Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Updated: January 27, 8:50 PM ET
Junior fine with big change; others not sure
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It didn't take Tony Eury Jr. long to settle into his new job as crew chief for Michael Waltrip.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't be prouder of his cousin.
The moves announced in December promoted Earnhardt's uncle, Tony
Eury, from crew chief on the No. 8 Chevrolet to director of
competition for Dale Earnhardt Inc., moved car chief Eury Jr. to
crew chief of the No. 15 Monte Carlo, brought Waltrip's crew chief,
Pete Rondeau, to the same job with Earnhardt and swapped the crews,
race shops and cars of the two teams.
The switches, instigated by team owner Teresa Earnhardt and
motorsports director Richie Gilmore, raised many questions about
why DEI would break up a team that made it into NASCAR's inaugural
10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, stayed in the points
battle to the final event and wound up fifth in the standings.
"I've been saying all along I don't have no problem with it,''
Earnhardt said Wednesday during a stop at the DEI shop in
Mooresville by the NASCAR Nextel Cup media tour. "I wanted Tony
Jr. to be a crew chief because he's at the point age-wise and
experience-wise to where if he didn't have such an emotional tie to
this company he could go anywhere else and get a top job.''
Earnhardt said it also was time for the elder Eury, known as
Pops, to step up to a bigger challenge.
"At his age and with his experience, he has more to give than
just being a crew chief in that one building over there,''
Earnhardt said. "Now, he reaches every corner of the company and
has his hands in every decision we made motorsport-wise.''
Earnhardt, who previously worked with Rondeau in a couple of
2004 Busch Series appearances, likes the way things are going for
his team, too.
"Now, we're in a situation working with Pete where I've got to
be my own man,'' said Earnhardt, who goes into the Daytona 500 as
the defending champion. "I don't have my cousin to bark at. I just
think we all kind of capped each other and had each other held
The younger Eury is enjoying his new challenge.
"Teresa's been trying to get me to do this for about two years
now to where I'm not under the shadow of Dale Jr. or Pops,'' he
said. "I can really go out and show people what I'm worth and what
I'm capable of doing.
Eury's father is adjusting to his new role, but isn't very happy
with the changes.
"I definitely disagree with it,'' he said. "I never agree with
tearing a championship team apart. It would have kept right on
going. Hopefully, it will anyway.
"We're going to Daytona with the intention of running 1-2 in
the Daytona 500, even with the scramble. We've got the people here,
we've got the power. There's nothing that these guys lack. If they
ask for it, they get it.''
Waltrip will be seeking his third Daytona 500 victory on Feb.
Ryan and Rusty's soap opera
Teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman
agree on at least one thing: You don't have to be buddies to work
The two have had an uneasy relationship since last fall, when
Newman bumped aside his Penske Racing South colleague late in a
race at Martinsville Speedway. That knocked Wallace out of
contention for a second straight Martinsville victory and left him
Since then, the two have been cordial, but haven't straightened
out their relationship.
"Neither one of us has had time to make it happen, but we've
agreed to sit down in principle and try to work this stuff out,''
said Wallace, who is co-owner of the team with Roger Penske and Don
"The basic hang-up is I'd say a big age difference,'' said the
48-year-old Wallace, who is preparing to begin his final season in
NASCAR's Nextel Cup series. Newman is 27.
But the differences between the two drivers don't end with age.
"I'm an active guy,'' Wallace said. "I talk to a lot of my
peers, a lot of the crew chiefs, I like to know what I'm up against
and I don't like to be so close to the forest I can't see the
"Ryan and his crew chief (Matt Borland) are very, very private
people. They don't like to discuss much and I have a little bit of
problem with that. Hopefully, we can sit down and get the dialogue
to open up more yet.''
Newman agrees that he and Wallace don't see eye-to-eye on some
things, but says it shouldn't really matter.
"Everybody's different,'' Newman said. "You're a product of
your environment. Rusty grew up a little different than I did and I
have a different outlook on certain things.
"I'm an engineer and Rusty's not. Rusty's born and raised a
short track stock car racer and I wasn't. When it comes down to it,
Rusty and myself ... we're hard-nosed racers and, no matter if
we're teammates or not, we go for the win. Roger Penske will never
be mad at us for that.
"I don't think we need to be friends to run well. From a Rusty
and Ryan standpoint, we're just going to go do our deal. We're
getting along better now than we were during the last few laps at
Martinsville and we'll go on.''
