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Hendrick's new Junior partner

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is joining Hendrick Motorsports, hopefully moving one step closer to a championship that has eluded him while driving for his late father's company.

Rick Hendrick said Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch on his star-studded roster of drivers. The announcement Wednesday ended five weeks of recruiting for NASCAR's most popular driver, who became a free agent May 10 when he said he would leave DEI at the end of this season.

His criteria for a new team included finding a place he could win championships, and Hendrick is the perfect fit. Hendrick has won six championships, and has 10 wins through 14 points races this season.

"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."

It was not immediately clear what number Earnhardt will drive, and who will sponsor the car. Since starting in NASCAR, Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet. It's possible that Hendrick could trade Busch's No. 5 to DEI for the No. 8, should he wind up signing with Earnhardt's old team.

"We haven't even began to work around that and see what the options are and opportunities are and that's something we'll work out down the road," Earnhardt said.

Hendrick has longtime ties to Earnhardt's family. He fielded a car in 1983 for Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove it to a Busch Series win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That entry was co-owned by Robert Gee, who is Junior's maternal grandfather.

Joining Hendrick's stable could anger Earnhardt's followers because it will team him with Jeff Gordon, a driver generally despised by his rabid fans. Following several of his recent wins, Earnhardt's fans have thrown beer cans at Gordon, most notably after career win No. 76 - in April at Talladega Superspeedway. The win tied Gordon with the elder Earnhardt on NASCAR's victory list.

"We do have a personal competition. If you want to call it a rivalry, fine," Earnhardt said. "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."

Earnhardt hasn't come close in seven full seasons at DEI to winning a Cup title. Hendrick, meanwhile, has won six championships since 1995, and along with four-time champion Gordon, currently fields defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.

"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."

With four drivers under contract, Hendrick told The Associated Press last month he had "no room at the inn" for Earnhardt. But Hendrick said Wednesday that Busch, who has a win this year and is currently 10th in the standings, was already talking to other teams when Earnhardt decided to leave DEI.

The 22-year-old Busch signed with Hendrick before he turned 18, and has four career Cup victories and a spot in last year's Chase for the championship to show for it. Hendrick said he and Busch discussed a contract extension, but as those talks progressed in late May - and when Earnhardt became a free agent - they fizzled.

"It became pretty obvious to both of us that maybe a fresh start might be good for both of us," Hendrick said.

There were three clear front-runners - Hendrick, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing - in the bid to sign Earnhardt and one long shot in Ginn Racing.

The late Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven championships at RCR, and Gibbs has won three of the past six titles. Bobby Ginn, in his first full season as a NASCAR team owner, has transformed a midlevel team into a contender, but has no championships at his organization.

But Childress never seemed to aggressively pursue Junior, and Gibbs officials were tightlipped about their contact with Earnhardt. They made it clear they wouldn't accept Budweiser, his longtime sponsor, because of conflicts with their family values image.

That left Hendrick, who admitted Wednesday to feeling some pressure about fielding a team featuring the biggest names in racing.

"The pressure is because I want to deliver, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen, because there's going to be a lot of people watching," Hendrick said.

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Glensgages

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It was not immediately clear what number Earnhardt will drive..... Since starting in NASCAR, Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Chevrolet.
It's possible that Hendrick could trade Busch's No. 5 to DEI for the No. 8, should he wind up signing with Earnhardt's old team.

..... about the 'only' mistake Junior made was when refering to asking Teresa to have the number 8 for his car at HMS:
if he would've said "You-know..... my grand-daddy wore that number on the side of his car....." , public-opinion may've encouraged Teresa to make one-last killing off Junior's name, selling him that number.
;)

It'll be hard to see Meat-Head driving the #8 Dollar General D.E.I. Chevy in the future, if that comes-to-pass:
once his parents, skank-o'-the-week pit-lizard, and guy who builds visors big-enough to clear his eyes buy #8 souvies, who-else will?
:chuckle

