Comfort, winning top Junior's wish list for new home
Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 4:29PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 4:29PM
Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a free agent Thursday morning for the first and, probably, last time in his career. He knows he's leaving DEI. He doesn't know where he's going. He says he has an open mind as the greatest free-agent race in NASCAR history begins.
"It doesn't cost to listen," Earnhardt said. "We're going to listen to everybody. I want to give myself the best chance to be successful. I don't want to make this decision again. I won't allow myself to narrow it down."
Junior does have conditions. It has to be an organization he feels is capable of winning races and championships, starting in 2008 and going forward. The team has to run Chevrolets. And it has to be willing to integrate Junior's JR Motorsports into the program.
Money won't be an issue. No matter how much teams offer Earnhardt, he pays for himself and makes a profit for the team. Budweiser, Chevrolet and massive merchandising arrive with Junior. Good drivers and sponsors are likely to follow. Junior is a bonanza. Every Nextel Cup team can afford him.
Hendrick, Childress and Gibbs are the auspicious Chevrolet operations. Childress and Gibbs have room for one more Cup entry under NASCAR's limit-of-four policy. They're the logical front runners in the Earnhardt sweepstakes. Ginn and Haas CNC, both Chevrolet teams, also can present impressive packages to Earnhardt.
What about JR Motorsports gearing up to run Cup for Junior? Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, Junior's sister and business manager, said Thursday it would be considered only as a last resort. There's no chance of that happening.
That said, here's my top five picks to land Earnhardt Jr.
1. Ginn Racing (Odds: 8-5)
Say what, you say? Ginn is the best fit for Junior. Owner Bobby Ginn has shown a willingness to spend whatever it takes to reach the elite level. He went out and hired Mark Martin away from Roush and Ford last year and nobody saw it coming. The race shop size, number of people and resources -- Ginn has added a seven-post shaker rig this season -- have been significantly expanded. The team uses Hendrick engines and Martin has shown the cars are fast. Martin is 14th in the points and he'd be in the top five if he hadn't missed three races.
Earnhardt knows it's a competitive team looking for a driver to take it to the top of the mountain. It would be an opportunity for Earnhardt to establish a championship team, something that he likely would find appealing. When Dale Sr. joined Childress, it was a team much like Ginn, on the rise but not quite there yet. That fact won't be lost on Junior.
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