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Earnhardt hopes to solidify new team, sponsorship details soon

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to solidify his future in very short order.

Earnhardt's sister and chief negotiator, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, told ESPN.com Friday that they hope to finalize Earnhardt's future professional address within the next 30 days and then solidify sponsorship details before announcing his decision to the public sometime in late July.

Elledge said Earnhardt has "visited a few race shops and had a few meetings alongside myself, with team owners" in the weeks since he announced he would leave the company his father founded, Dale Earnhardt Inc., at season's end.

Elledge said she has personally spoken with "about seven" existing Nextel Cup teams and "about 10 investment groups who are on the verge of starting teams or buying a team." But the top three candidates all have slight issues that could slow the process.

Rick Hendrick told The Associated Press he presently doesn't have any room in his four-car Hendrick Motorsports stable for Earnhardt, and Joe Gibbs Racing officials are hesitant to strike a deal with Budweiser, Junior's longtime sponsor.

Then there's Richard Childress Racing, where Earnhardt's late father won six of his seven championships. Although RCR seems like a perfect fit, the sides have yet to speak.

"Right now, Junior and Kelley have a lot of things to consider and a really big decision to make, and I'm just giving them their space as they deal with it all," Childress told the AP. "I want them to make the best decision, and they know I'm always here to talk and give advice."

When asked if it was peculiar that he had yet to speak to NASCAR's most coveted free agent -- at a time when the Earnhardts are actively taking meetings with other owners -- Childress said not to read anything into their lack of contact.

"They know how I operate," he said.

Earnhardt qualified fourth for the Coca-Cola 600. Sunday's event will mark the first race the No. 8 team will be without crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who was suspended by NASCAR for six weeks for installing illegal wing brackets on the No. 8 Car of Tomorrow at Darlington Raceway.

The penalty cost Junior 100 points and dropped him to 14th in the standings, and the team will have to tread water during Eury's absence to remain in contention for the Chase for the championship.

The top 12 drivers make the Chase, NASCAR's 10-race championship-deciding series, and Earnhardt wants to give his DEI crew one last shot at a title before he bolts.

Tony Gibson, a former crew chief at DEI who is now Junior's car chief, will call the shots for the next six weeks, and Earnhardt said he has faith in his leadership.

"I feel very, very confident that he knows me well," Earnhardt said. "We've worked together and get along great. He came over last week and we talked a little about it and we pumped ourselves up some. That helps a lot.

"We shouldn't have any issues at all. I feel confident we'll run as good as we should and Tony Jr. will be very proud of what we've been able to do once he gets back," he said.


Marty Smith covers Nextel Cup racing for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.