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The rich get richer

Earnhardt Jr. set to announce move to Hendrick in '08

Posted: Tuesday June 12, 2007 4:40PM; Updated: Tuesday June 12, 2007 5:17PM
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Hungry to win a Cup title, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to announce a move to NASCAR's most successful operation on Wednesday.
Hungry to win a Cup title, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to announce a move to NASCAR's most successful operation on Wednesday.

The most powerful free agent on the racing market has found himself a new home for next season -- and it's with racing's version of the New York Yankees.

The rest of NASCAR better watch out.

Multiple sources have told SI.com that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to announce in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET that he's signed to join powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season and beyond.

According to sources, Junior will be hired to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet, replacing current driver Kyle Busch. The only official word from the Junior camp comes in the form of a press release announcing the press conference, to be held at Earnhardt's JR Motorsports shop in Mooresville, N.C.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no official word on where Busch will go, although a source had told SI.com he'll head to Dale Earnhardt Inc. in what would be an unprecedented driver swap. No one from Hendrick or DEI would confirm or deny those rumors.

Also unconfirmed was the future of Budweiser's sponsorship, although it's highly likely the company will follow Junior to an organization it has sponsored in the past, headlining drivers from Ken Schrader to Wally Dallenbach Jr. in a five-year agreement with Hendrick's No. 25 team from 1995 to '99.

Wednesday's announcement will end a month's worth of speculation about Junior's future in the wake of his May 10 announcement that he would be leaving DEI after the 2007 season. Since then, Earnhardt Jr. has been the most sought-after free agent in Nextel Cup, linked with everyone from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, the team with which his father won six of his seven Cup championships. In the end, though, Junior chose to go with the team that's been a cut above the rest throughout '07.

Hendrick Motorsports has produced one of the most dominant performances in modern racing history this year, taking 10 of 14 wins to start the season. Jeff Gordon is on top of the standings by 242 points, and the Hendrick stable also includes last year's champ, Jimmie Johnson, as well as new first-time winner in Casey Mears, who was victorious in the Coca-Cola 600 at the end of May.

The signing would create a partnership between two of racing's most powerful personalities, armed with more similarities than you might think.

On a more personal level, the deal would pair a driver who constantly has to deal with the loss of his father with an owner who's forever recovering from the loss of his son. Of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s father was killed tragically in a last lap crash in the '01 Daytona 500; Hendrick's son, Ricky, was among several relatives killed in a plane crash outside of Martinsville Speedway in '04. The tragedy claimed the lives of ten.

Apparently, such a natural magnetic attraction was too much to pass up.

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