Family Feuds Hurt Dale Jr

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With two victories his rookie season - not including his thrilling win in The Winston all-star race - Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a pretty solid season in his first year of NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition.

He, however, thinks it could have been a whole lot better.

With that in mind, Earnhardt Jr. and members of his No. 8 Budweiser team entered the winter months looking at every possible angle to find the needed consistency to be better in 2001.

One of the ideas was to fit the team’s car chief, Tony Eury Jr., into a different capacity.

“During the offseason, we seriously considered taking Tony Jr. off the road, even though that’s really not a downward move,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “Tony Sr. (Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief since 1998) is the piece of the puzzle I have to have at the track with me.”

As they are first cousins and very close friends, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t want his close relationship with Eury Jr. to be affected. So Tony Jr. will be at the track again in 2001.

“Tony Jr. and I would rather win races together than apart,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “We’d rather be running like shit together than run good apart from one another. No matter what difficulties we go through, we’re going to work them out. We have a long time to go since we’re both still young.”

The intriguing part to this equation is the relationship between the two Kannapolis, N.C., natives is probably just too good for their own good.

Huh?

“Tony Jr. and me are cousins who fight like we’re brothers,” Earnhardt Jr. explains. “When the team saw that, it surprised them. They’d see me and Tony sitting there fussing in the garage because of what was going wrong, but the other guys didn’t know how to react to that. It made it an uncomfortable situation for them and it affected our performance.

“Over the winter, our attitude has improved a whole lot. Now, we just have to back it up with improved performance. We tore up some cars last year, ran like crap at some tracks, and I don’t know why.

“Not coming together like we should have was our main excuse for how our season went last year. As long as we were winning, nobody was complaining, but when we ran poorly, Tony Jr. and me were close enough to where we could accuse each other with what happened even though we didn’t really take it to heart. It was easy for the both of us to say, ‘Oh, he’s just pissed off,’ but the team didn’t understand that. The tire changers and the gasman, they saw it and were like, ‘Man, it’s pretty sad that he’s pointing the finger at him.’ The guys on the team saw that and were going home thinking about it.”

Earnhardt Jr. says he really doesn’t care if he wins one race or 10 in 2001, just as long as he’s more consistent and still finishes well in the events where things might not be going so great.

“There are personal goals for me and my team, to be a lot stronger mentally, and that’s going to be a lot more important than just going out and winning a race or two,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “I like to win races and poles, but I don’t know what we’re going to be capable of doing. I just want to be consistent. When you’re running badly, you’ve got to be able to take that as motivation to go back and work harder.”

Earnhardt Jr. and crew will get the chance to start their year of improvement in a pretty major way as the Winston Cup season-opening Daytona 500 looms closer by the day. In his rookie debut last year at Daytona, Earnhardt finished an impressive 13th.

“Going into the 500, I feel real confident because we have a better car than we had last year at Daytona,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “The new (aerodynamic) rules also favor the inexperience I have, and I’m much better prepared. Last year I had butterflies before my first Daytona 500 because it was really my first true test against some of the Winston Cup veterans.

“Now that we’ve established ourselves and got in the mix, we can go out there and race a little bit harder and take a few more chances to really put our necks on the line.”

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