I would've prefered him joining another, ANY-other Shiverlay-team (nothing-personal against Rick Hendricks or his organization ), and attempting to 'build' a Championship-caliber team, as I'll probably always consider Yeffey Jordain as 'the-enemy', but Junior's gotta do what is best for himself:
chances-are I'll still root for him to win on Sundays, but I can't see myself being excited when the 24 or 48 win races.....
:(
 
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I'd liked to had seen Jr. go to RCR, but we'll see how this things go. :upthumbs

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Later . . . . . .
6 Shooter
 

Glensgages

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I'd liked to had seen Jr. go to RCR.....
My 'heart' said RCR, but my head said JGR, for one simple fact:
RC himself is 30 years-older than Junior, and who-knows who'll end-up running RCR while Junior is still in his prime, but J.D. Gibbs, just 39, has been running Gibbs' teams hands-on for a few years, making them competitive for the next 10-20 years.


The problems with Gibbs were 2-fold, I figure:
#1 was the 'alcohol-thing' with Gibbs' family (and you gotta respect a man for his beliefs ), but A-B could've used Monster Energy Drink to sponsor Junior, as they do with Kenny Bernstein's AA/Funny Car ~

#2, and possibly more-important has been Gibb's reluctance to say he'll stay with Chevrolet into the future.....
remember, Gibbs Racing has already left Chevy before, in '97, to become Pontiac's flagship team, and if rumors are true that ToJo is courting the Gibbs stable.....
:puke

Besides, Gibbs has said repeatedly they AREN'T adding a 4th team in '08, giving Yeley every opportunity to prove he is worthy to remain in the #18-car:
the big-surprise is how silent Childress Racing was throughout the entire affair, as-if they were never seriously considered.....

Maybe Junior wanted to start-out as his-own man, as Kyle Petty before him, and stay-away from the team his father has raced and won with before, ruling-out that team as an option.....
;shrug

While Junior moving to Hendricks 'sounds' like a marriage-made-in-Heaven, it was just 10 years ago that another marriage-made-in-Heaven involving an Earnhardt flopped, when his father was teamed-up with Larry McReynolds, at the time the hottest crew-chief (along with Evernham ) in the pits, yet Big E & Larry Mc only won 1 race in a season and a half, the '98 Daytona 500, before McReynolds joined the 31-car at RCR.....
 
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NASCAR.COM - Earnhardt to join Hendrick Motorsports for '08 season - Jun 13, 2007

05:23 PM EDT
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MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Sixteen years after they jokingly put pen to napkin, roughly four years after his own son predicted it would happen one day and Rick Hendrick scoffed at the idea, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has joined the team at Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick and Earnhardt made it official with an 11 a.m. ET announcement Wednesday at JR Motorsports, the facility owned by Earnhardt out of which he operates a Busch Series team and other budding racing ventures (watch video).

The outfit Earnhardt is joining at Hendrick is no budding racing venture, but rather the organization that clearly sits at the head of the Nextel Cup table, stock-car racing's most elite series. Earnhardt joins a stable of drivers that includes superstars Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and up-and-coming talent Casey Mears.

As expected, the odd man out in the development will be current Hendrick driver Kyle Busch. Rick Hendrick said that he expects Busch to finish out this season as driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, but that Busch will be released from his contract at the end of this season.

Busch's contract was to run through 2008, and Hendrick said that he and Busch mutually agreed that it would be best for Hendrick Motorsports and the young driver to part ways.

Meanwhile, Hendrick and Earnhardt could not contain their smiles Wednesday at the thought of what might lie ahead for them over the course of a five-year contract for Earnhardt. When he said five weeks earlier that he definitely was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc., the racing operation founded by his late father, Earnhardt said he wanted to drive for the organization that would give him the best opportunities to win races and championships.

He said Wednesday that he firmly believes he has found that in Hendrick Motorsports.

"I had hoped to have a decision by mid-summer, but I had no idea how long this would take because I had never been in this position," Earnhardt said as he opened a packed news conference. "I wanted to take as much time as possible to find the right team, the team that was right for me as a person and one where I could compete for championships. As I sit here today, I can say with complete honesty that I found and accomplished that goal.

