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Eury to rejoin Earnhardt team

Duo will finish season together, get head start on next year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. beginning with this week's event in New Hampshire, a team official said Wednesday.

The duo will finish the season together to get a head start on 2006. Earnhardt failed to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup title, so he can use the final 10 races of this year to experiment.

"We just wanted to get geared up for next season," Richie Gilmore, vice president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., told The Associated Press. "This gives them a chance to start working on their chemistry. With both of our cars out of the Chase, the time was right to move forward."

Eury worked under his father, Tony Eury Sr., on Earnhardt's car from the beginning of Earnhardt's NASCAR career. The Eurys led him to the Busch Series title in 1998 and '99 and went with him to the Cup series in 2000, where they won 15 races — including five last season and the Daytona 500.

But team owner Teresa Earnhardt made a wholesale swap of crews during the winter, moving Eury Sr. into a management role while making Eury Jr. crew chief for Michael Waltrip.

The swap was necessary because the relationship between Earnhardt and Eury Jr., who are also cousins, had deteriorated to the point that the two were hardly speaking at the end of last season.

Earnhardt struggled after the switch, fired his new crew chief in May, and has been working under DEI's longtime technical director Steve Hmiel since.

It helped at first — Earnhardt won at Chicago in July — but he failed to make NASCAR's postseason. Waltrip is also out of the Chase, and is leaving DEI at the end of the season, so Gilmore said the time was right to move forward.

He also said the swapping of crews was not a mistake.

"As a company, we learned a lot from it," Gilmore said. "Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. had not worked together before in this capacity, Tony Jr. was never his crew chief, so it enabled him to get some experience working with someone else.

"The time apart also helped their relationship."

Earnhardt has admitted that separating the two was the only way to save their personal relationship.

"We didn't change the teams because of a performance issue. We changed it because of an attitude issue between me and Tony Jr.," he said. "We changed it, maybe not for the right reasons, but the change did what it was supposed to it. It fixed his attitude and it fixed my attitude.

"It's not always greener on the other side for either one of us. We both look at each other and talk to each other today totally different. I think that gives us that opportunity to work together in the future that we wouldn't of had if we would have run ourselves totally apart."

Waltrip will finish the season with Tony Gibson calling the shots for his crew. When he leaves at the end of the season, he is expected to take sponsor NAPA with him.

That means that Earnhardt and Martin Truex Jr., who is moving up from the Busch series, will be the only two full-time teams at DEI next season. The team may field a third car on a part-time basis with Paul Menard driving it, Gilmore said.

LOOMIS LEAVES GORDON'S TEAM: Robbie Loomis stepped down as Jeff Gordon's crew chief Wednesday, four days after the team failed to make NASCAR's Chase for the championship.

Loomis will finish the season as consultant for Hendrick Motorsports while Jimmie Johnson races for the Nextel Cup title. He will join Petty Enterprises next season as vice president of race operations, where he will run the day-to-day operations for Jeff Green and Kyle Petty's teams.

Steve Letarte, who has been with Gordon's team for three of his NASCAR titles, will take over for Loomis as crew chief.

"I'm sad to see Robbie leave," said Gordon. "We made a great team and had more wins ahead of us, but the Pettys presented him with a fantastic opportunity. For him, it was time for a change and I'm happy he's found the right fit."

Loomis joined Gordon's team in 2000, and the duo won Gordon's fourth Cup title the next season. Although Gordon has won three races this season, he hit a slump this summer and failed to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race title hunt.

By missing out, Gordon is assured his worst points finish since his rookie season, when he was 14th.

Letarte will call his first race Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. He has worked under crew chiefs Ray Evernham, Brian Whitesell and Loomis in roles ranging from tire specialist, mechanic and car chief.

"I've worked with Steve for more than 10 years and we already communicate extremely well, both on and off the track," Gordon said. "The team has a ton of confidence in his abilities, so we're looking forward to the last 10 races of 2005 and getting an early jump on next year."

The Gordon-Loomis split has been in the works for some time, with both sides indicating recently it was coming.

It's a natural move for Loomis to head back to Petty Enterprises, where he spent 11 seasons before joining Gordon's team.

"Robbie has been a part of our family for a long time, and we're happy to have him come home," Petty said.

Loomis has been eager to step back from the day-to-day grind of being a crew chief. It's part of a reorganization of priorities he's taken since his mother battled a life-threatening illness last year, and after a Hendrick plane crashed last October, killing 10 people.

His new job at Petty will not be as demanding as a crew chief's role.

"Hendrick Motorsports opened my eyes to a whole different level of this industry. The experience has allowed me to see things from a new perspective and learn important lessons about business and life," he said. "I was with the Petty family for 11 years before being blessed to work with Jeff and the No. 24 team.

"Kyle and Richard are giving me an incredible opportunity to come home, back where I started my career, and I'm honored and excited to do that."