Earnhardt: Move to Sprint Cup makes sense if money and driver are right

Updated: May 19, 2008, 12:20 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. could turn his Nationwide Series organization into a full-time Sprint Cup program as early as next season.

"If the right opportunity comes along with the right sponsorship and driver, we'd love to do it," Earnhardt said this past weekend from Lowe's Motor Speedway. "And it would cost the same amount of money to do that as it is to run the Nationwide Series."

Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who is exploring options outside of Joe Gibbs Racing, reportedly could be a partner with JR Motorsports. But Stewart's contract doesn't expire until after the 2009 season and team president J.D. Gibbs has said he will hold Stewart to it.

Earnhardt also is good friends with former Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Martin Truex Jr., who is in his option year at DEI.

"Why would [Truex] want to come drive for me? He's in good stuff now and he's going to have great opportunities from other people. And I would never do that to him," Earnhardt said with a laugh. "For the first year coming out of the box, man, we'll struggle like hell.

"I don't know with Tony. If he goes over there [Haas CNC], he might be able to talk Martin into it. But I don't know. I mean no way would I even do that to Martin, even if he wanted to."

Stewart has acknowledged that Haas CNC is one of several organizations to have offered part ownership as an incentive to join the team.

Regardless of the driver, Earnhardt said a move to Sprint Cup makes sense because it is easier to get sponsorship on the Cup side and that the cost of introducing the Car of Tomorrow to the Nationwide Series "is going to be too expensive for me to justify creating a whole new program with COT stuff."

NASCAR is developing a COT that is expected to be introduced on the Nationwide Series next season.

"So I'd just as soon go into the Cup series or get out of the Nationwide Series altogether," Earnhardt said.

JR Motorsports merged with the Nationwide program at Hendrick Motorsports this year after Earnhardt went to drive for HMS. The engines and chassis already are supplied by Hendrick and that could continue with a move to the Cup series.

Brad Keselowski, the primary Nationwide Series driver for JR Motorsports, is seventh in points with two top-5s and four top-10s in 12 Nationwide races. Mark Martin won at Las Vegas this year in a JR Motorsports car.

Earnhardt, who hasn't won on the Cup side in more than two years, admittedly is as impatient as an owner as he is as a driver.

"The problem I run into with Brad Keselowski is that he watches and sees how I act and thinks that's how he can act," he said. "But I've earned the ability or the right to be a little bit of a jerk every once in a while and he thinks he can come in right off the bat and be one.

"And so I have to tell him, 'Man, you can't be like that, you know. You got to earn it. People ain't going to like you just coming in, seven months into the deal, and you're complaining all the time. You've got to suck it up for a little while.' "

But impatience with Keselowski has nothing to do with Earnhardt looking into Cup ownership.

"I used to say 'no way, no way,' " he said. "But it's almost as expensive to run in the Nationwide Series. And they're going to bring a COT in and we won't be able to race in the Nationwide Series with the COT probably. That'll just be too expensive to switch all that over."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter