Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Rick Hendrick Thrilled by Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Big Year

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Rick Hendrick Thrilled by Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Big Year

Article excerpt

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the midst of the best year of his racing career, famed NASCAR owner Rick Hendrick can't help but smile every time he thinks about how he and Junior reached their first contract agreement, at Heartland Park Topeka when Junior was barely a teenager.

Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Sr. were both at HPT to race in a NASCAR trucks event and Junior was in Topeka with his dad when the first Hendrick-Earnhardt Jr. negotiations took place.

"He and I had a napkin contract when he was 14," Hendrick said Wednesday during an appearance at Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kan. "We talk about that a lot.

"I remember (Junior) and I sitting in (Ken) Schrader's bus and I said, 'You want to be a race car driver?' He said yeah and I said, 'Well let's go ahead and do a contract,' and we signed it. We laugh about it now. I wish we could find that napkin, but we didn't keep the napkin."

The napkin contract was unofficial of course, but Hendrick and Junior made things official in 2007 (for the 2008 season) when Junior signed to join Hendrick's powerhouse team, which also includes six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four- time champ Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.

Earnhardt struggled off and on after joining Hendrick, including a 25th-place points finish in '09 and a 21st-place finish in '10, but Junior has come into his own in 2014.

As the Sprint Cup series heads to Michigan this weekend, Earnhardt leads the standings by four points over teammate Gordon and has posted three victories with 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 22 starts.

Nobody is happier for Earnhardt than his car owner.

"It feels good to see him as happy as he is in life, with his girlfriend (Amy Reimann) and matured and having a year equal to anybody in the sport," Hendrick said. …

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