Penske doesn't think the situation is harmful to the team or the
"I like the idea that they're both feisty and that they want to
win races,'' Penske said. "It's unfortunate we had the issue we
had at Martinsville. But, at the end of the day, they know what
they've got to do next year and they're professional. I don't think
it's gotten out of hand.''
Penske Racing South opened the doors of its new
race shop during a media tour Wednesday night, showing off the
enormous building that will house its Nextel Cup operation.
"We had our people scattered over several buildings not too far
from here and, half the time, you couldn't find anybody you were
looking for,'' Roger Penske said. "Now, we at least know they're
going to be somewhere in the building.''
It still may not be easy for Penske or anyone else to find
someone in the new building.
The team is now using 300,000 of the available 425,000 square
feet in the former air conditioner plant set on 104 acres in rural
Mooresville, north of Charlotte. The building includes wide-open
areas for each of the team's three Cup entries, including newcomer
Overlooking the main work area is a 330-foot-long fan walk from
which spectators can watch the teams work on Penske's new Dodge
The sprawling building also includes a 120-seat auditorium,
cafeteria and dozens of spacious offices.
Penske said there is enough room on the property that he is
considering building a test track.
"Years ago, Rick Hendrick built the prototype of the modern
race shop,'' said Humpy Wheeler, president of nearby Lowe's Motor
Speedway. "Then Dale Earnhardt built his building that they still
call the Garage Mahal. Now, Roger has built a shop that sets the
standard, not just in NASCAR, but all of auto racing.''
Dale Jarrett and his wife, Kelley, will
continue their support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer
Foundation despite the departure of associate sponsor Ford Credit
from the Robert Yates Racing team.
Instead of the sponsor donating money to the charity based on
Jarrett's on-track performance, the Dale Jarrett Foundation, formed
in 2002, will provide funding for the new program.
The Jarretts have been involved with the Komen Foundation since
1997 and have helped raise more than $700,000. The new program will
include donations ranging from $10,000 for a win by the former
NASCAR Cup champion to $1,500 for 10th place. A Jarrett pole will
be worth $5,000.
"It is certainly something we have been very proud to be a part
of and we look forward to the day when a cure for breast cancer is
found,'' Jarrett said. "We hope this new program is the beginning
of something we can continue to build on in the future.''
While several of his peers have already cut
back their schedules or announced impending retirements,
48-year-old Dale Jarrett isn't ready to slow down for a while.
Asked about retirement on Wednesday during a stop by the media
tour at the Robert Yates Racing shop, Jarrett said he has given the
subject a lot of thought.
"I've seen what some of my buddies have done, but I started
later than they did,'' Jarrett said. "I still think I can compete
with anybody out there and I still love to compete.''
The 1999 series champion's contract with Yates runs for two more
"I plan to continue for a minimum of two years and probably
three years, if Robert, Ford and (sponsor) UPS still want me.
That's what I'm looking at.''
That statement startled Ned Jarrett, Dale's father and a
two-time NASCAR champion who retired from driving at the age of 34.
"That was news to me,'' the elder Jarrett said. "His mother
and I just looked at each other, like, `Where did that come from?'
But he's in better condition physically at 48 than I was at 34, so
it shouldn't be that surprising.''
Among the other fortysomething drivers in Nextel Cup, Bill
Elliott cut back to a limited scheduled in 2004, Terry Labonte will
drive only 10 races in 2005 and 2006, Mark Martin is in his final
season of full-time competition, and Rusty Wallace will retire
Michael "Fatback'' McSwain, crew chief for
Ricky Rudd's Wood Brothers Ford, is well on his way to a complete
recovery from offseason back surgery.
"Funny enough, I had exactly the same back surgery Ricky had
done in 2001,'' McSwain said. "I'm probably 85- to 90-percent back
now and getting better every day.''
McSwain and Rudd worked together at Robert Yates Racing from
2000 to 2002, winning three races and four poles. But they had a
public falling out midway through the 2002 season, and both ended
up leaving Yates.
McSwain went to Joe Gibbs Racing as Bobby Labonte's crew chief.
Rudd went to on drive the famed No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers.
Gibbs released McSwain last July, and he was reunited with Rudd the
"I think we both learned to appreciate what we had together
while we were apart,'' McSwain said. "It's a lot like a marriage.
You have to learn the give and take. I think we have a lot of good