Upstart Ginn Joins Pursuit of Earnhardt

"We believe he'd be a good fit. Our DNAs match, our cultures are alike," said new NASCAR owner Bobby Ginn, who hopes to land Dale Earnhardt Jr. (By Doug Benc -- Getty Images)
Associated Press
Sunday, May 13, 2007

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- New NASCAR owner Bobby Ginn plans to pursue Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- with every intent of landing him -- as soon as Junior is ready to hear offers.

"We would stretch as hard as we could stretch to do it," Ginn said by telephone Friday night. "You want the best, the absolute best, and I love the idea that Dale wants to win championships. He could accomplish that here with us.

"We're in play."

Earnhardt is leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season, and heads into Saturday night's race at Darlington Raceway as perhaps the hottest free agent in sport history.

He said Friday that he wants to take a few weeks before opening the negotiating process, and NASCAR's most popular driver should have his pick of teams. Three owners -- Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress -- were quickly identified as the front-runners, and Childress indicated Friday he'll be in the race.

"We will sit and talk, I'm sure," said Childress, who fielded cars for six of Dale Earnhardt's seven championships. "I'm hoping he's considering us."

So is Ginn, who finds himself jockeying for position among NASCAR's heavyweights less than a year after buying into the sport.

The Florida land developer bought a midlevel team last July and markedly improved it in just a few short months. Following an aggressive long-range plan, Ginn snagged Mark Martin and expanded the operation to three cars.

Then Martin nearly won the Daytona 500, while opening the season with the best start of his career.

He briefly led the points standings before bowing out on top. He's running a partial schedule this season and is currently ranked 14th despite sitting out three of 10 races.

Existing drivers Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek have been considerably stronger this season, with Marlin as the only driver not ensured a spot in the field to qualify for the first five races of the year.

Ginn also beefed up his driver development package, where he's tucked away 15-time motocross champion Ricky Carmichael.

"We have a five-year plan in mind and the conclusion is winning a championship," Ginn said. "We took a risk on Mark Martin, and that's paid off in spades for us. We aren't afraid to be aggressive."

The team leases its motors from Hendrick and is perceived to be a satellite of that powerful operation. It's gotten Ginn mentioned as an outside equation in the Earnhardt race, but the team clearly wants to be a viable option.

"He is the man in NASCAR," Martin said. "We would certainly like to talk to him."

Ginn thinks his team suits Earnhardt because he runs it like a family operation and would fit much of what Junior is looking for. Earnhardt ideally would like to complement JR Motorsports, the Busch Series operation he owns, with his next employer.

Dale Earnhardt followed that model by driving for Childress while developing DEI, and Ginn thinks Junior can do it with him.

"Listening to what Dale has outlined, his Busch operation would dovetail beautifully with us," Ginn said. "We believe he'd be a good fit. Our DNAs match, our cultures are alike."

Earnhardt reiterated Friday that he's looking for a winner.

"I could live without winning a championship, but I would have to," he said. "But I don't want to. I want to win a championship and I want to win more races. I want to win on a regular basis."

It's why he'll take some time away to decompress before he makes the next biggest decision in his life.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company