- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

1:39 p.m.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will leave the company founded by his late father at the end of the year in a shake-up certain to ignite a bidding war for NASCAR’s most popular driver.

He told Dale Earnhardt Inc. today that he had decided to make the switch to another, more competitive team when his contract expires.

“At 32 years of age, the same age my father was when he made his final and most important career decision, it’s time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now,” Earnhardt said at a news conference. “I believe I’d have my father’s blessing.”

Earnhardt had asked for 51 percent ownership of the team run by his stepmother, Teresa. Negotiations on a contract extension began before the season and have been tense all along. Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, had set a deadline to get the deal done by the end of the month.

“We never even got close,” Earnhardt said.

He stressed that money is not the issue.

“It’s not the guy who gives me the biggest paycheck. It’s the person I feel like will allow me to accomplish what I want to in my career, on the racetrack, in this shop itself,” he said. “There’s some things you can’t get with money, peace of mind and satisfaction in what you do every day. … I’m seeking to have that peace of mind and that comfort to be able to really be an asset to somebody. I want to go somewhere and really make things happen for somebody.”

Sitting next to his sister and wearing a T-shirt and an open-collared shirt, Earnhardt said he leaves DEI with mixed emotions.

“I’m sad that I have to leave some employees that I got close to, leave some relationships,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to finish this year out, and I told my guys we’re going to run hard. I don’t want any excuses for us not giving our best effort. I plan on giving everything I’ve got like I always do, and hopefully that’s what I’ll get in return.”

In a statement, Teresa Earnhardt said DEI will thrive following Junior’s announcement.

“While we are very disappointed that Dale Junior has chosen to leave the family business, we remain excited about our company’s future,” she said. “Dale and I built this company to be a championship contender, and those principles still apply. Dale Earnhardt Inc. will win. … This company has a great legacy and a bright future, built on loyalty, integrity and commitment.”

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