DALE EARNHARDT Jr held his second press conference in a month at JR Motorsports Wednesday in Mooresville. A month ago, he announced he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc at the end of the season; this time, he announced he was joining Hendrick Motorsport.
Team Owner, RICK HENDRICK, already has four drivers under multi-year contracts - current NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader JEFF GORDON; reigning Cup champion JIMMIE JOHNSON; KYLE BUSCH and CASEY MEARS. Earnhardt Jr is 14th in points, but Busch will be released from his contract at the end of the season. Both Busch and Earnhardt intend to finish the season with their current teams.
Hendrick's relationship with the Earnhardt family goes way back to the old days with DALE EARNHARDT Sr - since 'Dale was a puppy' said Hendrick. Earnhardt Jr said "This relationship had a big factor in making my decision." He said that Hendrick was one person that he went to for advice before and after making his decision to leave DEI.
Hendrick Motorsport has been dominant this season, winning ten of 14 races. It has six prior Cup championships. Earnhardt Jr has won 17 Cup races in his seven-and-a-half years in the series, including the 2004 Daytona 500. He has won NASCAR's 'Most Popular Driver' award for the past four years.
The Hendrick/Earnhardt contract is for five years. Earnhardt Jr said "I always liked three-year deals, but I feel comfortable with this five-year deal. It's a great amount of time, the right amount of time for me. We have not talked about how we're going to leave the end of it. We haven't really talked about after five."
Junior said he "never struggled with the decision after it was made. It was solid and I was pretty confident about it. The hard part was the month of limbo, not having a place to go. This is uncharted territory for me. A huge risk, took a lot of nerve on my part, to get out in the real world and work for someone and straighten up a bit."
Earnhardt admitted for a long time he never had to worry about a job and could do and say what he wanted. "Now I may not be able to wear jeans and T-shirt quite as often. But the fans will still have the same Dale to cheer for.
"I just wanted to pay my bills. Everything else is a bonus. I want to work really hard this season to win the championship. If I don't win, I'll try hard to win the championship with Rick. I will cherish a championship when that trophy is on my mantle. I really do want it."
Junior hedged about when he made his decision. He said he "visited all the shops, they all had ability to build good cars and have all those secret things behind the doors, and the talent to win championship. That was a surreal experience in visiting all those shops. I met a lot of great people, and there are a lot more good people in the sport than I had given credit for. I have friends throughout the garage. It was great having crew guys come up to me saying they'd want me to drive with them."