Wednesday, April 2, 2008

DEI crew chief swap

When you win six races in a season and are a championship contender like Tony Eury Sr. was this year with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and you are moved away from the crew chief position, that's scary. With the level of competition in Nextel Cup today, it's a tough challenge and an accomplishment to win just one race much less six races.

I would have to believe it was a joint decision made by Dale Earnhardt Inc. executives like Teresa Earnhardt, Richie Gilmore and others. Even though they had an awesome season, inconsistency still existed as it has almost every year with the Budweiser team. They'll win a race and then finish 30th the next week. Then they'll win two races, and then they'll be back in 25th. With the way the Chase is structured, consistency — as champion Kurt Busch demonstrated — is still the key in those final 10 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won two races in the final 10, and Jimmie Johnson won four, but consistency — even over just 10 races — is still what it took to win the championship.

After five years, DEI saw that the chemistry just was not there to be consistent and take the team to the next step — winning a championship. Like Richard Childress showed when he switched Kevin Hamlin and me in 1998 and Jack Roush showed a couple of years ago when he swapped Pat Tryson and Jimmy Fennig, DEI knows it has talented people. When you win six races, obviously the crew chief knows what he's doing. They just wanted to try something a little different.

The goal is consistency for the 8 car so it can really contend for a championship. In Busch and Cup, Earnhardt has never worked with a crew chief and car chief other than Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. They've been there since the day Earnhardt started running Busch, and they won two championships together. But Pete Rondeau has an engineering mind which may be what Earnhardt needs.

I get the feeling that Dale Jr. is a lot like his dad. He'll go out there and drive the wheels off of the race car, but he's not going to give you a lot of feedback on the race car. He's definitely not going to give you remedies to fix the car. With an engineering background, Rondeau will complement Earnhardt. At the same time, the 15 car is on the hot seat. Maybe some freshness with Tony Jr. and the confidence the Eurys have gained with their success will help turn around Michael Waltrip's team.

In the perfect world, no different than when Childress made that first swap even though nobody had ever thought of doing it, you fix both programs. But in the halfway-perfect world, the DEI change should at least fix one of the teams. Nobody was really hired and fired. Richard "Slugger" Labbe resigned and moved to Evernham Motorsports, but otherwise, DEI just moved around people to try to make a change.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Newman wins Phoenix pole

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Ryan Newman isn’t wasting any time trying to win back what he lost this week.

Newman, who was penalized 25 driver points for a violation found on his No. 12 Dodge following last weekend’s race at Texas, won the pole for Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (8:30 p.m., Fox).

The pole is Newman’s first this season and 43rd of his career, leaving him tied with Buck Baker for 10th on the all-time list. It is also the eighth straight season Newman has won at least one pole.

“You never make up points that you lost, but you can make the effort, obviously, to put yourself in position so those points didn’t matter and we’re trying to do that,” said Newman.

“We got caught off guard there at the end of the race last week but we’ll battle through it. We learned from our mistake. That’s behind us and more importantly we can think positive and move forward.”

The penalty dropped Newman, who won the season opening Daytona 500, from eighth to 10th in points, trailing leader Jeff Burton by 189 entering Saturday’s race.

After getting the season off to a strong start, Newman has struggled somewhat but believes his team is getting back on track.

“Obviously, our restrictor-plate program was strong at the start of the season. Our short-track program was off a little bit in Martinsville until we had a potentially winning car in Bristol and got caught up in a wreck,” Newman said.

“Points-wise, we need to make some improvements, but we’ve been a little bit quiet, but not because we haven’t been trying.”

Newman had to stave off a surprisingly strong qualifying run by Elliott Sadler, who will start second – his best qualifying effort of the year and only the third time in seven races he’ll start better than 25th.

“I know it’s just qualifying and not the race, but we needed this,” Sadler said. “We needed a good run today. We had such a bad week at Texas.”

Carl Edwards was third, Mark Martin fourth and Kasey Kahne, Sadler’s teammate at Gillett Evernham Motorsports, was fifth. Series points leader Jeff Burton will line up 39th.

Kyle Petty’s No. 45 Dodge will miss the race for the third consecutive weekend. He failed to qualify at Martinsville, driver Chad McCumbee couldn’t make the race in the car at Texas, and Petty failed again on Thursday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


(ON DALE JR'S 25 POINT PENALTY AT THIS POINT) "It doesn't matter what we look at right now. It's really after Homestead. If he looses it by less than 25 points, you guys will have a lot to talk about. Until then, I think it's got to be a forgotten issue. He's got to move on. It doesn't mean we agree with it or disagree with it. I don't know if penalties need to be made in points like that. But if they want to fine somebody, they need to fine somebody. But I hope that one of us wins it by more than 25 points so it's a non-issue - or he wins it. I don't think it needs to draw too much attention and hopefully it won't."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

G-rated interview

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited a Nextel Cup victory lane, a slipped profanity triggered a controversy that ended when NASCAR docked him 25 championship points.

Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, as he climbed his No.8 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Jr. was reminded to keep things clean.

Tony Eury Sr., Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, told his driver to watch what he said.

"Now, don't cuss," Eury Sr. said.

"I'm glad he reminded me," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Nothing profane came out of Earnhardt Jr.'s mouth during his post-race interview with NBC, and he was thankful.

"I was really scared I was going to slip up because I have a lot of bad words in my vocabulary," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I will always from here on out be nervous about that. I made that mistake. It was a mistake. I'm human."

The 25-point penalty cost Earnhardt Jr. the points lead after Talladega, but his victory in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at PIR moved him to within 47 points of Kurt Busch.

That's outside the 25-point window created by the penalty, but Earnhardt Jr. isn't too worried.

"Being in (third) still ain't first," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It doesn't really matter. I'm not going to dwell over that."

He was able to joke about the penalty, saying he'd get more attention if he finished 25 points or fewer behind than if he won.

"It would be great exposure for me and my team and my sponsor, and if we do lose the championship, we're trying our best to lose it by 25 points," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That'll get us all kinds of exposure, probably moreso than winning the championship.

"We all have our secret agendas. I mean, really, I don't worry about it too much. I don't feel any pressure going into the last two races. We've already had reasons -- like the penalty and the mistake I made last week -- why, in the end, we lost this championship. All we can do now is race."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fleeing the fire

Fleeing the fire

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car crashed into a barrier during practice for the American Le Mans Series Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma on July 18, and he suffered second-degree burns on the lower half of his body and his neck.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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