DALLAS - Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have two 8s on his new car.
NASCAR's most popular driver will be in the No. 88 Chevrolet when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports next season, the team announced yesterday. Earnhardt's car will be sponsored by Pepsi, with the company's Mountain Dew soft drink and Amp Energy drink featured on the car. The National Guard will also be involved in the sponsorship.
The new number and sponsor are another step in the rebranding of Earnhardt, 32, from party boy to serious corporate pitchman, one who now can be heavily marketed to the under-21 crowd.
"I never thought a car number would create this much excitement," said car owner Rick Hendrick, who has won five Nextel Cup titles. "Trying to do it and keep it quiet from the rest of the world until you have it all together, it was probably the toughest thing I've ever done in motorsports."
Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI since 2000 with Budweiser's sponsorship. He tried to take the No. 8 with him to Hendrick, but stepmother Teresa Earnhardt refused to give up her rights to it. Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will co-drive that car next year, and it will be sponsored by the US Army.
The No. 88 was retired by Robert Yates Racing, which asked NASCAR to transfer the number to Hendrick for Earnhardt. "Ralph Earnhardt [Dale Jr.'s grandfather] drove the No. 88 Olds in 1957, and because of this number's history with the Earnhardt family, I felt car No. 88 should continue with Dale Earnhardt Jr." Robert Yates said in a statement. "Younger fans don't realize I built cars and raced against Ralph. I also had a very close relationship with Dale Earnhardt Sr."