Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced Thursday he will
leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc. – the team founded by his late
father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, Sr. – after
the conclusion of the 2007 racing season.
After failing to secure a deal with the team,
Earnhardt, Jr. will become a free-agent in 2008, but Earnhardt,
Jr. did not elaborate on who he would be driving for in 2008 or
if any deals had been reached with any other existing NASCAR
Nextel Cup teams.
Appearing at a press conference this morning
with his sister and business manager, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge,
Earnhardt, Jr., who had been involved in intense negotiations to
renew his contract with DEI, said an agreement could not be
reached, and that “we have decided it is time for me to move
“As the negotiations continued, one thing became evident, we
both wanted me to get to the same place, but we simply had
disagreements on how to get there,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Because
DEI means so much to me, I felt it was best now for both of us
to start focusing on our future so that we both come out of this
“DEI will always be a special place for me and my family.
(Owner) Teresa (Earnhardt) and (Vice President of Global
Operations) Max Siegel are taking the necessary steps to bring
DEI back to one of the front-running NASCAR teams. However I am
32 years old – the same age as my father when he made his final
and most important career decision – and the time for me to
compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships is
“Since that is what I plan to do, I feel strongly that I would
have my father’s blessing.”
No mention was made on whether or not Earnhardt, Jr.’s sponsor,
Budweiser, would follow him after his departure, although
speculation is they would like to remain with Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt did confirm that his decision does not affect DEI’s
other Nextel Cup or Busch Series teams, or DEI drivers Martin
Truex, Jr. and Paul Menard, who despite rumors to the contrary
were not a part of Thursday’s announcement.
Earnhardt Elledge - President of JR Motorsports (also
acts as Junior's business manager and handled all
negotiations between Junior and DEI)
Earnhardt, Jr.'s decision apparently brings to a
close a chapter of a nearly six month drama over the future of
Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, who had been in
negotiations with DEI to renew his contract with the team, which
expires at the end of the 2007 season.
All parties were hopeful they could have a deal
worked out by early May, after that time came and went, rampant
speculation began to spread about where Earnhardt, Jr. might end
That question still remains unanswered, as neither Earnhardt nor
Elledge made any announcements as to where Earnhardt, Jr. may
drive for in 2008.
“What team I drive for next season, I don’t know,” Earnhardt Jr.
said. “But what I do want to say is that it’s been a privilege
to drive for DEI.”
Over the last few weeks, there had been widespread rumors of
Earnhardt, Jr. leaving to join Hendrick Motorsports, rumors
Earnhardt, Jr. himself inflamed when he stepped in to relieve
driver Kyle Busch in the Hendrick Motorsports-owned no. 5
Kellogg’s Chevrolet in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Speedway
When asked last month if his short stint in the car was an
“audition” for Hendrick, Earnhardt called the notion “crazy”.
Another logical choice would be Richard Childress Racing, which
fielded cars for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. for six of his seven
AutoRacing1.com learned last month from a source within the
Childress camp that a contract with Earnhardt, Jr. was “a done
deal”, putting Earnhardt behind the wheel of a no. 3 Chevy for
Still another possibility would have Earnhardt fielding his own
team as an offshoot to JR Motorsports, which fields cars in the
NASCAR Busch Series for driver Shane Huffman.
At a press event to unveil JR Motorsports new shop in April,
Earnhardt said “it's always a possibility” when asked if JR
Motorsports could someday field their own team.
Earnhardt, Jr. has been engaged in a war of words in the media
with his stepmother, who assumed control of the company after
Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The first signs of tensions between the two surfaced in a Dec.
14, 2006 issue of the Wall Street Journal, where Teresa
Earnhardt, speaking of Earnhardt, Jr.’s future with the team,
was quoted as saying "Right now the ball's in his court to
decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he
wants to be a public personality.”
Earnhardt responded in January during preseason testing for the
Daytona 500, admitting his relationship with Teresa was “no bed
of roses” and he hoped a deal could be worked out to stay at
In February, Earnhardt, Jr. dropped a bombshell, announcing to
the press that as part of his negotiations, he was seeking an
ownership role in the team, or more specifically, a majority
ownership role of 51 percent of the team. Rumors had surfaced
that DEI had demanded as much as $55 million from Earnhardt, Jr.
for the majority stake.
In Earnhardt’s words, however, the contract talks “never even
got close” to what he was wanting from the team.
However, what long-term effects Earnhardt, Jr.'s departure will
bring about for DEI remains to be seen.
The team currently fields three cars, including a full-time
Nextel Cup operation for Truex, Jr. and part-time Cup team for
Earnhardt, Jr. has spent his entire racing career driving for
DEI, which began competing full-time in the NASCAR Busch Series
and Craftsman Truck Series in 1995.
Following the death of Earnhardt, Sr., his widow Teresa, took
over control of the team. During her tenure, the team has had
several up-and-down years, including a dismal finish in 2005,
where Earnhardt, Jr. finished a career-worst 19th in points.
Over the last two seasons, the team has shown improvement,
finishing fifth in last year’s point standings.
Siegel, who was in attendance for Thursday’s
announcement, said the company “totally respects (Earnhardt,
“We all did the best that we could to meet each
other somewhere that we could agree on,” said Siegel. “Everyone
remained extremely committed to the process, we tried to address
all the issues, but we both felt that it was important to our
commercial partners and our respective companies to start moving
forward in a positive direction.”
However, Siegel reiterated that “(Earnhardt,
Jr.) is part of the family and will always be a part of the
Teresa Earnhardt, who was not present at the announcement, released
a statement early Thursday afternoon,
“While we are very disappointed that Dale Jr. has chosen to
leave the family business, we remain excited about our company’s
future,” she said in the statement. “Our aggressive expansion
and diversification plans have not changed. This company has
continued to thrive since Dale left us in 2001, and it will
thrive following today’s announcement. Dale and I built this
company to be a championship-contender, and those principles
“Dale Earnhardt, Inc. will win, and we have other extremely
talented drivers and hundreds of employees that are dedicated to
the programs we founded. This company has a great legacy and a
bright future, built on loyalty, integrity, and commitment.”
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