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Keeping Pace

Changes for Earnhardt will not ease the pressure

With Thursday’s announcement that Tony Eury Jr. was being replaced as crew chief for NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., pressure and scrunity will be upon the third-generation driver heading to this week’s Cup stop at Dover.

By Doug Pace

The Spokesman-Review

In sports sons and daughters follow in their parents footsteps.



From the Boone’s and Prince Fielder in baseball to Luke Walton and Kobe Bryant in basketball and across other stick and ball sports; each child aspires to be as good or better then their parent.



Words alone could not magnify the pressure of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Think for a moment what a day in the life of Jr. must be off the track and then throw in the obvious desire to be at some level as successful as your father and one could still never approach what Jr. faces week in and week out.



Family ties are strong with Jr. and drive his desire to succeed.



When he started a race team it was his sister Kelley that he brought in to be part of the leadership group and family member Tony Eury Sr. that was tasked with handling the race day and shop duties of the No. 5/88 Nationwide Series teams.



Meanwhile Tony Eury Jr. joined Earnhardt in his move to Hendrick Motorsports in what was billed as a potential super team. The sports most popular driver teaming with one its most winningest car owners and along for the ride cousin Tony Jr. who’d led Dale Jr. to much success at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before the much publicized split in 2007.



Pressure came in bunches for both Jr.’s.



Eury Jr. was tasked with leading a team that had unlimited resources and equipment superior to most on the Cup circuit. Dale Jr. was being teamed with drivers who had over a half-dozen championships between them in Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson along with a budding star and crew chief in Casey Mears and Alan Gustafson in what was Hendrick’s No. 5 reincarnation after the departure of Kyle Busch.



Yes things have not worked out for Jr. of late, but ask Mears about not being able to perform at Hendrick and the need for change. The No. 5 team was dismantled and reassembled with Mark Martin at the wheel this season, Gustafson atop the pit box and a remote team in Stewart-Haas Racing that had former Hendrick whiz, Darian Grubb, guiding it to early success in 2009.



Mears has continued to struggle with Richard Childress Racing and some would venture the problem all along at Hendrick was driver not team.



In Dale Jr.’s case, team must be changed when it comes to the sport’s most popular driver because no one envisions car owner Rick Hendrick replacing the son of a legend.



Or do they?



Eury Jr. was reassigned on Thursday in part for the continued struggles of the No. 88 team. It would be hard to replace Earnhardt at this point in time and nobody suggests it’ll ever happen but the message was clear from Hendrick-pick up the performance or things will continue to change and evolve until wins and championships come about.



Pressure now rests even more on Jr. because what was a magnifying glass on him as driver and star now focuses more closely on the talent behind the wheel and not outside the race track.



Dale Jr. has been down this road before. DEI changed crew chiefs and reassigned Eury Jr. only to see Earnhardt’s No. 8 team continue to suffer in the standings and race results.



Don’t expect an about face from Rick Hendrick. This change is permanent and will carry a ripple effect across all four of his teams. Whispers on impending changes to Martin’s team earlier this spring led to victories and improved performance and Hendrick held back on his shake-up.



The No. 88 team had the same message given over the last six weeks and yet the debacle of Charlotte, where Earnhardt finished 40th, brought the need to a head.



Now that this new era for the No. 88 begins one wonders if Earnhardt succumbs to the pressure and fades to mid-tier Cup status as some have voiced is truly his standing in the sport-or will he rise above like dear ol’Dad and show all of us the true nature of his determination to be out of his father’s shadow and judged truly for his own merits.



Only time will tell-but the clock begins to tick this weekend at Dover.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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