"We talked with many teams, but one stood out above the rest. It became apparent to me the man that I wanted to drive for. I've known him since childhood. He competes with integrity, and more importantly he wins races."

Then Earnhardt, dressed casually in a gray shirt that was open at the collar and not tucked in and wearing blue jeans, introduced the man that needs no introduction in NASCAR: Hendrick.

They quickly recounted the story of when Earnhardt was first introduced to Hendrick in Topeka, Kan., after competing in a series of dirt races in the Midwest with long-time Cup driver Ken Schrader. Earnhardt was only 16 at the time and still feeling his way as a teenager, let alone as a racecar driver.

But after meeting him, Hendrick jokingly pulled out a napkin and told Earnhardt he wanted to sign him to a driver's contract.

"Obviously he was a pretty smart businessman. So I thought even if it was a joke, I'd better sign it," Earnhardt said Wednesday.

Years later, when Earnhardt was about to run his first Busch Series race, Hendrick sidled up next to him at the pre-race driver's meeting and reminded him of the pact made on the napkin in Topeka.

"You remember you signed a contract with me, right?" Hendrick said.

"I thought you forgot about that," Junior replied.

"No, I didn't forget about it," Hendrick said. "It's just that I'm scared of your daddy."

As they recounted the story Wednesday, both laughed heartily. Truth be told, despite countless fans who still refuse to believe it, Hendrick actually got along quite nicely with the elder Earnhardt. He even knew and greatly respected Ralph Earnhardt, Junior's grandfather who helped Hendrick get his start in racing.

So arriving at Wednesday's announcement was not nearly as much of a stretch as many believed. Yet Hendrick also had trouble envisioning it when his own son, Ricky, predicted about four years ago that Dale Jr. would one day drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

The plan was for Ricky, who passed away tragically in a plane crash before it could transpire, to eventually become more involved in the Hendrick operation -- and Ricky insisted to his father that one day he would get his good friend Earnhardt to drive for them.

"I was like, 'OK, right. I believe that,'" the elder Hendrick recalled Wednesday. "It was something he had in the back of his mind, and I didn't think it would ever come to pass. But I think it was something [Ricky] always planned because of their relationship and the respect he had for Dale, that that was his goal in life. For me now to see it happen is really special for me."

There are still many smaller -- but nonetheless important -- details to be worked out, including whether or not a deal can be negotiated with DEI to let Earnhardt use the No. 8; and whether or not Hendrick's organization, already sponsor-rich, will be able to absorb another major one in Budweiser, which many assumed would follow Earnhardt wherever he went.

But the bottom line is that Earnhardt has signed the bottom line. The general course of his future has been mapped out, and it is in Hendrick's hands as well as his own. Both men realize that.

"I think I have a good opportunity to succeed and win a lot of races. I believe, honestly and personally, that I will carry a championship on my mantle when I'm all said and done. ... I really do want it," Earnhardt said.

Hendrick, whose teams have won 10 of 14 races this season and have captured six Cup championships since the organization opened its doors in 1984, obviously has the resources to help Earnhardt realize his dream. And the team owner desperately wants to make sure it happens.

"He made the decision to come with us based on our ability to give him what he needs to reach those goals. So that's the competitive side of me that adds pressure, because I want to deliver what he's expecting," Hendrick said. "And because of the magnitude of his space and position in the sport, with his fan base and so forth, the feeling is that everyone is going to anticipate it."

Hendrick added that he believes there will be absolutely no problems with Earnhardt co-existing in a camp that already includes fellow superstars Gordon and Johnson.

"As far as the competition inside the camp, there already is competition here with Jeff and Jimmie running for a championship [this year]. They can be friends and they can be upset when they lose a race, but then they get back together and go again. So I feel like that's going to be the same situation here," Hendrick said. "The pressure is because I want to deliver, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen -- because there are going to be a whole lot of people watching."

 

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