Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a month of speculation today by announcing that he has signed with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season. Earnhardt, who announced on May 10th that he was leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc., held a media conference at his...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a month of speculation today by announcing that he has signed with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season.
Earnhardt, who announced on May 10th that he was leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc., held a media conference at his JR Motorsports shop in Mooresville, NC this morning. He was joined by his sister and business manager Kelly Earnhardt Elledge and Rick Hendrick.
"I feel a big relief and a lot of excitement," Earnhardt said. "I know that Rick is going to everything he can for me and that's a great feeling. I'm pretty excited about the opportunity to drive Rick's equipment. I'm pretty pumped up about getting in there. I'm excited. I don't feel any pressure. I feel really comfortable."
Earnhardt admits that his long relationship with Hendrick was a major factor in his decision.
"There are a lot of connections there," said Earnhardt, who reflected on a contract that he signed with Hendrick on a paper napkin the first time he met him almost 20 years ago. "Me and Rick have always been friends. He has always been concerned about my well being and that has been cool."
Earnhardt will join the Hendrick team, which also includes current points leader Jeff Gordon and last year's series champion Jimmie Johnson.
"It's an exciting time for us to be able to bring a talent like Junior into our camp," Hendrick said. "I take a lot of pleasure in trying to win championships for different people, but this one has a special place in my heart."
Hendrick told the media that his late son Ricky predicted that his father and Earnhardt Jr. would team up one day.
"I can't tell you how special this is to me and how much pressure I feel to make sure that he wins races," Hendrick said. "I've known him since he was a puppy and it's just something that is very special to me."
Casey Mears also drives for Hendrick while Kyle Busch, driver of the number five entry is the odd man out. To make room for Earnhardt, Hendrick ended his contract extension conversations with Busch.
"We discussed that maybe a fresh start would be the best for both of us," Hendrick said. "With a tremendous amount of respect, we decided that it would be good for him to be able to pursue (other opportunities) and we would be able to pursue Junior."
Despite being easily the most popular driver on the circuit, the 32-year-old Earnhardt has yet to display championship form at the sport's highest level. He has 17 wins since becoming a Cup regular in 2000, but his highest finish in the championship standings was third in 2003. He struggled through a frustrating 2005 season that ended with a 19th place finish in the standings before rebounding to make the Chase for the Championship and finish fifth last year.
He is 14th in the point standings this year, with just one top-5 finish in 10 races.