By David Scott, The Charlotte Observer –
LOUDON, N.H. — When you own one race team and drive for another, your time tends to fill up quickly. People and demands pull at you. It’s gets more complicated when some of those people are your relatives.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. routinely deals with those burdens. Especially during the past several weeks, when he’s had to handle issues that have tested his leadership skills as a NASCAR team owner on both a professional and personal level.
As Earnhardt competes in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – including Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — he’s also had to make some tough personnel moves involving his JR Motorsports team that fields two drivers in the Nationwide Series. Both teams – with drivers Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt – have struggled this season.
First, Earnhardt fired his uncle and JRM competition director Tony Eury Sr. Then, earlier this week, his cousin and Patrick’s crew chief Tony Eury Jr. left the team.
But as difficult as those decisions were for Earnhardt to make, he’s been able to put them aside as he prepares for Sunday’s race. He’s seventh in the Chase standings and has been one of the season’s most consistent drivers.
“It doesn’t really weigh on me when I go to work,” said Earnhardt, who co-owns JRM with his sister Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, Rick Hendrick and, before this week, Eury Jr. “It’s something I can easily put aside when I’m at the racetrack this weekend or any given weekend.”
But given the inner-workings of a family business – as JRM certainly is – business decisions aren’t always able to be made with a cold and objective eye.
But that’s something Earnhardt had to do.
“It was difficult to see these changes,” said Earnhardt. “It was not at all easy at all to sever the working relationship with Pops (Eury Sr.) or Tony Junior.
“But we’re a company that wants to improve over what we’re doing and we’re making some changes to see if we can make that happen.”
Ryan Pemberton has been named as Patrick’s interim crew chief for Saturday’s Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway (no decision has been made beyond that). Whitt is running seventh in the standings, Patrick is 11th.
Earnhardt has other successful business interests, including a production company and his Whisky River nightclub in the EpiCentre in uptown Charlotte.
“We make changes from time to time in both those situations to improve,” said Earnhardt. “The Nationwide program kind of needs to do the same thing for me able to focus on my main priority, which is driving Cup cars. It needs to be fluid and work as flawlessly as possible. I won’t overload myself or take away (from driving). Especially with the opportunity I have now to win the Chase, win the championship. I won’t let anything take away from that.”
But that doesn’t mean Earnhardt won’t continue to closely watch what’s happening with Patrick and Whitt’s performances.
“I do like to have a heavy involvement in the company,” he said. And I do have general concerns about the company, even when things are going good. I like to be plugged in to what is going on and the direction we’re going.”