AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 12: Crew chief for Aric Almirola, driver of the #88 Suave Men Chevrolet, Tony Eury Sr., looks on during the NASCAR Nationwide Series WYPALL 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2011 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Family businesses can be a tricky concept. While it's great for family members to work together and benefit from a joint effort, what happens when the business starts to struggle?
That was the difficult situation in which JR Motorsports found itself over the last couple years, and it led to the decision this week to dismiss competition director Tony Eury Sr.
The move, announced Friday afternoon, is a delicate matter for the team's co-owners, which include Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller (Eury Sr.'s nephew and niece) as well as Tony Eury Jr. (his son) and Rick Hendrick.
JR Motorsports has failed to win a race since September 2010 and has struggled with a revolving lineup of drivers since Brad Keselowski left the team. And despite its close association with Hendrick Motorsports, the team has not been able to tap into Hendrick's success.
With sponsorship at a premium and the team trying to figure out its plan for next season, Earnhardt Miller and Earnhardt Jr. felt some changes had to be made. As it turned out, that change came in the form of releasing the team's competition director and part-time crew chief.
"Well, we ain't been running that good," Earnhardt Jr. told SB Nation on Friday, "and we can't afford not to."
Earnhardt Jr. said sponsorship is on a year-to-year basis in the Nationwide Series, so going in a different direction was necessary to show potential sponsors the team was intent on improving.
"We're putting all our programs together, and every year you don't know what the next year is going to look like in January," he said. "We're just making some changes and we've got to find a way to run better. It's just part of the deal."
Eury Jr., the crew chief for Danica Patrick, didn't seem as understanding about the move. He always figured his father would be with the team "until the place closed down," he told several reporters Friday night. Eury Sr. was crew chief for Cole Whitt until a swap was made due to chemistry reasons in April.
"It's a very unfortunate deal," Eury Jr. said. "We – they – had to do something in the company they think can make competition come up. We definitely haven't got the wins or the top-fives we wanted this year, but have done pretty good with rookie drivers that have showed a lot of progression."
The decision to dismiss his father "kind of caught me off guard," Eury Jr. said.
"There are four of us involved in (the ownership)," he said. "If three of 'em (or) four of us are involved in the decision, then that's the way it's gotta be. You know, hopefully from here on, we'll make the right decision on what we do to replace him."
In a statement, Earnhardt Miller said the 58-year-old Eury Sr. was bothered more than anyone by the team's high standards not being met.
"I believe Tony Sr.'s passion for the sport is exceeded only by his yearning to excel in it, and that itself became the issue that both he and I struggled with," she said.
But asked what the team could do to improve its performance, Eury Jr. had a different solution than something related to engineering or the cars themselves.
"I think we need to go get a Cup driver," he said. "That's about the bottom line. If you're going to run in the top 10 in this series over here, then you go get a Cup driver to come over here and you'll run top five all day.
"It's very seldom you'll find a Ricky Stenhouse or a Brad Keselowski. I think our company is built off the rookies and trying to do the best we can with them, but the way the economy in this sport has gone, if you're going to win races, you've got to step up to the plate and go get a Cup guy and spend the money."
Eury Sr. wanted what was best for everyone at JR Motorsports, he said in a statement.
"We accomplished a lot in a short time, and nobody is prouder of that than I am," he said. "I'm not sure what's next for me, and I'm not sure I'm in a hurry to find out."