Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Updated: May 27, 7:57 PM ET
Hendrick concerned about Junior's team
By David Newton
CONCORD, N.C. -- Team owner Rick Hendrick, who has previously said he doesn't plan to make changes to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team, wasn't as definitive on Tuesday.
"Could it change?" Hendrick said following a meeting with NASCAR officials at the Research and Development Center. "We're talking about things. We're going to make decisions as the days go by, but we haven't made any decisions as it stands now."
Hendrick did not specifically say the change would be to break up Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. before this weekend's race at Dover. But in the past when discussing changes he made it clear that wasn't a consideration.
He wasn't so clear on Tuesday with Earnhardt 19th in points, 203 behind Mark Martin for the 12th and final Chase spot, after finishing 40th in Monday's rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"We're always concerned when we have a car not run well," Hendrick said. "We're always meeting and trying to figure out how to make it better. We've got to come up with a plan and we've got to work toward that.
"We thought we had a pretty good plan coming to Charlotte. I was fairly pleased with the All-Star race and thought we would do better Sunday. We weren't."
Earnhardt, as he has been much of this season, easily had the worst finish of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars on Monday. Jimmie Johnson was 13th, but ran up front most of the day before getting caught back in the field during the final caution for rain.
Jeff Gordon was 14th, but felt he had a car that was "coming" before rain stopped the race after 227 of 400 laps. Mark Martin was 17th after running up front early.
Earnhardt's finish gave him three straight of 27th or worse since a second at Talladega.
"We just missed the setup," Hendrick said. "I can't explain why. We basically were the same for all four cars. They all fought a lot of the same problems early on. As probably a group we were off. We've been better at Charlotte than we were.
"Junior, we never could get that car adjusted back."
Hendrick's lack of commitment with Earnhardt and Eury came two months after he said there were no plans to separate the two.
"I have no intention of making any changes," Hendrick said the Wednesday after the March 22 race at Bristol. "I have all intentions of making it better. These guys are working their butts off ... and I have to believe in the next few weeks we're going to see some real success out of that crowd.
"My philosophy is you tweak it and inch forward before you cut it apart and completely rebuild it. I see a lot of effort from everybody on the team."
Hendrick said then Earnhardt and Eury each told him they would part if he didn't feel they were working well together. Eury told ESPN.com two weeks ago if Earnhardt didn't make the Chase he wouldn't blame Hendrick for making a change.
"That's my call," Hendrick said after the Bristol race. "I'm not ready to make that call. I'm not even close. I'm convinced they are better together."
He didn't sound nearly as convinced after Monday when Earnhardt finished two laps back and never was a threat for the top 10.
Earnhardt's relationship with his cousin has come under question many times over the years. It came to a head again after a rough start to this season that had NASCAR's most popular driver 35th in points after two races.
Earnhardt came to Eury's rescue at Bristol, saying he felt bad for him.
"He gets criticized so bad," he said. "Everybody in this room ... knows how smart of a guy he is, certainly knows he's a good mechanic and a solid crew chief.
"He just wanted to do this for a living just like I do. I'll take the fall. I'd rather be crucified than him. Every time I read in the paper that people are on his case I feel like I'm sending my brother to jail for a crime I committed."
Three straight poor performances may have sealed the fate of Eury, who spent Tuesday testing with Earnhardt on the road course at Virginia International Raceway.
"It's hard to work on it when you're the most popular driver in the sport," Hendrick said. "You guys want to know what's going on every minute, and really, sometimes we have to just take it a [step] at a time and keep tweaking it.
"They're out testing today, so we're not focused on yesterday. We're focused on continuing to try to make it better. That's the only thing I know how to do."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.