Tony Eury Jr. will take over crew chief duties for Dale Earnhardt Jr. beginning this week in New Hampshire, ESPN's Mike Massaro confirmed with sources at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Eury had been the crew chief for Michael Waltrip throughout the 2005 season but was a key member of Earnhardt's team up until the infamous personnel swap this past offseason with DEI teammate Waltrip.
The duo will finish the season together to get a head start on
2006. Earnhardt failed to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup title,
so he can use the final 10 races of this year to experiment.
"We just wanted to get geared up for next season," Richie
Gilmore, vice president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., told The Associated
Press. "This gives them a chance to start working on their
chemistry. With both of our cars out of the Chase, the time was
right to move forward."
Eury worked under his father, Tony Eury Sr., on Earnhardt's car
from the beginning of Earnhardt's NASCAR career. The Eurys led him
to the Busch Series title in 1998 and '99 and went with him to the
Cup Series in 2000, where they won 15 races -- including five last
season and the Daytona 500.
But team owner Teresa Earnhardt made a wholesale swap of crews
during the winter, moving Eury Sr. into a management role while
making Eury Jr. crew chief for Michael Waltrip.
The swap was necessary because the relationship between
Earnhardt and Eury Jr., who are also cousins, had deteriorated to
the point that the two were hardly speaking at the end of last
Earnhardt struggled after the switch, fired his new crew chief
in May, and has been working under DEI's longtime technical
director Steve Hmiel since.
It helped at first -- Earnhardt won at Chicagoland Speedway in July -- but he
failed to make NASCAR's postseason. Waltrip is also out of the
Chase, and is leaving DEI at the end of the season, so Gilmore said
the time was right to move forward.
He also said the swapping of crews was not a mistake.
"As a company, we learned a lot from it," Gilmore said. "Dale
Jr. and Tony Jr. had not worked together before in this capacity,
Tony Jr. was never his crew chief, so it enabled him to get some
experience working with someone else.
"The time apart also helped their relationship."
Earnhardt has admitted that separating the two was the only way
to save their personal relationship.
"We didn't change the teams because of a performance issue. We
changed it because of an attitude issue between me and Tony Jr.,"
he said. "We changed it, maybe not for the right reasons, but the
change did what it was supposed to it. It fixed his attitude and it
fixed my attitude.
"It's not always greener on the other side for either one of
us. We both look at each other and talk to each other today totally
different. I think that gives us that opportunity to work together
in the future that we wouldn't of had if we would have run
ourselves totally apart."
Waltrip will finish the season with Tony Gibson calling the
shots for his crew. When he leaves at the end of the season, he is
expected to take sponsor NAPA with him.
That means that Earnhardt and Martin Truex Jr., who is moving up
from the Busch Series, will be the only two full-time teams at DEI
next season. The team may field a third car on a part-time basis
with Paul Menard driving it, Gilmore said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.