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 gets more complicated when some of those people are your relatives.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. routinely deals with those burdens. Especially over the past several weeks, when hes 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 Sundays Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway hes 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 Patricks crew chief Tony Eury Jr. left the team.
But as difficult as those decisions were for Earnhardt to make, hes been able to put them aside as he prepares for Sundays race. Hes seventh in the Chase standings and has been one of the seasons most consistent drivers.
It doesnt 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. Its something I can easily put aside when Im at the racetrack this weekend or any given weekend.
But given the inner workings of a family business as JRM certainly is business decisions arent always able to be made with a cold and objective eye.
But thats something Earnhardt has 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 were a company that wants to improve over what were doing and were making some changes to see if we can make that happen.
Ryan Pemberton has been named as Patricks interim crew chief for Saturdays Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway (no decision has been made beyond this weekend). 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, Earnhardt said. The Nationwide program kind of needs to do the same thing for me to be able to focus on my main priority, which is driving Cup cars. It needs to be fluid and work as flawlessly as possible. I wont overload myself or take away (from driving). Especially with the opportunity I have now to win the Chase, win the championship. I wont let anything take away from that.
But that doesnt mean Earnhardt wont continue to closely watch whats happening with the performances of Patrick and Whitt.
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 were going.