Eury Jr. & Earnhardt Jr. Keyed For Hendrick Motorsports Debut
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Eury Jr. said he could hardly wait for this week to get here. Following his early exit from Dale Earnhardt Inc. last season, Eury says he was especially eager to get started on his new venture as crew chief for the No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.
Eury Jr. and Earnhardt Jr. in their DEI days
“It’s good to be back at the track and working on these cars and being around these guys,” said Eury during Tuesday’s lunch break at Daytona International Speedway. “The guys are getting pumped up. That’s what this week is about – getting the atmosphere of your team and getting them in the right frame of mind.”
For Eury that means putting those long hours since the close of the 2007 season to good use.
“It’s been full bore to make sure everything’s in line,” Eury said. “We’ve got one shot at this 500 and you’ve got to start the first weekend of December to make that happen.”
This year’s Daytona 500 takes on added significance. Not only is it the 50th running of “The Great American Race,” it’s the first for Earnhardt and Eury with a new race team. Earnhardt also parted ways with DEI following the 2007 season and begins his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
NASCAR Preseason Thunder, which begins the lead-up to the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, is the first superspeedway test for Earnhardt with his new team.
“It’s been pretty nice to be able to concentrate on the things that are important right now – testing and working and getting to know the guys,” Earnhardt said Tuesday during a visit to the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve got a really good owner that makes me feel comfortable and so that eases a lot of other pressures – talking to him and listening to his thoughts on what we’re doing. It takes away some pressure from that side of it.
“But I don’t know the guys that well yet, so I’m just nervous in getting to know them and hoping they like me and like the kind of driver I am, and they’re happy to have me as their driver.”
Both Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports have plenty of success at the Daytona 500. The two have combined to win three of the last 500’s, with Earnhardt’s victory in 2004, while driving for DEI, followed by Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) in 2006 posting back-to-back wins for Hendrick. Since Earnhardt’s first Daytona 500 in 2000, he has a win, three top fives and four top 10s. In that same time span, Hendrick drivers have two wins to go along with five top fives and 10 top 10s.
“It’s a special race and it carries a lot of weight with me,” Earnhardt said. “I feel very strong about it and very dedicated to it and dedicated to winning it every time I show up. I think I’ve got a great shot and I know what I need to do to get the job done.”
The offseason officially ended Monday morning for Earnhardt as he took to the track for the second week of testing for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at Daytona International Speedway. Those that were in the even-number position in the car owner standings as of July 17, 2007, will test through Wednesday, January 16. Odd-number position cars tested last week.
With all the new things to get used to at Hendrick, one familiar face will be Eury. The two worked together at DEI and Eury won a pair of Daytona 500s with Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota). Knowing what needs to be done in the new venture, Eury’s offseason “vacation” consisted of two days of hunting right before Christmas.
“My wife and I have been married 10 years this year,” Eury said. “We were supposed to go to Hawaii this year. I told her, ‘I don’t have time right now. I’ll do it next year.’ “
And how did that go over?
“She didn’t take it real good,” said Eury said with a laugh, before adding that he helped himself by already booking the vacation for next year.
New Car, Same Tony-“Zippy” Combo … Last year ended a run of four straight top-10 finishes for Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) at the Daytona 500 – a string that included a second-place showing in 2004. This week, Stewart arrived in Daytona with a new car as Joe Gibbs Racing has switched over from Chevrolet to Toyota.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Stewart’s relationship with crew chief Greg Zipadelli. The two have been together for Stewart’s entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and have the longest partnership in the garage.
“We’ve done this off and on for 38 weeks a year for nine straight years,” Stewart said. “We have the same passion and desire to win, and when you have that and when you have a combination like that, you work really hard to protect it. I think Zippy and I are now in that position where we don’t see each other doing something away from each other.”
Pit Stops … Toyotas started with eight of the top 10 times in the Monday morning session, and followed up with a similar showing in the Monday afternoon session. Dave Blaney (No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota) posted a top speed of 185.445 mph (48.532 seconds) to lead eight Toyotas in the top nine times, and 11 of the top 13. Earnhardt Jr. was second fastest Monday afternoon at 185.426 mph (48.537 seconds).
Earnhardt topped the speed charts Tuesday morning at 185.820 mph (48.434 seconds), followed by Waltrip at 185.357 (48.555) and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) at 184.638 (48.744).
Fan Fest Offers Driver Q&As, Entertainment … Along with the opportunity to watch this week’s NASCAR Preseason Thunder, fans can enjoy an afternoon and evening at Daytona’s Sprint FANZONE on Tuesday, Jan. 15. Among the Fan Fest activities: Driver question-and-answer sessions, show cars, bands, a silent auction, displays and pit-stop demonstrations. Cost is $15 per session. Fans can watch each day’s test at no cost, beginning at 9 a.m.