Ryan Newman's #39 Chevrolet rolled out of its garage stall just as the knot of reporters surrounding Tony Eury Jr. behind the #25 transporter began to dissolve.

The crew pushing the #39 spotted Eury standing on the steps behind the hauler, stopped and cheered. It was a heartfelt welcome for a man who had been too long absent from the racetrack.

Following the May 28 announcement that Eury would cede his crew-chief duties on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s #88 Chevrolet to Lance McGrew, Eury stayed away from the track and out of the spotlight.

Aside from a road-course test session in Kershaw, S.C., with Jimmie Johnson, Eury concentrated on his new role in research and development with Hendrick Motorsports. During the first few weeks after his separation from Earnhardt, his cousin, he didn't watch a race.

In a way, though, the emotional parting brought a sense of relief, and at Chicagoland Speedway on Thursday, Eury seemed comfortable with a new career opportunity - as crew chief for Brad Keselowski's #25 Hendrick Chevrolet.

Certainly, the #39 crew members paid their respects. After all, many of those men, from crew chief Tony Gibson on down, worked side-by-side with Eury on Earnhardt's #8 car at Dale Earnhardt Inc., where Eury and Earnhardt enjoyed success together before jumping in tandem into the pressure cooker at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

Whether old team-mates or not, almost everyone who saw Eury greeted him with a wave or a shout. The message was clear: that Eury was a welcome presence in the Cup garage, and that he had been missed.

The old Eury was back in every sense - quick to smile and quicker still with a good racing story - far removed from the crew chief, who, along with his driver, had succumbed to the crushing weight of unrealistic expectations after the move to Hendrick.

"It means a lot to me when the peers in this garage walk up to me and tell me that I am doing a great job, and they're sorry to hear about what happened," Eury said. "These guys in here know what I'm about and what I can do. That means more to me than anything else that will ever go on in my life. I'm satisfied with everything that I've done and the way it went down and just looking forward to something new, just to try something different."

Eury concedes that on a driver/crew-chief basis, the relationship with Earnhardt had run its course. There's also the sense that Eury and Earnhardt needed to go separate ways at the racetrack to protect their relationship as cousins and friends.

For two years, Earnhardt has been urging Eury to accompany him on a trip to Sturgis, S.D., site of an annual motorcycle rally and a favourite of NASCAR luminaries. This year, for the first time, Eury says he'll probably go.

Eury and Earnhardt traded text messages the weekend after Eury stepped aside as crew chief. Now, Eury says, he makes a point of talking to Earnhardt at least twice a week.

"We sent a couple texts that first weekend," Eury said. "We talked on the phone, and it was kind of emotional for both of us. In no way shape or form am I going to let this sport get in between me and Dale Jr. It was a job. I enjoyed being around Dale Jr. - still do. He's family, and we go deeper than this racing deal.

"I've always wanted him to have the opportunity. If he has to be with somebody else, if that brings him up a scale, then I've always been for that. I'm just looking forward to working with Brad. Me and Dale Jr. have plenty of hunts planned together, and we're going to go do things outside of racing. To be honest with you, I don't think we really talk a whole lot of racing when we do talk.

"I think that's pretty cool."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News

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