- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

DOVER, Del. | Kyle Busch couldn’t resist taking a poke at the driver who replaced him at Hendrick Motorsports.

Busch’s career has skyrocketed since signing with Joe Gibbs Racing, but Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sagging career has hit an all-time low. On Wednesday night, team owner Rick Hendrick had enough, firing Earnhardt’s longtime crew chief Tony Eury Jr. in an attempt to salvage the season.

“It’s never Junior. It’s always the crew chief,” said Busch, who wonders when fans might finally blame NASCAR’s most popular driver for his troubles.

Earnhardt is 19th in points and coming off a season-worst 40th-place finish at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“Eventually, I’m going to be the one that has to answer about how much I lived up to my father’s name,” Earnhardt said Friday at Dover International Speedway.

And he’s ready to take the heat from anyone who wants to take shots - even Busch.

“He’s always had a chip on his shoulder for me,” Earnhardt said. “I expect any opportunity to throw a jab at me, he’ll do it. That’s just his personality.”

Earnhardt said he understands that without Eury around to deflect criticism, it’s up to him to find the spark that will jolt the No. 88 into contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Earnhardt couldn’t say why the pairing with his cousin flopped, but he pointed the finger for the back-of-the-pack finishes at himself.

“I take full responsibility for making some mistakes along the way, especially this year,” he said. “I would say I haven’t been on my game. I shoulder any amount of responsibility that’s necessary and everybody feels is fair.”

Team manager Brian Whitesell will call the shots this weekend at Dover. Next week, Lance McGrew, who has previous crew chief experience in the Cup series with former Hendrick driver Brian Vickers, will take over on an interim basis at Pocono Raceway.

McGrew, who was working with Brad Keselowski this weekend, said making the Chase is still the goal this season.

Earnhardt finished last in the 12-driver Chase field in 2008. This season, Earnhardt is a whopping 203 points out of the 12th-place cutoff for the Chase. He has had three top-10 finishes and six finishes of 27th or worse.

Busch said the Eury-Earnhardt combination hasn’t been clicking since last summer.

“You’ve got to make the most popular driver in the sport competitive, so you got to do what you got to do,” Busch said.

Busch has 11 Cup wins for JGR since the start of the 2008 season. Eury and Earnhardt left Dale Earnhardt Inc. last season for Hendrick Motorsports. Despite driving for NASCAR’s top team, they had just one win in 48 races.

Earnhardt is well behind teammates Jeff Gordon (first), Johnson (fourth) and Mark Martin (12th) in the standings.

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