Earnhardt to join Hendrick Motorsports next season

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is joining Hendrick Motorsports, hopefully moving one step closer to a championship that has eluded him while driving for his late father’s company.

Rick Hendrick said Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch on his star-studded roster of drivers. The announcement Wednesday ended five weeks of recruiting for NASCAR’s most popular driver, who became a free agent May 10 when he said he would leave DEI at the end of this season.

His criteria for a new team included finding a place he could win championships, and Hendrick is the perfect fit. Hendrick has won six championships, and has 10 wins through 14 points races this season.

‘‘It became apparent to me the man I wanted to drive for,’’ Earnhardt said at a news conference. ‘‘He competes with integrity and most importantly, he wins races ... So today, it is with great honor to introduce my new boss for 2008, Mr. Rick Hendrick.’’

It was not immediately clear what number Earnhardt will drive, and who will sponsor the car. Since starting in NASCAR, Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet. It’s possible that Hendrick could trade Busch’s No. 5 to DEI for the No. 8, should he wind up signing with Earnhardt’s old team.