NASCAR & Auto Racing

Dale Jr. will have new number

The No. 81?

Or how about the 08 for ’08?

It’s not clear what number Dale Earnhardt Jr. will use when he starts a new chapter in his driving career at Hendrick Motorsports, but we now know he won’t keep the No. 8.

“We’ve been working hard to secure the No. 8 for Dale Jr.’s car number next season,” Marshall Carlson, general manager at Hendrick Motorsports, said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach a point where the terms made sense.”

The terms Carlson referred to were negotiations over the car number with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team Earnhardt Jr. will leave at the end of the 2007 season. Although NASCAR owns the rights to car numbers, those rights are granted to the team using them and any such number switch is traditionally worked out between the teams involved.

Indications in this case are that the price sought by DEI – and its chief executive officer, Teresa Earnhardt – for use of the number simply got too steep.

“Our hope was to carry the No. 8 with Dale Jr. to his new team, but the last proposal Hendrick Motorsports received from DEI just wasn’t viable,” said Kelley Elledge, Earnhardt Jr.’s sister who as general manager of JR Motorsports helps manage the business side of her brother’s career.

“It was a difficult decision, but all of us agreed that it was best to move on in another direction.”

The No. 8 is the only number Earnhardt Jr. has used in his 277 Nextel Cup starts. Earnhardt Jr.’s grandfather, Ralph, primarily used that number in his legendary short-track career.

“He (Dale Jr.) has a tremendous history with that number, and we know how important it is to his fans,” Carlson’s statement said.

Earnhardt Jr. has mentioned the No. 81 as a possible alternative. He has used that number for seven of his 96 career starts in the Busch Series. DEI owned those cars, but 81 has not been used full-time in the Cup Series since the 1998 season.

The 08 was last used in the Cup Series for three races in 2005.

Earnhardt Jr. also has used 3, 7, 8, 31, 87 and 88 in Busch races. The No. 3 has not been used in Cup racing since Dale Earnhardt’s death.

The 8 is not an option and the 7, 31 and 88 are currently in use by other Cup teams. Earnhardt only raced the No. 87 once, at Charlotte in 2001 in a car owned by Joe Nemechek, but that number currently is not in use in the Cup Series.