Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Budding tycoon?

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2012 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his automotive career working in his father’s dealership.

Now he runs his own.

The Hendrick Automotive Group recently bought two dealerships in Tallahassee, Fla., that are branded in the name of Cup racing’s most popular driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Buick/GMC/Cadillac.

“Me and (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) had talked about this for a long time,” Earnhardt said. “Quite a lot. Extensively. We were just waiting on the right opportunity. Dealerships are challenging and quite fickle. Depends on the market. We knew we would have an opportunity if we were patient.”

Earnhardt had a strange sense of deja vu when he met with his new employees.

“That was going to be my profession if I hadn’t been a race car driver,” Earnhardt said. “I was going to work in a dealership as a mechanic or something. That was what I did to pay my power bill for four years, so that was what it was all about for me at one point. It was pretty weird standing in the service department talking to all my employees when I used to work in one myself.

“I never imagined that day would come. I’m excited about it. I will be hands-on, be involved quite heavily. Through the experiences I had with my dad owning the one in Newton, N.C., I’m excited to sort of carve my own path and enjoy that same experience he enjoyed, and make it successful.”

Earnhardt won’t have to depend on the income from his dealerships any time soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that the Army National Guard was renewing its sponsorship of Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet for the 2013 season.

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