NASCAR's Earnhardt Jr Signs 5-year Contract with Hendrick Motorsports

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced today that he will drive for Hendrick Motorsports in the 2008 NASCAR season, ending a month-long stint as a free agent. Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch in the team.

However, whether his symbolic number 8 or longtime sponsor Budweiser will move as part of the deal is yet to be firmed up, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said at the Mooresville, N.C., press conference where the announcement was made.

"None of that's in place yet," he said.

Earnhardt's contract with Hendrick is set for five years -- until 2012.

Hendrick indicated that sponsorship deals for Earnhardt's ride are currently in discussion, but nothing is finalized.

"As far as the sponsorships, we haven't even begun to work around that," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt's longtime sponsor, Budweiser, previously was with Hendrick Motorsports from 1995 to 1999.

Racing in the number 8 car, part of Earnhardt's symbolic image, is still an unknown. The number is currently owned by Dale Earnhardt, Inc., the team Earnhardt is leaving.

"I'd like to be number 8, but I'd have to talk to Teresa [Earnhardt] about that," Earnhardt said.

For the 2004 Daytona 500 winner, relations at his team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., became strained during the past two seasons. Earnhardt, racing for a team set up by his late father -- seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt -- has little control over the team, which is owned by his step-mother. Souring relations affected the decision to leave, Earnhardt said.

"For me personally, it had a huge impact on my decision. A lot of people don't know a lot of the inside relationships in the garage," and he had to think about his situation during that time. Earnhardt credited Rick Hendrick as one of the people he could go to for these decisions.

With Earnhardt entering the team, it also was announced Kyle Busch would be leaving at the end of the year, Hendrick confirmed.

"Kyle Busch and I, we have been negotiating an extension on his contract ... and it became obvious to me other people were talking to Kyle at the time." During the weekend of the Coca-Cola 600, "it became obvious to both of us that maybe a fresh start would be good for both of us," Hendrick said. However, he waved off suggestions from the press that Busch would leave early during the season.

"His goal is to finish this year with that car in first place," Hendrick said, noting that Busch is currently in the top ten in points.

Earnhardt's move to Hendrick puts the son of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at the same team as his 1990s championship rival, Jeff Gordon. It also gives the team a powerhouse stable of drivers that includes championship winners Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt, Jr. is currently 14th in the NEXTEL Cup championship. Earnhardt entered the NEXTEL Cup series in 2000.

Hendrick Motorsports, which owns the #5, #24, #25 and #48 cars in the premier level of NASCAR, has won six NASCAR NEXTEL championships in its 23-year history.


All quotes and most information: Live press conference, as shown uninterrupted on Speed Channel TV, 13 June 2007