The pieces of the puzzle keep coming together for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he builds toward his future with Hendrick Motorsports. This time, the focus is on the Busch Series.
Earnhardt Jr. has been fielding cars in the series on a full-time basis for two years now and recently has taken steps to bolster that operation, the biggest step being the hiring of Tony Eury Sr., his uncle, to head up the competition side.
Now Eury Sr. will be heading up a two-car effort, following Monday's announcement that JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports will combine their Busch Series programs at the end of the season. Beginning in 2008, JR Motorsports will field a two-car team in all 35 events.
It's a great opportunity to have the wholesale support that Hendrick Motorsports is going to provide. Being a relatively new team owner in this sport, this is a huge step for me and everyone at JR Motorsports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
And those aren't the only Chevrolet Busch Series programs uniting, as Richard Childress Racing will forge a stronger relationship with Kevin Harvick Inc. next year.
JR Motorsports, which moved into a new shop earlier this year, has fielded the No. 88, with Brad Keselowski recently replacing Shane Huffman. Andy Pilgrim will drive the car this week at Montreal and again next week at Watkins Glen, but Keselowski likely will return behind the wheel after that.
It is unclear who will drive the two cars next year, but while running under the JR Motorsports banner, the effort will use engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports, not to mention engineering support.
Rick Hendrick will be listed as the owner of the No. 5, with Earnhardt Jr. in charge of the No. 88. Earnhardt Jr. said he is excited about this next step in his program's development.
"It's a great opportunity to have the wholesale support that Hendrick Motorsports is going to provide," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Being a relatively new team owner in this sport, this is a huge step for me and everyone at JR Motorsports. It was never part of the equation when I was deciding where to drive next year, but it seemed to be a natural progression once Rick and I began talking about the transition into 2008."
With the move, HMS crew chief Chad Walter will be one of approximately 30 employees moving from the HMS complex in Concord, N.C., to JR Motorsports' 66,000-square-foot shop and office in Mooresville, N.C.
"Ultimately, Dale Jr. and I both want to win races and give our people the best possible chance at achieving success," Hendrick said. "Instead of operating independently of each other, we have an opportunity to work together to field an even stronger Busch Series effort.
Ultimately, Dale Jr. and I both want to win races and give our people the best possible chance at achieving success.
"I have a great personal desire to see the No. 5 car succeed. My son [the late Ricky Hendrick] turned it into a championship team [as Brian Vickers' car owner], and we are committed to continuing that legacy with both the No. 5 and the No. 88."
The collaboration will continue off the track, as the teams will work together on partnership development, sponsorship services, and marketing and media relations.
"Rick's Busch program is consistently one of the best in the series," said Earnhardt Jr., who has watched his team struggle to find its footing thus far. "To be able to partner with him and utilize our combined strengths in competition, sponsorship and marketing will be a tremendous benefit to both our organizations."
The stronger alliance between RCR and KHI also is a natural, as Kevin Harvick drives one of RCR's Cup cars, and the Busch and Craftsman Truck series teams he owns with wife DeLana already utilize RCR engines. Now, with RCR planning on adding a fourth Cup team next year, it will allow KHI to step up by helping RCR in terms of technical aspects such as testing and working on the aerodynamic, suspension and chassis programs.
"The goal of this increased relationship is to make both programs stronger," Childress said. "Kevin and DeLana have put together a very good program, and I have all the confidence in the world that we're going to have a better overall program than what we have already."
Harvick has 29 Busch Series wins while driving for RCR, and the organization has 45 wins overall. KHI, which wasn't formed until 2002, has three Busch wins and seven in the truck series.
"Richard has been very supportive of everything DeLana and I have attempted to do here at KHI," Harvick said. "As he goes forward with the planned expansion of his Cup program, I believe this partnership will continue to build on the success we have both enjoyed in the Busch Series."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.