March 20, 2009
At a Dale Earnhardt Jr. press conference Friday in Bristol, the subject of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. came up -- was brought up, actually, by Junior himself -- and that led to some very interesting not-sayin'-just-sayin' quotes from Dale. Let's get in and parse them, shall we?
Question: Do the fans and media overanalyze, overthink everything you do because of your enormous popularity?
Junior: Well, no, not really ... I have said it a hundred times, and it just doesn't seem to make a dent, but, the guy that I feel bad for is Tony, Jr. because he gets criticized so badly. Everybody in this room, and some of you [who] have criticized him yourselves, know[s] how smart a guy he is. Truly know that he is a good mechanic and a solid crew chief. He just wanted to do this for a living, just like I do, but I'll take the fall. I would rather be crucified than him. Because every time I read in the paper that people are on his case, I feel like I am sending my brother to jail for a crime I committed, you know what I mean?
Point 1: A "solid" crew chief? Hmmm.
Question: Some schools of that [presumably this is "thought"] are not that Tony Jr. is a bad crew chief, but that you are too comfortable with him, and that he isn't able to calm you down. What are your thoughts on that?
[Note: Junior then launches into a 600-plus-word answer. Excerpts follow.]
Junior: It is a tough deal because we have a lot of sponsors, and you have a lot of people, a lot of fans. You are in a big sport and each wants [you] to go out there and make it happen. But at the same time, I like racing with my cousin. Whether we are the perfect combination or not, that doesn't mean anything to me. I just like racing with him. That is what I want to do, you know, for the rest of my life.
Point 2: Family, man. Family.
Junior: I like racing with him. Maybe we are not the best combination out there, but I think if we are both on our A game and doing what we should be doing and we get a little bit of luck and a break here and a break there, we would be just as good as anybody else out there.
Point 3: Oooof. You don't want your driver and crew chief to be the best out there only in very specific and fortunate circumstances, do you?
Junior: It is up to all the professionals and experts to figure out what we need to do to be a winning race team, and we will make the changes, and we have made changes.
Point 4: Tony, don't go getting an 88 tattoo any time soon.
Junior: There are days where I wish Tony, Sr. was still around but when [we] moved Tony, Jr. in to the crew chief role, it was what was supposed to happen with him. He was going to develop in to a crew chief, and he was old enough to do it. There are times I wish Tony, Sr. was over his shoulder. But don't want to change Tony, Jr.'s position and his authority. It was just awesome having Tony, Sr. around chewing our butts sometimes.
Point 5: Tony, hope you've come to terms with your daddy, because that answer's worth another year of therapy if not.
Okay, look -- I wasn't at the press conference, and I'm not going to try to guess at Junior's state of mind or leap to make connections. But I will say that this isn't quite the "screw you, Tony's my wingman no matter what you say!" kind of defense, is it? This soap opera will continue to unfurl, but it's looking to me like we may be nearing a cliffhanger.
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