JG Online


'The Sweet Escape'
Summer 2007

When noted bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied simply "Because that's where the money is." At the press conference to announce that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had signed a five-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2008, he gave a variety of reasons why the organization was the best fit for him. Ultimately, Earnhardt Jr. went to Hendrick Motorsports because, in this day and age, that's where the NASCAR championships are.

Earnhardt Jr. will join Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Casey Mears in the Hendrick stable. The side effect is the release of Kyle Busch following the 2007 season. The entrance of NASCAR's most popular driver changes the landscape in racing. Approximately 3 out of every 4 NASCAR fans will be supporting a Hendrick Motorsports driver in 2008. That will result in an immediate windfall in terms of licensing, product sales, and visitors to the HMS complex. In addition, Earnhardt Jr's sponsor value is the highest in NASCAR racing. Those dollars will now be funneled away from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and into HMS' coffers.

Above all else, this will allow Earnhardt Jr. to compete for something he felt he couldn’t attain previously: the NASCAR championship. The most interesting part of the move to HMS is the reaction of some of Earnhardt Jr's fans who've considered Jeff Gordon to be Archenemy #1 over the past decade. Some fans have gone as far as to swear off their allegiance to Earnhardt Jr. Now I ask them: Would they prefer their favorite driver to run around at the fringes of the top-10? Or would they prefer their favorite driver to run up front and compete for championships on an annual basis? It's a no-brainer.

During the press conference to announce the move, Earnhardt Jr. talked a lot about respect. He always had a mutual respect with Rick Hendrick and his drivers. When he sat down to discuss whether HMS would be a good fit for him, he was taken by Hendrick’s concern for him as a person—- for his own well-being above anything else. Earnhardt Jr. also talked about how Hendrick went the extra mile to make his drivers —- in fact, all of his employees -— feel valuable to the organization's success. The prospect of joining an organization that considers even the newest employees to be longtime members of a family must have been a new experience for him.

Earnhardt Jr. has envied Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, but not for the obvious reasons. Rather, he envied the relationship they had with their car owner. He envied the hug they’d get after exiting the car in victory lane. He envied the bond they had with their car owner. It was a bond he longed for and needed.

Earnhardt Jr. knew he'd always have a job and he'd always be welcomed at DEI. The problem was that he also knew that he couldn't reach his full potential there. At 32 years of age, he needed to make a decision. He could have stayed at DEI forever. Sure, he didn't have a great relationship with his car owner at DEI, but it was "home." If he left the organization started by his late father, he'd suddenly be working for somebody else. And there would be heavy expectations. In other words, he could fail -— and there would be consequences for failing.

Rick Hendrick said he felt pressure to provide Earnhardt Jr. with the quality equipment needed to contend for a championship. But the ultimate pressure rests solely with the driver. There are no more wide, safe roads to take. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will now have everything it takes to fully achieve his potential in NASCAR racing. Get ready.

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