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A clearly drained Dale Earnhardt Jr. faces the press, insists he's tough enough to man up to the job ahead

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- no more Mr. Nice Guy, from now on, it's all business (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   A visibly emotional Dale Earnhardt Jr. says the pain of this split with cousin Tony Eury Jr. as crew chief "may linger for a long time."
   NASCAR's most popular driver, mired in a deep slump that was accented so dramatically last Monday in the Coke 600, showed a weary, painful face Friday as he addressed the shakeup that just cost Eury his job running Earnhardt's team at Rick Hendrick's.
   Earnhardt is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but he was more emotional here about his lot in life than at any time since having to deal with the first few months after his father's death nearly 10 years ago.
   The issue, Earnhardt says, is simple: "When you're at Hendrick Motorsports you're in the best equipment, and you should win races. And if you don't, that makes for a hard argument that you had any business being there in the first place.
   "We've got to work hard the next six months to give ourselves that argument.
   "And I really think we can do it.
   "There will always be pressure on me. I don't mind. There's pressure from every direction.
   "Everyone on that team knows we've got the microscope on us. That's sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing.
   "If you don't run top-five or top-10 every week 'you're not that good.'
   "Most everyone else in the field doesn't get that kind of scrutiny, doesn't get ridden so hard.
   "But we know those are the stakes, and that when we show up at the race track we have to live up to those expectations.
   "But the support I'm getting from some new voices in the company gives you hope and confidence, not just me but the whole road crew."
   So can new crew chief Lance McGrew make things work?
   "I'm really confident in myself as a driver," Earnhardt says. "We've got great cars and amazing engines, and Lance brings a lot to the table and we get along really good, and he's got a great attitude.
    "He's a tough guy; he tells it like it is, he doesn't pull any punches. You don't get anywhere if people only tell you what you want to hear.
   "We really have everything we need."
   Earnhardt concedes that heavy questions about his situation are "fair game.
   "You can't expect people not to have certain expectations.
   "My expectations are the same as everyone's – I want to win races and win championships. That's why I went with Rick.
   "I understand the heat that comes with the situation.
   "I take full responsibility for making some mistakes along the way, especially this year. I haven't been on my game.
   "I don't have the urge to point fingers in any one direction…and I can't put my finger on any reason why it didn't work. We've had a lot of meetings, and changed up a lot of things. But we just kept going backwards.
   "And Rick felt he had to make something happen.
   "I've always felt Tony Jr. was going to do great things….but maybe we just weren't meant to do them together."


Can new crew chief Lance McGrew whip Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the team back into shape? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   But if Earnhardt was looking for sympathy, or empathy, there wasn't much in the NASCAR garage. However that's just this kind of sport.
   The man that car owner Rick Hendrick fired to make room for Earnhardt, Kyle Busch, took a jab: "You've got to make 'the most popular driver in the sport' competitive. So you've got to do what you got to do, I guess. 
   "He (Earnhardt) is the one who brought that crew chief on.  He's the one who pulled so hard to bring Tony Eury Jr. in. 
    "It looked like it was working there in the beginning…but it hasn't worked since the summer of last year, really. 
     "Whatever makes them better, I guess."
    Busch worked with Lance McGrew in 2004: "Lance did a lot of things – You're always trying to stay ahead of the curve, so he worked a lot with his team and worked a lot with the cars.
    "To be honest with you, besides that he's got his hands full having to deal with what's going on (technologically) -- if Junior doesn't run well, then he (the crew chief) is going to be the problem again. 
    "It's never Junior; it's always the crew chief."
    Earnhardt understands well Busch's situation, vis a vis Earnhardt: "It doesn't really surprise me what Kyle says. He's always had a chip on his shoulder for me, so I expect anytime he has an opportunity he'll throw a jab at me..
    "Like Kyle said, people have been on Tony Jr.'s case and never really pointed the finger at me.
     "Eventually the only one I'll really have to answer to about my success is me – I'll have to be the one to answer to the fact of how much did I live up to my father's name…and everything he accomplished…and how much did I live up to everyone's expectations."
   Earnhardt's confidence level? Has he given up on himself?
    "You definitely lose confidence when you don't run good," Earnhardt said. "You're only human, so you'll question yourself when you're not getting it done.
   "We weren't really lightning fast in the All-star race (two weeks ago) but we were competitive, until the engine blew up the last lap. But then in the 600 we couldn't even hang on to the rear of the field.
   "But I can't carry the race car on my shoulders."

