Earnhardt to Join Hendrick Motorsports Next Season

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday he is joining Hendrick Motorsports, moving him one step closer toward the championship that has eluded him while driving for his late father's company.

Rick Hendrick said Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch on his star-studded roster of drivers. The decision ends five weeks of recruiting for NASCAR's most popular driver, who became a free agent May 10 when he said he would leave DEI at the end of this season.

His criteria for a new team included finding a place he could win championships, and Hendrick is the perfect fit. Hendrick has won six championships, and has 10 wins through 14 points races this season.

"It became apparent to me the man I wanted to drive for," Earnhardt said. "He competes with integrity and most importantly, he wins races."

It was not immediately clear what number car Earnhardt will drive, and who will sponsor the car. Since starting in NASCAR, Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Chevrolet, and he has long-standing ties to Budweiser.

Hendrick also has longtime ties to Earnhardt's family. He fielded a car in 1983 for Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove it to a Busch Series win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That entry was co-owned by Robert Gee, who is Junior's maternal grandfather.

Joining Hendrick's stable could anger Earnhardt's followers because it will team him with Jeff Gordon, a driver generally despised by his rabid fans. Following several of his recent wins, Earnhardt's fans have thrown beer cans at Gordon, most notably after career win No. 76 - in April at Talladega Superspeedway. The win tied Gordon with the elder Earnhardt on NASCAR's victory list.