The Rich Get Richer ? Junior To Hendrick Motorsports

Milwaukee, WI ? June 13, 2007 ? The biggest question in NASCAR has been answered today as Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced at his JR Motorsports facility that he will be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. “It became apparent to me the man I wanted to drive for,” Earnhardt said at a news conference. “He competes with integrity and most importantly, he wins races … So today, it is with great honor to introduce my new boss for 2008, Mr. Rick Hendrick.”

The most popular driver has been added to the stable of the most powerful team in NASCAR. Earnhardt Jr. will replace Kyle Busch, currently driving the number 5 car. The reasoning behind the move is simple. Earnhardt?s goal is to win a NEXTEL Championship. He feels his best chance is with Hendrick Motorsports. “Winning is what it’s all about for him,” Earnhardt said of his new boss. “I feel like he’s got great cars and I feel like we’ll have success on the racetrack. It’s a new chapter for me.” I think that I’ll have a good opportunity to succeed and win a lot of races,” Earnhardt said. “Personally, I think I will cherish a championship on my mantle when it’s all said and done. I think I can live without it, obviously, but I’ll be 90, 95 percent on my goals that I set for myself personally if I can’t gather my championship. I really do want it.”

Hendrick who now has three notable NASCAR superstars in his stable commented, “This is a ‘wow’ day.” Surprisingly, the relationship began when Earnhardt was 14 and Hendrick offered him a contract on a napkin. The two initially met at the Topeka road course where Hendrick was driving in a Busch Series race. Earnhardt signed it as a fun gesture, but never would had guessed at how significant that moment was.

The announcement also ensures that Earnhardt stays with Chevrolet. “We are proud he chose to stay with Team Chevy,” said Brent Dewar; General Motors’ North America vice president of vehicle sales, service and parts. “On behalf of General Motors and Chevrolet, congratulations to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports on the announcement of their partnership. They epitomize the Chevy spirit of competition. We wish them success as they embark on their new relationship.”

After announcing on May 10th that he would leave Dale Earnhardt Incorporated at the end of the 2007 season, speculation has been rampant regarding where Earnhardt Jr. would end up. The top Chevrolet teams were included in that speculation as well as the possibility of a new team being formed. The sentimental favorite was for Earnhardt Jr. to end up in a Richard Childress ride like his father before him. Some fans wanted to see him drive in the famous number 3 car. But, Earnhardt Jr. said that he wanted to do his own thing and make his own mark. And now he has.

Can Earnhardt Jr. make the most of this opportunity? The goal of finding a team that he can win races and championships with has been accomplished. There will be no excuses, if Earnhardt Jr. can not win a championship with the cars and resources of Hendrick Motorsports, he will be the one to come under scrutiny.

Questions still remain. Announcements yet to be made include who will be the crew chief, sponsor of the car as well as the number of the car. Other issues may include the Junior Nation who have hated Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon with a passion, will they be able to deal with the fact their driver is now working with the enemy. Earnhardt addressed that issue at the press conference, “We do have a personal competition. If you want to call it a rivalry, fine, he’s fun to race with, and especially if you beat him, it’s a good feeling. … We can both challenge each other to be better race car drivers.”

What will be interesting will be to see how the drivers on the Hendrick team, the New York Yankees of NASCAR, will work together. Will there be enough resources for three superstar racers, each with a need and shot at winning the NEXTEL Cup?

And, almost lost in the shuffle, where will Kyle Busch end up in 2008? Hendrick said after several weeks of negotiating a contract extension, he and Busch agreed to part ways. Busch said in a statement that it was time to move on. “I have been granted a release after the 2007 season,” Busch said. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s where I grew up, and I have a lot of great memories. I kind of feel like I’m graduating. I’m excited about my future, and I know a lot of opportunities await because of what everyone at Hendrick did for me — on the track and off.”

Thus, Earnhardt joins Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears as a teammate. Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 of the 14 races this season.

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