- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Wednesday will announce his intent to move to a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2008, multiple sources with intimate knowledge of the negotiations told ESPN.com Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Hendrick Motorsports declined comment, and e-mails and calls sent to Earnhardt's representation were not returned. A news conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday to officially announce the deal.
Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, who has handled contract negotiations for her brother, declined to comment on the report.
There was some speculation that the wheels are already in motion to plant Earnhardt in the No. 5 now driven by Kyle Busch before season's end, but Dale Earnhardt Inc. president Max Siegel, contacted by phone Tuesday, discounted that scenario, saying Earnhardt would remain in the No. 8 through season's end.
Sources said there are indications that Busch may not finish the year in the No. 5. Busch is under contract with HMS through the end of next season, and Hendrick had been working to sign the 22-year-old driver to an extension.
Jeff Dickerson, an attorney for Busch, told ESPN.com that "a lot of things may or may not occur. Out of respect for Hendrick Motorsports, we're not really sure what's going on yet. But we're trying. I don't think anything's changed yet. I cannot tell you that Kyle is out of the No. 5 for 2008."
Meanwhile, one potential scenario would be Casey Mears moving to the No. 5 and Earnhardt moving to the No. 25 currently being driven by Mears.
Earnhardt announced last month he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at season's end to compete for a more competitive organization.
"Although we haven't had conversations with Kyle Busch, if speculation is correct that he may become available he's certainly somebody we'd be interested in talking with," Siegel told ESPN.com's David Newton.
DEI has a short list of top Nextel drivers that it is considering to replace Earnhardt. It's also conceivable that Busch could move over to DEI and replace Earnhardt in the No. 8 car if Busch can get out of his contract at Hendrick, which runs through 2008.
Joe Gibbs Racing and Ginn Racing, both considered contenders to land Earnhardt, said Tuesday they are not part of the press conference. Richard Childress, whose team was also thought to have an opportunity to sign Earnhardt, is out of the country.
It is unknown whether sponsor Budweiser will follow Earnhardt to Hendrick. Budweiser officials are expected to release a statement Wednesday saying the company wishes Earnhardt well and that it will begin exploring its relationship with Earnhardt after the announcement. Hendrick Motorsports does have a history with Budweiser as a sponsor in the 1990s with Ricky Craven and Wally Dallenbach Jr.
Marty Smith and David Newton cover NASCAR for ESPN.com.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has scheduled an 11 a.m. ET news conference for Wednesday at his JR Motorsports headquarters and is expected to announce which team he will drive for beginning in the 2008 season.