EURY JR. READY TO START HENDRICK CAREER
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Eury Jr. emerged from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 hauler for the last time on Sunday wearing a gray T-shirt with the words "Free Agent" written across the chest.
"Can't wait until tomorrow morning," he said.
VILLENEUVE HOLDS HIS OWN
For the record, Jacques Villeneuve finished ahead of 22 drivers in the UAW-Ford 500 Sunday.
He also didn't cause any big wrecks, racing like a restrictor-plate pro most of the afternoon.
The fears some drivers had of Villeneuve making his Nextel Cup debut at Talladega proved unfounded. The former Formula One champion had a respectable 21st-place showing, the last car on the lead lap.
"I'm glad I didn't create any problems," Villeneuve said. "The finger was being pointed before the race, and that was understandable. The goal today was not to make any enemies. Overall, it was a great experience."
Villeneuve started on the third row, deliberately fell to the rear early in the race, but gradually worked his way back to the middle of the field.
"Early in the race was tough for some reason," Villeneuve said. "I was really tight. I almost ran into a couple of people because of that, but I'm quite happy with the result."
The French Canadian racer overcame a number of problems Sunday. The ball came off the top of his shifter and he later lost third gear.
Villeneuve also lost radio contact with his crew when a plug came loose, causing NASCAR to black flag him. He came to the pits and fixed the problem.
And Villeneuve brushed the outside wall with 55 laps to go, but kept the car under control.
"We had some things going on, which made it a good day to learn," Villeneuve said. "Next time I think everything will be a little easier."
Villeneuve also explained why he dropped to the rear after the green flag.
"I wanted to learn how to go from the back to the front," Villeneuve said. "But it also was to show respect to the guys in the Chase. I was thankful for them allowing me to race here. It was really special to me to be here, so that was my way of saying thanks."
-- Terry Blount
Eury will start his new job at Hendrick Motorsports on Monday. His tenure at Dale Earnhardt Inc. was cut short by about 52 laps at Talladega Superspeedway when his day ended for the sixth time this season with a blown engine.
"They're trying real hard," Eury said. "They tried really, really hard to make these motors better. They didn't last. Nothing you can say. It's over. It's been fun while it lasted. I hope they get things turned around."
Eury and Earnhardt were hoping to win in their final race at DEI before reuniting at HMS next season. Earnhardt led 31 laps early and was consistently in the top 10 before his engine blew.
"I'm sad," Eury said. "They've got a lot of issues over there and they've got to work hard to figure them out. I hate it. It's not the way you wanted to go out."
The engines were the first combined effort of DEI and Richard Childress Racing. Three of the four DEI engines blew. Jeff Burton lost his engine at RCR to finish last and teammate Kevin Harvick limped to 20th on seven cylinders.
Steve Hmiel, the technical director at DEI, said there was a hole caused by a rod break in the same place on four oil pans.
"It's breaking something inside, but it's breaking the same thing in all the engines," he said. "You don't want to have anything go wrong, but you would like to think that your program is consistent enough, if one breaks, there's a good chance they're all going to break. It shows everybody is getting the same stuff."
Clint Bowyer, who finished 11th for RCR to remain third in points, was holding his breath the last half of the race.
"That was nerve-racking," he said. "I kept patting the old girl."
So was Harvick's crew chief, Todd Berrier.
"Maybe we can all go back and look at laps run in practice to figure out why ours didn't break," he said. "I know we didn't run a lot of laps. Clint didn't run a lot of laps, either. There's something to be learned from it."
Berrier wasn't second-guessing the decision to go with Chevrolet's new R07 engine, something the Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing teams didn't do.
"I talked to Richard about that," Berrier said of team owner Richard Childress. "He said no time better than the present to find out how it was going to go. We've got to run them next year."
Hmiel hopes that the common denominator in the blown engines will help resolve the problem, recalling that the five blown engines Earnhardt had during the first 26 races were for different reasons.
"What we have going on at the end of the summer, with every little weird thing happening, man, we have to get to the bottom of this," he said. "Now this is no comfort at all, but it is consistent, and now you can apply 200 people to solving one problem."
GEM-PETTY DEAL ON HOLD?
Alex Gillett still hopes to work out a partnership with Petty Enterprises, although he admits talks have slowed.
"What you've got is one of the most storied people in the sport," the co-owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports said. "There is a lot of emotion attached to what they want to do in the future and who they want to move into the future with.
"I can respect that. If that means give them space or not space. We did it with Ray."
Negotiations to merge Gillett with owner Ray Evernham lasted at least four months longer than anticipated because an underground storage tank had to first be removed from Evernham's property in Statesville, N.C., for environmental reasons.
"A lot of people criticized us for taking too long to close," Gillett said. "Well, nobody asked us the question of why. Each one of these has a life cycle. You can't push it."
Meanwhile, Gillett said GEM officials are talking to two or three drivers to replace Scott Riggs in the No. 10 next season. He acknowledged that Canadian driver Patrick Carpentier is a strong candidate even though he has only one Nextel Cup start.
David Stremme, who was not re-signed by Chip Ganassi Racing, also is a candidate.
"I'm not sure if you bring somebody like a Patrick Carpentier and throw him right into Nextel Cup," Gillett said. "So we've got some other good options in the No. 10 car we're exploring. We'll see over the next couple of weeks where that ends up."
-- David Newton