The eagle has landed. Or in this case, Jr. has made a decision. But that was merely step one in a process with high stakes for a number of parties.
After saying publicly there was no room at the inn – his team was already at NASCAR's mandated four-car limit – Rick Hendrick fabricated a vacancy for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. when Kyle Busch suddenly requested a release from his contract. Whether Busch's decision to leave was voluntary or "requested" we'll never know.
When Jr. announced last week that he was signing a five-year $100 million contract with Hendrick's mega-stable of Nextel Cup drivers, some wags suggested that it put an end to the greatest free agent story in the history of sports. Not so fast. Left unanswered at the press conference, a/k/a the Hendrick-Jr. love-fest, were the following questions: What will Jr.'s fans think of his association with Hendrick's other drivers and on-track rivals, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson? What number will adorn Jr.'s car? And who will Jr.'s primary sponsor be?
The documented loyalty of NASCAR fans – to drivers and products alike – is legendary. Jr.'s switch from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to Hendrick will cause barely a ripple in the relationship with his fans. They crave the same thing he does: More celebrations in Victory Lane. If fraternizing with the enemy – at least in the garage – will lead to more wins, the fans will forgive Jr. his indiscretion. NASCAR's most popular driver for the past four years, Jr. will continue to lead the fans' popularity polls.... read the rest of the story by Subscribing now.