Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the shocking move to leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) early in his NASCAR career. It didn’t take long for Earnhardt Jr. to find his next landing spot in the industry with Hendrick Motorsports. Before joining the company, he had two special requests for Rick Hendrick to grant him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaves DEI
Nearly a decade into his NASCAR career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the surprising move to leave Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Earnhardt Jr. had stumbled into some internal issues with his stepmom, Teresa Earnhardt, regarding the control of the company. He desired to gather a controlling interest (at least 51%) of DEI, but Teresa pushed back at that plan.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. had initially established the company so that Dale Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt could have a place to race when he retired. He wanted his children to use the Earnhardt name to find sustainable success in the industry.
However, the tension between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmom drove a wedge in those plans leading him to depart after the 2007 season. The move opened the door to an entirely new chapter of his NASCAR career, where he quickly found his next landing spot with Hendrick Motorsports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s two specific demands before joining Hendrick Motorsports
Shortly after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his decision to leave Dale Earnhardt Inc., he found his next landing spot in the industry.
Earnhardt Jr. garnered significant interest from Joe Gibbs Racing, who made a strong run at him with a substantial offer, but he chose to settle in with Hendrick Motorsports. During an interview on the Dale Jr. Download Podcast in September 2019, Rick Hendrick revealed the two special demands his incoming driver wanted added to his deal.
“We go in the room and sit down and I say ‘Here Dale this what I can do for ya'” Hendrick recalled. “Then he said ‘I don’t care about that.’ I was like ‘let me have it back.’…I thought we were done then Dale said ‘Alright I have a couple of things that I want.’
“I am thinking here we go, this going to be big. It’s going to be real big. Then he said ‘I want the [side] skirts on the car painted as the same color as the car.’ It took me a second to say ‘What?’ I think you also wanted a helicopter to a couple of races.”
Hendrick added that it was an experience he’s never had with any other driver in contract talks. Earnhardt Jr. confirmed those requests as he wanted to be flown for races at Martinsville Speedway and Darlington Raceway. Dale Jr. also stated that he didn’t have any concerns regarding the money in the deal as he wanted his car to look a certain way.
“I already had more money than I knew what to do with,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Money didn’t motivate me or make me happy. What made me happy was how my car looked.”
Although drivers don’t typically go that route in contract discussions, Dale Jr. got what he wanted.
Varying levels of success over his stint
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent the final decade of his NASCAR career with Hendrick Motorsports, which he experienced varying levels of success.
During that time, Earnhardt Jr. captured nine Cup Series wins, including his second and final Daytona 500 victory. He finished inside the top five in the points standings three times, topped by a
fifth-place mark in 2013.
The second half of his career may not have been as fruitful as his tenure with Dale Earnhardt Inc., but he cherished his time with Hendrick Motorsports. On numerous occasions, he has voiced that being teammates alongside Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson helped him become a better driver and demonstrated the dedication needed for the craft.
Looking back, Earnhardt Jr. holds tremendous respect toward Rick Hendrick for the opportunity and experience with the company.