Earnhardt Jr splits with crew chief

Dale Earnhardt Jr and his long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr will part ways with immediate effect as Hendrick Motorsports announced changes to the #88 team line-up on Thursday

Earnhardt Jr splits with crew chief

Following a poor start to his season, NASCAR's most popular driver will have a new crew chief from this weekend's race at Dover. Team manager Brian Whitesell will fill in the role this weekend, while Lance McGrew will take up the position as interim crew chief from the June 7 event at Pocono Raceway.

"Our performance hasn't been where it should be," said team-owner Rick Hendrick. "It's impossible to pin that on any one factor, but a change is the right decision at this point. We have a plan in place, and we're going to move forward with it."

Whitesell won two of seven races he did alongside Jeff Gordon as his interim crew chief in 1999, while McGrew claimed the 2003 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship with driver Brian Vickers. He also won a Sprint Cup race with Vickers at Talladega in the autumn of 2006, and most recently led rookie Brad Keselowski to a seventh place finish at Darlington.

"We're going to put our full resources toward improving the situation and winning races," Hendrick added. "It's going to be a collective effort that includes all of our drivers, all of our crew chiefs and all of our engineers. Everyone in our company will be involved on some level."

Tony Eury Jr, who is also Earnhardt's cousin, will move from the crew chief position into a key role with Hendrick Motorsports' research and development group, the team said. In 48 championship races with Earnhardt Jr at Hendrick Motorsports, the duo scored a victory at Michigan last year, a pole position at Texas, plus 19 top 10 finishes and 11 top fives.

"Tony and I talked through this last night," Hendrick said. "I want him here, he wants to be here, and he's going to be a big contributor to our future success. I have an unbelievable amount of respect for the job he's done and for the calibre of person that he is."

Earnhardt and Eury Jr had a dream debut with Hendrick Motorsports last year when they won the pre-season Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, taking another win a week later in one of the qualifying races for the Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2008, but his form took a dip during the play-off and he finished the year in 12th position in the drivers' ranking.

This season they have a second place at Talladega as their only top five finish and Earnhardt Jr ranks 17th in the drivers' standings, while all other three Hendrick drivers have all won at least once and are all among the top 12 in the championship, one-third into the season.

"I have mixed feelings, and that's just natural," Eury said. "But I enjoy working at Hendrick Motorsports, and this is where I want to be. I'll do whatever I can to help all of our teams and try to be a part of another championship. I think a new challenge will be good."

Before moving with Earnhardt Jr to Hendrick Motorsports, Eury Jr had worked at Dale Earnhardt Inc since 1991. In 1993 he took the role as car chief for Earnhardt's Nationwide Series programme and in 2006 he became Earnhardt Jr's crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series, finishing fifth in the championship that year.

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