What went wrong?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't sure why his pairing with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. stopped working. But Earnhardt's level of commitment to making things better is unquestioned - he went as far as to tell team owner Rick Hendrick that he would leave the seat of the #88 Chevrolet if that's what it took.

Hendrick instead opted to remove Eury, Earnhardt's cousin, from the crew chief's position, breaking up a combination that hasn't enjoyed the success that Earnhardt, Hendrick and Eury had expected when Earnhardt and Eury came to Hendrick at the start of the 2008 season from family-founded Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Lance McGrew, who has worked with Earnhardt in the Nationwide Series, will serve as interim crew chief for the #88 team. McGrew will take over next weekend at Pocono. Team manager Brian Whitesell will serve as crew chief for Earnhardt this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

"We're cousins, but we're a lot like brothers," Earnhardt said Thursday during an appearance for Michigan International Speedway at Motor City Casino. "We've been sort of at odds with each other over the last couple of weeks.

"As a whole, our relationship is really, really strong, and we've always really had a great enthusiasm to work together. We came to Hendrick with a little bit of a risk. We felt a lot of pressure when we went to Rick to work, but we jumped in with both feet and really felt like we were going to make it happen. It's really, really disappointing that it didn't work out like we wanted."

Earnhardt hasn't won a race since June 2008 at Michigan. His only other victory for Hendrick came in his first competitive event with the organisation, the non-points February 2008 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.

The tipping point came at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Monday, where Earnhardt fought an ill-handling car all afternoon and finished 40th, two laps down, in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600. Even so, Earnhardt struggled to identify the reasons why his relationship with Eury simply stopped working.

"That's really the confusing part," Earnhardt said. "I don't have no idea. Nothing's different than last year. It's kind of like looking down out of the boat into the lake, and you can only see about a foot, and the problem lays about six, seven, eight, 10 foot down, and you just can't see it. You know it's there.

"The only thing I can say was a little bit of an issue was, most of last year, we ran on right-front bump stops, and we were running good with that. And we had studied and learned that. During the middle of the season, (team-mate) Jimmie (Johnson) was trying some different stuff, and he started having some success with it.

"We started trying it and trying to make it work and trying to learn it, so we could be ready to go to the Chase and not get our butts kicked, and we really kind of got lost trying to develop this other idea of how to set the car up. And we got a way from what was working and never really regained that momentum back."

Ultimately, Earnhardt told Hendrick to do whatever he felt was necessary to improve the team's performance.

"Whenever you decide that something needs to happen, you just make the change you want to make," Earnhardt said he told Hendrick. "I told Rick that whatever he wanted to do, to do it, and that meant whatever. If he thought I wasn't able to get the job done, then I would be fine if he wanted to change who was in the seat, if he wanted to change certain particulars on the team - whatever - to not necessarily involve me in it.

"They run race teams. That's their business. They put together champions. I want 'em to just do whatever it takes, and that's the way Tony Jr. felt, too."

Earnhardt believes Eury will remain with the organisation in a research-and-development role.

"As far as I know, Tony Jr. wants to stay with the company, and Rick wants him to stay," Earnhardt said. "I want him to be there, and they'll work that out themselves, I suppose. I like Lance. I've worked with him in the past. I think I'll be perfectly OK and confident going to the racetrack with Lance. I have a whole lot of trust in Brian Whitesell, that he won't send me to the racetrack unprepared."

Though Earnhardt says he's looking forward to find a permanent crew chief for next season, his qualifications for the job might raise some eyebrows.

"There's so much pressure on that (#88) team," he said. "Those guys on that team don't go to the racetrack and show up under the same environment as anyone else - especially Tony Jr. and the guy that decides to run that team as a crew chief. He's definitely in a different situation and definitely in a different environment than any other crew chief.

"I'm going to tell you, the guy who takes that job going into 2010 is either confident as hell or crazy. Maybe that's what we need."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News