Earnhardt set for final DEI ride

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/e/earnhardt_ap.jpg' class='caption'> Dale Earnhardt Jr began the day with an early morning photo shoot with his new Hendrick teammates, then quickly turned his focus to his old team.

Updated: November 18, 2007 18:17 IST
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Homestead, Florida:

Dale Earnhardt Jr began the day with an early morning photo shoot with his new Hendrick teammates, then quickly turned his focus to his old team.

NASCAR's most popular driver climbed into his red Number 8 Chevrolet on Friday for the start of his final weekend with Dale Earnhardt Inc, intent on a strong close to his 11-year run with his late father's company.

"I've got a lot of great relationships here and I just want to make sure this weekend is all about the Number 8 car, the Budweiser car, this team and trying to get a finish that they deserve," he said.

"It's just a good group of guys and it's going to be difficult running your last race with them. You know you are going to miss it," he added.

It's mixed emotions for Earnhardt, who officially joins Hendrick Motorsports after Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He's excited about his new job, where he'll join a team that has won 18 races this season and is on the verge of its seventh Cup title.

It comes at the expense of DEI, which was built from the ground up by the late Dale Earnhardt and molded into one of NASCAR's top teams with Junior behind the wheel.

But the team hasn't been the same since Earnhardt's 2001 death, and Junior has struggled with the direction of the company under stepmother Teresa's leadership.

He demanded majority control of the organization during tense talks on a contract extension, then finally decided in May to just walk away.

Leaving DEI was certainly not an easy decision, and finding a new job was just as difficult.

But he felt comfortable with Rick Hendrick, and knew the ultra-successful team would give him his best shot at finally winning a Cup title.

"He's got some mixed emotions, but he's also really excited about being over there with our organization," Hendrick said. "Things change, and I think Dale Sr would want him to do what's best for him. And that's what he's trying to do."

Despite the impending change, Earnhardt was determined not to quit on his old team.

He made one last desperate push to make the Chase for the championship during the summer, and when he came up short he still chased wins.

Earnhardt has won at least one race in each of his first seven Cup seasons, but has just one final chance to race his way into Victory Lane this season.

He takes a 61-race winless streak into Sunday's finale and wants to break it as a parting gift to crew members who stood by him even when they knew he was abandoning them at the end of the year.

"I've tried to keep the wheels on it figuratively and literally, and its been really hard sometimes when you don't run the way you want to," Earnhardt said.

"But I want to finish good with these guys ... aside from us splitting up, I want to be proud of what we're doing," he added.

Earnhardt will start 13th in Sunday's race.

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