Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the Hendrick Motorsports stable starting in the 2008 season.
NASCAR’s most popular driver announced on Wednesday that he is joining the sport’s most dominant organization in 2008. Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch, who has agreed to a release from his contract with Hendrick.
He chose an organization that has won six since Jeff Gordon captured the first of his four titles in 1995 and Jimmie Johnson walked away with the 2006 championship. He chose an organization that has won 10 of 14 races this season, including last week’s rain-shortened victory by points leader Gordon at Pocono.
“When you have a big team like we do, and four winning teams like we do, I think we’ve had that challenge: Are there too many successful drivers in one place? I think we’ve already proven, if there is a team that can deal with that, Hendrick Motorsports is one of them,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I think we’ll all be helpful to one another, crossing over to different fan bases. … Junior will learn from Jeff, and we’ll learn from Junior.”
Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon as teammates will be an interesting mix. Although the two get along, Gordon has been the driver most Earnhardt fans love to hate going back to his rivalry with the late Dale Earnhardt. “We do have a personal competition. If you want to call it a rivalry, fine,” Earnhardt said of his relationship with Gordon. “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.”
Where Busch lands becomes the most pressing question. There has been speculation that he may move to Ginn Racing, which is supported by HMS. DEI officials have said they would be interested in the 22-year-old star if he is released from his contract. “Although we haven’t had conversations with Kyle Busch, if speculation is correct that he may become available he’s certainly somebody we’d be interested in talking with,” DEI president Max Siegel said on Tuesday.
It is not known what number Earnhardt will drive, or whether sponsor Budweiser — since starting in NASCAR, Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet — will follow him to Hendrick. Anheuser-Busch has had a relationship with Earnhardt since 1999. “Dale Jr. is an excellent ambassador for the sport and our company, and we look forward to exploring options with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports to continue Budweiser’s relationship with him as he enters this new stage of his racing career,” said Tony Ponturo, the company’s vice president of global media and sports marketing.
It would be quite interesting to see an Earnhardt-Busch swap. It’s still bizarre, though, for a team called Dale Earnhardt Enterprises not to include the surviving Dale Earnhardt.
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