He led Junior to consecutive Nationwide titles (the Busch Series at the time) in 1998 and '99, before joining Earnhardt in Cup.

Consider these stats: Earnhardt raced his first five Cup seasons with Eury Sr. as his crew chief (including five races in 1999), winning 15 events. That's one victory every 12.2 starts.

Tony Jr. was the car chief on the No. 8 Chevy those five seasons, learning the ropes under his father.

Earnhardt has two Cup victories in 116 races with Eury Jr. as his crew chief, which is one win every 58 starts.

But this is no knock on Eury Jr. He knows his stuff and can get it done with someone else. He is a quality crew chief and a knowledgeable leader, but he has a different style from his father.

Eury Sr. is a drill sergeant, as gruff as they come. From Race 1, he told Earnhardt, "We're doing it this way and you're doing what I tell you to do."

That's exactly what Dale Sr. wanted when he went to Eury Sr. and asked him, "Can you make Dale Jr. a race car driver?"

The answer was "Yes," and he did it. But that was then. Earnhardt Jr. is a much different person today than he was when Eury Sr. started his lesson plan 11 years ago.

Eury Sr. now runs Junior's Nationwide team and crew chiefs for Brad Keselowski, trying to do for young Brad what he did for Earnhardt.

Grooming up-and-comers is a calling for Eury Sr. Leading Cup's biggest star to a championship isn't his thing. And he wouldn't replace his son even if it was.

But Earnhardt needs a change. Granted, switching crew chiefs is no guarantee for success. Jack Roush separated Carl Edwards and Bob Osborne a few years ago, later realizing it was a mistake.

But every situation is different. Earnhardt and Eury Jr. never have accomplished much together.

Earnhardt should have made a clean break when he left DEI after 2007, starting fresh at Hendrick with a new crew chief. Rick Hendrick went with Earnhardt's wishes when he should have insisted Earnhardt and Eury part ways.

So what should they do now? One possibility is a swap with Alan Gustafson, Mark Martin's crew chief. Maybe the change would spark both teams.

Talent is abundant at Hendrick Motorsports. Several guys deserve a shot at a full-time crew chief spot. Two who come to mind are Ron Malec, the car chief for Johnson, and Kevin Meendering, the engineer for Gordon and the No. 24 Chevy.

Finding someone isn't the problem. The first step is to admit there is a problem. No one at Hendrick has reached that conclusion.

Not yet, anyway.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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