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Rick Hendrick says he's pleased -- maybe even relieved -- that his Earnhardt-Eury shakeup appears to be working

Rick Hendrick (L) knew the pressures he faced coming into this deal with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (R), but he may have underestimated the pressures on Junior himself, and Tony Eury Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   So how does car owner Rick Hendrick assess the initial results of his shakeup of Dale Earnhardt's crew, moving long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. over to the R&D department and putting Lance McGrew and Brian Whitesell in charge of Earnhardt's team?
   Earnhardt responded with one of his best efforts of the season, a good rebound from that Charlotte 600 disaster. He ran as high as third, finished 12th, and overall did a pretty good job in the Dover Autism Speaks 400.
   "I thought it was a really good effort," Hendrick said. "I thought the communication was really good.
   "We got to the front. We were one adjustment off….
   "Overall, I'd give it a really good grade.
    "We might have had a top-six or a top-five car.
    "For the guys to work that well together that quick, I was really pleased.
    "I listened to them all day, and the communication was extremely good, the feedback was really good. The decisions they made…
     "Junior and Lance did a great job. I'm really pleased. We have something to build on going to Pocono."
     Earnhardt's focus did seem much sharper than at many races this season.
     "It's a real tough decision, when you have to really talented guys," Hendrick said of his move to split cousins Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
   "Tony is a very good crew chief, and Dale is an extremely good driver.
    "But they've never worked with anybody else. All they know is what they've done (together). And sometimes you need a fresh start.
    "Tony needs another challenge. The pressure has been unbelievable for those two guys.
    "It was to the point that I don't know how they took it.
    "I could feel it; I could see it in their faces.
    "Both guys will benefit from this -- because Tony at a road course test (this week) with Jimmie Johnson is going to open his horizons to working with a totally different guy that gives feedback a different way.
   "I told both guys that my brother and I could look at each other and fight…but if somebody else messed with one of us, we were family, we would get after it.
    "A lot of those situations were because they were related.
    "They had just gotten to a point they need a new challenge.
     "We need to get the pressure off them.
     "Dale: I really appreciate the way he stepped up.
    "And I have talked to Tony every day since, and he is excited about doing something a little different."
   Sunday's performance? "I am very pleased…because it could have….well, you just never know until you put people together," Hendrick said.
   "But Lance and Dale worked together in Nationwide. Lance does a good job as I call it a field general, calling a race.
    "As hard as Dover is to get a handle on a car, and how any little adjustment can take you out of the game -- the feedback, and the way they ran the race, I was extremely happy with."
    And this is a high-profile shakeup.
     "You don't really know the burden or the pressure," Hendrick says, considering Earnhardt and Eury.
    "If you are 'the most popular driver,' and you are trying to make everybody happy -- from the fans to the people you work with -- it is an awful big load that Dale Jr. carries.
    "I personally wouldn’t want that.
     "Every move he makes, everything he does, is scrutinized, one way or another.
    "And the same thing with Tony.
     "One thing I have been impressed with -- Lance over the years has shown he has got pretty broad shoulders and he can handle a lot of heat.
    "I knew when I made the decision it was going to create an awful lot of conversation, an awful lot of second-guessing, an awful lot of what-ifs.
    "When I brought Dale Jr. and Tony over I expected that.
    "But I didn't realize how much you folks pay attention….
     "It is just a fresh start for both guys, and I am so happy and proud.
    "Every one of our drivers called me the day after. I didn't tell them, I didn't talk to them, I didn't tell them what was happening. But all the crew chiefs called Tony, called Dale, and said 'Hey, what can we do? We are here for you. Whatever, just let us know.'
   "I'm so proud of the way the organization stepped up."
   Hendrick said both Eury and Earnhardt understood the situation Hendrick was facing all spring.
   "Both of them had come to me individually and said 'If we need to do something, just tell us. If you need to separate us, tell us.'
    "I said 'When I feel it is time, I'll tell you.'
    "I felt like it was.
    "Both guys are going to grow now, because they have an opportunity to.
    "All they knew was what they did together.
    "Tony comes up with some great ideas. He loves the stimulation. And I think he will add a lot to our organization there.
    "The crew chiefs and drivers that have worked with him in debriefs are very impressed with his talent and ability.
    "This is just the first race. We have a long way to go. But I am determined and committed that we are going to give both of those guys the best opportunity…and the team, to win.
    "I believe we have made a step in the right direction.
    "Sometimes when you've got two guys that communicate in a way they've done for 10 or 15 years, it challenges you to think a different way.
   "Working through the weekend, it challenged Junior…and he did a super job.
    "I am extremely proud of the way he worked on the radio with Lance.
    "I feel like it's been three weeks since Wednesday night (when Hendrick made the decision).
    "But everybody had a positive attitude, once the dust settled, and said 'Okay, we've got to regroup. This is a new deal, and let's go to work.'"

Rick Hendrick: It's not easy to have to bite the bullet (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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