Since Dale Jr. announced that he will leave DEI in 2008 at the end of his contract the biggest question in motor sports has been who will Jr. drive for next year. The 3 front runners were Richard Childress Racing (the team his father drove for), Joe Gibbs Racing (who actually have an open spot for another Cup race team), and Hendrick Motorsports (home of my 2 favorite drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson). Up till recently Hendrick Motorsports didn't seem to be a likely new home for Dale Jr. as they already have 4 drivers in the Cup Series (the new rules will limit a team owner to 4 cars max in the Cup Series) all of which have contracts that go beyond this season. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson aren't going anywhere, Casey Mears just joined the team this season, and Kyle Busch has been doing well for the most part with race wins and currently within the top 12 and likely to make the Chase again this year.
The news I heard today surprised me in the best of ways!!! You probably can't imagine how happy I am to hear that Dale Jr. will sign with Hendrick Motorsports next season! So who's the odd man out? It appears that Kyle Busch will leave Hendrick after this season. One has to speculate if this is his decision entirely or if there's more going on here. This is really an abrupt development and I find it hard to imagine that Kyle Busch would want to leave one of the top organizations in the sport especially with the year that Hendrick Motorsports is currently having. They've won 10 out of the 14 races so far this season in the Cup Series. To call this domination is almost an understatement. There was an incident at Texas Motor Speedway this past April where Busch's team was upset when Busch left the track while his car was being repaired after a wreck. When repairs were completed Busch was no where to be found and his team decided to ask Dale Jr. who's car was retired to drive Busch's #5 Chevrolet for the remainder of the race in order to pick up precious points. It's ironic when you see what has transpired as Dale Jr. is joining Hendrick Motorsports and will likely be driving the #5 Chevrolet. Budweiser will likely not follow Jr. in the move as they are still under contract with DEI and it is yet to be seen who will be the primary sponsor for the sports most popular driver. Kellogg's has long been a primary sponsor for Hendrick Motorsports and its quite possible that Dale Jr. will drive the Kellogg's #5 Chevrolet. Going from beer to cereal! Heheh! From a sea of red in the stands to a sea of blue. What a sight that would be! Visa has also been mentioned as a possible new sponsor that may sign on with Jr.'s new ride. It'll be interesting to see what transpires.
Now I'm trying to picture this. Jeff Gordon (4 championships), Jimmie Johnson (reigning Cup champion), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (NASCAR's most popular driver by far), and Casey Mears (a promising driver with great talent who just won his first Cup race this season). It truly is a Dream Team! Hendrick Motorsports has arguably the best equipment, the best employees, and next season will have 3 of the best drivers in the sport. I never imagined that something like this could ever be possible. If someone was choosing a fantasy team these 3 drivers would be right there at the top of the list. For most I'd imagine. This is amazing! Hendrick Motorsports will have this dream lineup next season! Someone pinch me so that I know that I'm not dreaming. 🙂
Dale Jr. will hold a press conference tomorrow at Jr. Motorsports in North Carolina where he will announce his decision to sign with Hendrick Motorsports.
On a final note it'll also be interesting to see how Dale Jr.'s large fan base reacts to this announcement. To put this into perspective, fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well as fans of his father the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the most part consider Hendrick Motorsports and especially Jeff Gordon to be the "enemy" for lack of a better term. Did Gordon have too much success too soon? He's a great guy on and off of the track so it really puzzles me. These are the fans that shower Jeff Gordon with rubbish and beer bottles whenever he wins a race and cheer whenever he gets wrecked. Interestingly Dale Earnhardt Sr. was really good friends with Jeff Gordon and they shared a mutual respect on the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also gets along with Jeff Gordon so the fan's reactions will be very interesting to see. Will they warm up to Gordon a bit since Jr. will now be his teammate or will none of that change. And will they all remain loyal to Dale Jr.? Only time will tell and I'm going to be watching very closely. 🙂