Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick: Parting Ways or Making Plays?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IApril 5, 2010

The recent re-acquisition of Landon Cassill by JR Motorsports, on the surface, has all the earmarks of filling a driver void.

Cassill, 2008 Nationwide Rookie of the Year, was hired to run four races, starting at Phoenix, in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.

While this may look like the normal trappings of a simplistic multiple race deal, it’s what is hidden below the surface that demands investigation.

Phoenix, home of GoDaddy.com, is the only race fully sponsored for the No. 7 car with Cassill aboard.

If GoDaddy.com does not pick up the remaining three races, then another sponsorship deal announcement lies ahead.

GoDaddy.com came on board with JR Motorsports when Danica Patrick signed a two year deal to drive.

The initial deal was for just seven races. Since that announcement GoDaddy.com has little by little increased its support of the JR Motorsports Nationwide program while still sponsoring Rick Hendrick's No. 5 Sprint Cup team.

A look into the not so distant future may shed some light on the reasoning behind this growing support.

At the end of the 2011 season, one could say there will be a perfect storm at Hendrick Motorsports.

The contracts of Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Danica Patrick’s contract with JR Motorsports will all come to an end.

Is it possible that Bob Parsons, owner of GoDaddy.com, is supporting JR Motorsports in anticipation of the addition of a new Sprint Cup team in 2012?

It’s well publicized that Rick Hendrick is a percentage owner of the JR Motorsports Nationwide operation, but has no stake, at this time, in a JR Motorsports Sprint Cup entry.

With Mark Martin no longer driving, and the proven media sensation Danica Patrick a free agent, all Parsons has to do is decide who he wants to spend his money with.

NASCAR’s perennial most popular driver coupled with its newest female sensation should be a no-brainer for Parsons.

Dale Jr. has proclaimed he’s a control freak by nature, so this would be the prime opportunity for him to step into the driver/owner position with one, or possibly two Sprint Cup entries and at least one sponsor already on board.

Of course, all this would be dependant on Danica Patrick staying at JR Motorsports once she moves up to the Sprint Cup level.

With Cassell, a previously solid performer at JR Motorsports, and Kelly Bires already in place, the Nationwide operation could still continue.

There is one other caveat in this scenario, and that’s Chad Knaus.

Yes, that’s right, Chad Knaus.

Knaus’ contract with Hendrick Motorsports has already expired. He’s been working this year without a contract.

Rumors are that Hendrick has made offers, but to no avail.

Insiders say Knaus and Jimmie Johnson are more focused on breaking Jeff Gordon’s single season win record, and of course, winning their fifth championship in a row.

If Knaus is in fact holding out for more money, a larger piece of the pie, or better yet, another opportunity, why not take on a new challenge?

It would be simple for Hendrick or Earnhardt Jr. to buy out the remaining IRL contract of Danica Patrick.

If this were to happen, Patrick could be in a cup ride part time this year and full time as early as next year.

Given the driving talents of Patrick and the genius of Knaus, it’s quite possible the next challenge for Knaus is to be the first crew chief to win a NASCAR championship with a female driver.

Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell  


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