Friday, November 5, 2004

Crew chief Eury there when Earnhardt needs him



The Associated Press

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career was just taking off when his father was killed in 2001, leaving a big void in the youngster's life.

Into that breach stepped his uncle, Tony Eury, who's also his crew chief.

"There's a kinship," Earnhardt said. "We don't always see eye to eye on everything, but I know he cares about me as a person and I know he isn't going to send me out there in something that isn't safe or isn't right."

Eury, whose own son, Tony Jr., is Dale Jr.'s car chief and one of his best friends, has been a fixture in Earnhardt's life.

Eury was also crew chief for the elder Earnhardt's Busch teams, then took over as crew chief for Little E when he arrived in the Busch Series, helping him win championships in 1998 and 1999. When Junior moved up to Cup in 2000, Eury came with him.

Dale Sr. was not a warm, cuddly guy. He had not always been close to his children, but Earnhardt left no doubt he was proud of his youngest son and was trying to help him in his career.

"It wasn't always easy," said Eury, known as Tony Sr. "Sometimes, (Junior) didn't want to hear what I had to say and sometimes he just had to do something to see if he could do it. There was times we didn't like each other very much, but that's the way families are sometimes."

As Earnhardt has turned into a legitimate championship contender, Eury has gained respect in the Nextel Cup garage, as well as earning considerable credibility with the fans. They recently voted the quiet, stocky man with the snow-white beard the 2004 crew chief of the year.

Junior said it's about time everybody else figured out what he already knew.

"Tony Sr. is one heck of a crew chief," he said. "He has been around this sport for a long time. He's kind of old-timey, but he understands how things work and how to get the job done."

Heading into Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt is fifth in the points standings, trailing leader Kurt Busch by 98.

BUSCH SERIES: Kyle Busch keeps piling up rookie records in the Busch Series.

Busch, 19, on Thursday added a fifth pole to the record he already holds, taking the top spot for Saturday's Bashas' Supermarket 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Busch turned a track-record lap of 133.819 mph on the 1-mile Phoenix oval.

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