LOUDON, N.H. — The past two weeks haven’t been easy for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had to fire family from his JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series operation.
Competition director Tony Eury Sr., Earnhardt’s uncle, was the first to go. Ten days later, on Tuesday, Earnhardt parted with cousin Tony Eury Jr., a minority owner of JRM who has served as Danica Patrick’s Nationwide crew chief.
The tipping point was a perceived difference in direction and outlook. Earnhardt and sister/co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller favored stronger ties with Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies JRM with engines and chassis. Rick Hendrick also is part of the JRM ownership group.
Toward that end, JRM recently hired Ryan Pemberton, who will now serve as Patrick’s crew chief. Pemberton and Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup crew chief Steve Letarte are close personal friends.
“I thought Tony Jr. and us were going to move forward past the decision with Pops (Eury Sr.),” Earnhardt said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. “I wanted Tony Jr. to stick around. I think part of him wanted to, too. It was a real tough decision. It was one that wasn’t easy to come by. But, it is what it is.”
Earnhardt described the parting with Eury Jr. as mutual, the result of a Monday meeting at which they decided to go separate ways. Eury, who was relieved of his duties as Earnhardt’s Cup crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports in May 2009, reportedly wasn’t sold on the hand-in-glove relationship with Hendrick.
“For us to get to get better, we have to maximize our relationship with Hendrick,” Earnhardt said. “Those resources are there at our fingertips. The companies that we compete against have those resources. The companies we want to beat, and are running up front in the series have those kind of resources. We needed to improve on that.
“That was really why decided to make the move of Ryan, because there’s a great relationship between Ryan and my crew chief and Hendrick as well. They have a lot of trust in Ryan, and belief in Ryan. I felt like he could come in there and bridge that gap a little bit. That ultimately led to us having the conversation with Tony Jr., and him not quite agreeing with direction, and us deciding to go in different ways.”
According to Earnhardt, the personnel moves at JRM, as wrenching as they were, won’t affect his performance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It doesn’t really weigh on me when I go to work,” Earnhardt said. “It’s something that I can easily put aside when I’m at the race track this weekend, or any given weekend.”