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Earnhardt Jr. to announce future plans on Wednesday

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has decided where he will drive next season, and all signs point to Hendrick Motorsports.

NASCAR's most popular driver called a Wednesday news conference at his race shop, JR Motorsports, and spokesman Mike Davis said it was to announce his plans for 2008 and beyond.

It's the same site where Junior announced May 10 he would leave DEI and enter the free-agent market.

That move ignited a whirlwind of recruiting rarely scene in NASCAR, and there's been nonstop talk regarding where Earnhardt would end up. He's made shop visits and met with various car owners while he trying to make a decision.

His sister, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, is handling his negotiations and has maintained their first choice was to keep Earnhardt in a Chevrolet. She has said the majority of her conversations have been with NASCAR's top Chevy teams.

Hendrick is the best in NASCAR right now, with 10 wins through the first 14 points races this season.

Speculation grew Monday night that Earnhardt was close to a deal with Hendrick, but officials declined comment Tuesday. Elledge did not respond to messages from The Associated Press.

Rick Hendrick currently has four drivers under contract, and told the AP last month "there was no room at the inn'' for Earnhardt. NASCAR rules permit a car owner to field four Nextel Cup teams.

But multiple sources -- speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because Earnhardt's plans have not been announced -- said Hendrick officials have been working for nearly three weeks to figure out how to bring the star driver into the fold. One scenario could put Earnhardt into the No. 5 car that Kyle Busch currently drives.

Busch is under contract through 2008, and Hendrick has said he wanted to sign the 22-year-old driver to an extension. But there are rumblings Busch has asked to be released from his contract.

Asked if that was true, Hendrick spokesman Jesse Essex said, "We don't comment on contractual issues.''

Busch was testing in Milwaukee on Tuesday and not available to comment.

It's still possible Earnhardt could end up at Richard Childress Racing, where his father won six of his seven championships, or Joe Gibbs Racing. But Childress is out of the country, and the assistant to Gibbs president J.D. Gibbs said Gibbs is away all week.


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For Earnhardt Jr., all signs point to Hendrick in 2008

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., racing together as teammates -- it's a powerhouse combination of megawatt marketability that could become reality at Hendrick Motorsports as soon as Wednesday.

Earnhardt has scheduled an 11 a.m. ET news conference at his JR Motorsports shop in Mooresville, N.C., during which he will announce his plans for next season, according to a team spokesman. Sources have indicated to NASCAR.COM that those plans center on Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful organization in Nextel Cup this season, with 10 race victories in 14 starts.

Hendrick, with six total championships on NASCAR's premier series, would fit with Earnhardt's desires to drive for a contender and to continue to pilot Chevrolets. The Hendrick team also had ties to Earnhardt's late father, who shook down the first car the organization ever built, and was behind the wheel when team owner Rick Hendrick recorded his first NASCAR victory in a Busch race at Charlotte in 1983. Earnhardt Jr.'s car sponsor, Budweiser, also appeared on Hendrick cars in the mid-1990s.

Mike Davis, communications director for JR Motorsports, would confirm only that Wednesday's announcement concerned Earnhardt's plans for 2008 and beyond. A spokesman for Hendrick Motorsports declined to comment. Earnhardt has been looking for a new ride since he announced his plans to split from Dale Earnhardt Inc. when his contract expires at the end of this season.

Earnhardt and his manager, sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, have spoken with a number of unspecified team owners since the driver's impending departure from DEI was announced May 10. Three Chevy teams -- Hendrick, Richard Childress Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing -- emerged as frontrunners, with Ginn Racing lurking as a dark horse.

But Childress, owner of the team that fielded cars for Earnhardt's father, was on a hunting expedition Tuesday in New Zealand, and not expected to return until the end of the week. The Gibbs team has expressed unease with the presence of a beer sponsor, as well as the idea of a rapid expansion to a fourth team. Team president J.D. Gibbs is also out of the office this week on vacation, according to his assistant.

Yet the addition of Earnhardt would likely force Hendrick to move one of its drivers, since the team is already at NASCAR's impending four-car limit, and has four drivers under contract beyond this season. Asked by reporters last month whether his team could accommodate Earnhardt, Hendrick said there was "no room at the inn."

But now, apparently, there may be. The contract of Hendrick driver Kyle Busch expires after the 2008 season, and The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Busch may have asked to be let out of his deal.


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Glensgages

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Witness

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This might possibly be the best and most intelligent decision anyone has made so far this year in the entire world.
:beer
 

Glensgages

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..... his critics STILL-won't give him credit when he wins races, saying it will be 'because he is in superior-equipment', ignoring the fact he has won races before in inferior equipment, and ignoring the fact that 'having superior-equipment' could-be the reason their favorite drivers (Yimmie & Yeffey ) have been winning like crazy the last few seasons:
I still would've prefered him going to another team and helping 'build-something' (or even helping rebuild Childress Racing ), like his father did 20+ years ago, but the decision was his, and I wish him well.

:w
 

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