Tony Eury: Danica should aim for top 10s-15s
Tony Eury Jr. leaned against a stack of tires, gabbing demonstratively with T.J. Patrick. Brooke Patrick, T.J.'s youngest and non-Sprint-Cup-rookie-of-the-year-candidate daughter, interjected a point that sent a grin across their faces.
True, Eury hasn't been Danica Patrick's crew chief since philosophical differences with Kelley Earnhardt-Miller and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at JR Motorsports prompted a departure in September. But his relevance to the Patricks has remained, as evidenced by the breadth and vigor of their confab less than an hour before the start of the Daytona 500.
She can win rookie of the year and she can run solidly in the top 10 to 15 cars every week. I think that's a big goal for her. I think that would be a realistic goal.Tony Eury Jr.
Eury would seemingly be a fair judge of how far Patrick has come in what remains an incredibly quick transformation from lifelong open-wheel driver to participant in the highest level of stock car racing. And while he once said Patrick needed another full season in Nationwide, he has tempered that assertion.
Eury said Patrick's expectations should include winning the top-rookie prize, even if she is competing against two-time Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"She can win rookie of the year and she can run solidly in the top 10 to 15 cars every week," he said. "I think that's a big goal for her. I think that would be a realistic goal. She's going to have races where she runs really well, kind of like she did in Nationwide, but I think her goal needs to be anywhere from 10th to 15th every week."
That goal hasn't met reality yet, as Patrick has an average finish of 27th through four races. Eury had pegged Phoenix as a venue where she could produce a much-needed early-season quality finish, given her 10th-place there in Nationwide last fall, but a blown tire and subsequent accident led to a 39th-place result.
"There's going to be some tracks where it's going to be a big feat," he said. "Martinsville is one of them. Pocono is going to be one of them. There are going to be several of them that are going to be eye-openers that she's never done.
"But when she goes to Richmond and Charlotte and Texas and places like that, it's going to be pretty much something she is used to and knows what to expect."
Eury helped Patrick get where she is by treating her like a rookie, as if every aspect of stock car racing were foreign, even as they progressed through three seasons. Former spotter Rick Carelli, he said, was instrumental in showing Patrick how using different racing lines can impact handling characteristics.
"It's pretty remarkable, by the amount of time she has put in, and where she is," Eury said. "I tell people, 'Y'all don't understand. First time she came [to Daytona, site of her second stock car test of 2009], she didn't hold it wide open all the way around, and she was like, 'This thing is moving around a lot.'
"We were doing everything, from helping her turn in to where she gets off the line, everything. And now she comes here and does it like a veteran."
And if it works out as Eury predicts, he and the Patricks will have a lot more to chat about.