Hmiel in as new crew chief


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Still seeking his first win of the
season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday replaced his crew chief in an
attempt to turn his team around.

Steve Hmiel, the longtime technical director at Dale Earnhardt
Inc., will replace Pete Rondeau on an interim basis beginning with
this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Hmiel has
often stood in as Earnhardt's spotter on race day.

Rondeau took over at the beginning of the season after a shakeup
at Dale Earnhardt Inc. sent Junior's longtime crew to teammate
Michael Waltrip.

Earnhardt got Waltrip's crew and seemed to be adapting to the
new leadership after finishing third in the season-opening Daytona
500. Instead, the team slipped into a terrible slump and dropped as
low as 27th in the points standings.

Earnhardt has just five top 10 finishes in 11 races this year,
but in a more telling sign, he did not battle for the wins at
either Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway -- the two tracks he has
dominated the past few years.

"We are capable of consistently winning and are focused on that
as a company," Richie Gilmore, vice president of DEI, said in a
statement. "We are going to concentrate our efforts on improved
results with the No. 8 car."

Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, heads into Sunday's
race ranked 11th in the standings. He is still in contention to
qualify for NASCAR's 10-race championship playoffs, but the crew
chief change shows that DEI has gotten nervous about where
Earnhardt's team currently stands.

"We have high expectations of how our teams are to perform and
we will utilize every resource we have to win races," Gilmore
said. "Our primary objective is to get (Earnhardt) and (Waltrip)
solidly into the Chase for the Championship and as a company, we're
focusing everything we have at that goal."

The shakeup of crews at DEI before the season raised eyebrows in
the NASCAR garage. Earnhardt only had experience working with the
tandem of Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr., his uncle and cousin.

The Eurys led Earnhardt to the Busch Series title in 1998 and
'99 , and went with him to the Cup series in 2000. Earnhardt went
on to win 15 races with the Eurys, including the Daytona 500 last
season, and finished a career-best third in the points in 2003.

But Eury Sr. was named director of competition at DEI in
December and Eury Jr. was named Waltrip's crew chief. He took most
of Earnhardt's crew with him to Waltrip's team.

"I guess, it's a big gamble in a way," Earnhardt said when he
announced the crew changes.

Earnhardt said at the time a change was needed because he often
clashed with Eury Jr.

"I really like working with Tony Jr., but, at the same time,
the bad times were really, really bad," Earnhardt said. "I told
him, 'I don't want to lose you as a cousin and lose the family and
friendship side of it. I don't care if we ever talk about race cars
again as long as you come over to the house and we visit each other
all the time.'

"I think he can have a lot more success with another race car
driver than he could with me because we were so stubborn and
disrespectful to each other."

Rondeau, who finished 2004 as Waltrip's crew chief and was crew
chief for Earnhardt in a Busch series win, will remain with DEI.