Earnhardt Jr. leaving DEI

Earnhardt Jr. leaving DEI
By Jerry Bonkowski, Yahoo Sports
May 9, 2007

Jerry Bonkowski
Yahoo Sports
Dale Earnhardt Jr. officially will say goodbye to Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Thursday morning, Yahoo! Sports has learned.

A highly placed source within DEI as well as additional sources familiar with the situation told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday afternoon that both Junior and teammate Martin Truex Jr. will announce Thursday morning that they are leaving the DEI camp at the end of this season and will drive for Earnhardt's heretofore Busch Series operation, JR Motorsports.

Sirius Radio also reported late Wednesday afternoon that the Earnhardt/Truex split with DEI was a done deal and that the new Cup team entry will field Chevrolet chassis built by Hendrick Motorsports and will use Hendrick engines as well.

Sources at Hendrick Motorsports reportedly disavowed knowledge of a pending partnership. Also, various reports have indicated that Earnhardt Jr. will announce his plans to leave DEI, but that he won't necessarily be driving for a JR Motorsports team in association with Hendrick.

Sources tell Yahoo! Sports that Earnhardt Jr.'s primary sponsor, Budweiser, will follow Junior to JR Motorsports or wherever he lands. Budweiser's contract with DEI is due to expire at the end of 2008, but Yahoo! Sports sources believe there are provisions within the contract for an early exit if Earnhardt Jr. does not drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI.

The press conference, which will be televised nationally, will take place at JR Motorsports headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., at 11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

There has been no comment thus far from either DEI president Teresa Earnhardt (Dale Jr.'s stepmother) or company director of global operations Max Siegel.

Truex's contract with DEI reportedly runs through 2008, though '08 might be only an option year on his deal with the team. It also is possible Truex has an out tied to primary sponsor Bass Pro Shops' future with the DEI. Sources have told Yahoo! Sports that the sponsor has explored moving to a different team after this season.

Earnhardt and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge have been in often contentious negotiations with Teresa Earnhardt that have sparked considerable posturing from both sides in the media.

Both siblings have said that if a deal with DEI was not in place by the end of May, they would consider a variety of options, including Junior leaving DEI. Just last week, DEI confirmed that it was talking with Robert Yates Racing about a possible merger and also a switch from Chevrolet power plants and chassis to Ford engines and chassis.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. began his racing career with DEI in 1996, shortly after the organization was formed by his late father, seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, and Teresa Earnhardt.

Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back Busch Series championships in 1998 and 1999 before moving full-time to the then-Winston Cup Series in 2000. His first career Cup win was at Texas, with a memorable celebration between father and son in victory lane.

Voted the most popular driver in NASCAR by fans the last four years, Earnhardt Jr. has 17 career Cup wins but has yet to win his first Cup championship. He has gone 36 consecutive races without a win, his last being at Richmond in May 2006.

Yahoo! Sports' Bob Margolis contributed to this report.


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Updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 10:55 pm, EDT

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