Some have called them NASCAR's royal family. Now that family is breaking up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will no longer race for his late father's company, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Instead, he will look for a new team.
Earnhardt Jr.'s stepmother, Teresa, took control of the company after racing legend Dale Earnhardt died at the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Earnhardt Jr. says his decision is based on lessons learned from his father.
"Be a man, race hard and contend for championships. Since that is what I plan to do, I feel I would have my father's blessing," Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser car, said at a news conference Thursday.
Earnhardt Jr. had wanted control of the family business, but says the deal never came close.
"Everyone in NASCAR, I think it's fair to say, has been sort of consumed by it," said Jenna Fryer, motor sports writer for The Associated Press. "It's a good juicy drama. It's gossip. Everyone is saying, 'Did you see what Teresa said? Did you see what Junior said back?'"
His departure from the company his father built is just the latest, and perhaps most damning, chapter in what's been a long-simmering feud.
In December, Teresa Earnhardt criticized junior's commitment to driving in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
"They really aired the family's dirty laundry. A lot of people thought at the end of the day he would be unable to leave his dad's company. Without Dale Jr., there is really no Dale Earnhardt Inc. anymore," Fryer said.
Earnhardt Jr.'s contract is up at the end of the season, a deadline set by his sister.
A deal couldn't be reached and now the company says it will move forward.
"It's really difficult. What we are trying to do is maintain the dignity of the family, and not let this turn into a reality TV show," said Max Siegel, president of Dale Earnhardt Inc.
In a statement, Teresa Earnhardt wrote, "We are very disappointed that Dale Jr. has chosen to leave the family business. … This company has a bright future built on loyalty, integrity and commitment."
Some NASCAR fans are stunned, with one saying, "I don't think his dad would like that too much."
Among his competitors, there's no question, when it comes to his move, Earnhardt Jr. is in the driver's seat.
"If you're a car owner and you haven't called him already, then shame on you," Fryer said.