Analysis: It's up to Junior now

Rick Hendrick's decision to break up the partnership between Dale Earnhardt Jr and his crew chief Tony Eury was probably long overdue as the driver himself may accept

Analysis: It's up to Junior now

Results for NASCAR's most popular driver have been far from what was expected since his switch to the championship-winning organization, with only one win to show during 48 races.

When Hendrick hired Earnhardt, he also hired Eury as the pair had been working together under the same roof at Dale Earnhardt Inc. for years. Hendrick not only believed in his new driver, but also in what Junior thought was needed to make the most of being with NASCAR's top squad.

In doing so, Hendrick accepted to some extent that Earnhardt and his cousin would maintain their own culture, while getting the support of a number of engineers who provided the link between Junior's-way and Hendrick's. The experiment was worth trying; after all, the Juniors had won a bunch of races together and they had been in the Chase before.

When they first raced a Hendrick car, they won straightway. That was the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona last year and then less than a week later they won a Gatorade Duel qualifying race before the Daytona 500. A year ago they were the top Hendrick team in the standings and it all looked very promising.

However, despite being very consistent, a victory in a championship race was missing and that came when they lucked into a fuel gamble at Michigan last June, which to his credit, was Eury Jr's call.

Since then though, they never got back to Victory Lane and even if they made the Chase, they were the worst among the title contenders by season's end, finishing the season twelfth in the standings. That form was carried into the start of this season, but it got continuously worse.

Talladega was a one-off where a second place was a sigh of relief, but the result came at a track where the role of the crew-chief is not as crucial as it is at other venues. At Talladega, the race is more in the driver's hands and the decisions he makes while racing flat-out in the draft, so it was more Dale Jr. than Eury getting the job done.

A 27th place at Richmond brought them back to reality, the same result at Darlington a week later just confirmed the ship had lost its course, and a 40th place in the Coca Cola 600, where Earnhardt clearly struggled for balance on his car again, was simply enough for Rick Hendrick to make the call.

He let them try to steer the ship back, gave them their vote of confidence a couple of months ago, but in the end it wasn't happening for them.

"Why we hadn't done this before now is we've given as much as they wanted or needed," said Hendrick. "I want to say this again, Tony Eury Jr. has been open-minded. He will try anything, he will listen to anyone. He will go get the setup from another team. He has not been stonewalled any of the assets that we have there to use.

"I think this is a pure and simple situation if you're frustrated and everybody's frustrated and everybody's kind of down. If you go back to play the game with the same deal, you're going to be looking for the same results. We feel like, I feel like, if I shake it up a little bit everybody will stand up a little bit."

From next weekend's race at Dover, Earnhardt will have to immerse himself fully into the Hendrick way of doing things. Lance McGrew, his new crew chief, is a proven race-winner, who has been to Victory Lane with Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Ricky Hendrick, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and most recently Tony Stewart.

McGrew will be assisted by Brian Whitesell - who will be crew chief for Earnhardt only at Dover while McGrew works with Brad Keselowski- and also by Rex Stump. Whitesell has also won races as a crew chief when he worked with Jeff Gordon in 1999, while Stump was on Ray Evernham's words a "secret-weapon" in his success beside Gordon in the past.

Rick Hendrick is not just lining up a team to fill a void, he's putting some of his best people in, to make sure this move gives Earnhardt what his other three drivers have.

"We're pulling out all the stops," said Hendrick. "We're going to do everything we can to get this team to where it needs to be, and I think the thing that I want to say, too, is it's hard to put your fingers on what the problem is or was.

"We just feel like with all the frustration, we just need a fresh start. I made that decision and Tony and Junior have accepted it, and I think I'll let them speak for themselves, but everybody has said from the very beginning if we need to do it, then let's do it."

McGrew and his group will feel the pressure of being responsible to improve the form of NASCAR fans' favorite, but it's quite likely that the move will work for both parties. If it's enough to get Earnahrdt into the Chase we'll have to see, as he sits currently 19th in the standings, 203 points out of the top-twelve.

Week by week things will probably get to a point where Junior's fate will be back in his own hands and it will be up to him to steer the ship towards his goals, those of winning races and contending for championships, like he said when announcing he had signed a contract to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

Rick Hendrick is a firm believer of his talent and commitment and he is now providing Earnhardt Jr with all the tools that he needs to translate that into results. Time will tell whether Junior can finally make it happen, be it this year or in 2010.

Earnhardt Jr supportive of changes
Previous article

Earnhardt Jr supportive of changes

Next article

Kyle Busch critical of Earnhardt

Kyle Busch critical of Earnhardt
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Plus

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson’s journey to the 2021 NASCAR Cup title comes straight from the Hollywood blockbuster scripts. While Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons

Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

Feb 12, 2021