Junior Nation roars back to life

May, 28, 2009

CONCORD, N.C. -- I'm not sure which was louder on Thursday morning, the dog barking on my back porch or the roar from Junior Nation after it was announced that Tony Eury Jr. no longer was the crew chief for NASCAR's most popular driver.

The decision team owner Rick Hendrick made was to improve the performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is 19th in points and all but assured of not making the Chase.

In reality, it was good for the entire sport.

NASCAR needs Earnhardt running up front, winning races and competing for titles. Chairman Brian France directly blamed Earnhardt's 2007 struggles for declining television ratings.

"It would have helped if he would have been competitive,'' he said at the time. "He didn't win an event and he certainly didn't make our playoffs. And that's unhelpful if you're trying to build ratings.''

Earnhardt wasn't competitive again this year, so a change had to be made for the betterment of Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

By no means do I blame Eury for this shipwreck, but many of you do. The more the team struggled the more fans turned on Earnhardt, which meant they turned from the sport.

NASCAR has been concerned for some time about the sliding television ratings and attendance. The governing body held a meeting with team owners and drivers on Tuesday to discuss everything from improving the new car to shortening race weekends and races.

What Hendrick did on Thursday could bring faster results.

Earnhardt is NASCAR's Tiger Woods. When he does well ratings go up, more fans attend races and buy T-shirts.

He wasn't doing well with Eury and it had to stop.

The outpouring of comments on ESPN.com from Tuesday's story that Hendrick was considering a change alone showed that fans wanted this. Here are a few of your comments following today's official announcement:

• RLChapel -- "It is about time! I felt Tony Jr. should have been replaced years ago when Dale Jr. was still at DEI. In practically every race, when their car was not handling good, they rarely ever made it better. Only when the car was perfect immediately off the trailer has he done well. Dale Jr. has proved he is a very good race car driver. Not as good as his dad, but still pretty good.''

• Awesomespoon -- "... Well [Junior] is to NASCAR is what gas is to a car. Without him right now [they're] done. Most NASCAR fans have been getting pissed with the sport for years now taking races away from good tracks and taking it to places that suck and it being a huge flop. If [Junior] left NASCAR, the effects would be huge. Not as bad as golf, but it would be down there with soccer.''

• Baseballman387 -- "FINALLY!!!!!!! Now let's see what happens.''

Not all of you like Junior, but most of you talk about him and look to see where he finishes. Now you'll look even harder to see if the new crew chief makes a difference.

The dog is now quiet.

The roar of Junior Nation and all of NASCAR continues to ring in my ears.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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