CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – 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.

AP-ES-09-14-05 1126EDT

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