    Earnhardt says he's "accomplished a lot" in his career, but he has "that much more, and then some, to accomplish."
   But this year, he says, "we definitely didn't want to come out of the box and run like we're running.
   "So hopefully with a new attitude, and with someone else leading the team, with a different approach, that will get us where we need to be.
   "My approach now is just to be ridiculously professional. In every approach to the car and the people I'm working with.
   "I've taken every serious bone in my body to try to be part of the solution to this problem.
   "It will definitely require all the focus I've got, and all my motivation and determination to get it going in the right direction again.
   "I guess I had a defensive attitude…for how much we were struggling. And my way of trying to find some enjoyment to being at the track, even though the car wouldn't turn.
    "This is a serious issue with the team, and we all have to buckle down and working our guts out."


No longer Tony Eury Jr.'s crew (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Junior will now learn how to

Junior will now learn how to be a Hendrick team driver not a driver from another team who is just driving a Hendrick car. He will need to learn how to talk to his crew chief and given cogent information not the usual "she's loose in the corner off three" the fact he can drive a car can't be disputed he can but does he still have the fire in the gut there is the real question. This more than anything is gut check time for Junior he should take the opportunity to make the most of it forget whatever he's learned from his years at DEI and how their cars were set up this is an all new ballgame. The last time I checked this Hendrick bunch seems to know what their doing on setting up race cars maybe having a insider is what he needed all along we shall see. McGrew knows what he's doing he's won so the crew chief will no longer be the excuse.

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What Kyle Busch said is what

What Kyle Busch said is what every non-Junior fan has thought for quite sometime. Junior is the most popular driver, so naturally when his car is not running up to his fan's expectations it's got to be something other than his driving ability to blame. He doesn't like to be in daddy's shadow, but being in that shadow is the only reason he's got a Cup ride.

I take Kyle's comments with a

I take Kyle's comments with a grain of salt. Heck, he's up 14-1 on Junior. He should be more empathetic. Believe me, Kyle Busch will be there one day too, and he'll be looking for support and he'll get the dust off. Yes, Kyle Busch is the best driver in NASCAR today, making flat amazing moves. But he's become too arrogant. And somebody -- hear us, Joe Gibbs -- needs to get his head back out of the clouds. But then Joe was so remarkable ineffective with Tony Stewart, why should we expect anything different now. Jim France should tell Joe to take Kyle to the woodshed.
All that aside, Junior is a damned good driver, but he needs his old man around to keep him straight. And it's a shame that Rick Hendrick isn't doing a better job.

That is not the only reason

That is not the only reason that he got a cup ride. That may the initial reason that he received his ride in cup was through his father's team. However, he has proven himself to be a successful driver through the years since entering cup. Though he has not won a championship, over 50% of the vcurrent cup drivers have not won one either. I do not know what you are basing your opinion on but his driving record must not be included in your opinion. Another thing fireballroberts, just remember one very important thing. Alot of us that are fans of Jr's have been fans of his since his late model days. It is not because of who his father is or was. It is because we see something in him that has made him the most popular driver in Nascar for the past several years. We the fans are the reason Nascar is alive and well. We pay the bills by traveling to the tracks and paying the price to see our favorite drivers. We want him there, we believe in him and sorry if you do not. He is in Nascar because we want him to be and he deserves it! If for some reason he was not in Nascar when his father died, the sport would be in the same shape the IRL is in now. Agree or not, truth is truth. Sumbitted by renee4jr@hotmail.com - Indianapolis

I admit it...I'm a Junior

I admit it...I'm a Junior fan.

I wasn't always one. I refused to pull for him at first. I was a SR fan but I didn't what to pull for JR just because of his last name.

But over time I came to like JR for being JR instead of being junior SR, if that makes any sense. He's his own man who wants to make a name for himself instead of living in the shadow of the great one.

But at the same time, it seems he needs someone to keep him focused. Without the old man around to kick his butt from time to time, JR seems to not stay that way. Having his cousin as crew chief probably didn't help either when it came to having someone set him straight.

I think Hendrick gave the experiment long enough but is now taking charge. And I'd guess that things will get better. It was proven to not be working so no one can second guess Hendrick's call now. Junior gets a wake up call and gets back to work. He ran pretty good Sunday. If this team does get it all together, we could see the 88 up front as consistent as the 48 and 24.

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