NASCAR & Auto Racing

DEI finalizes driver lineup as the No. 28 joins the Junior numbers game

RICHMOND, Va. – Mark Martin’s new car number for 2008 will bring a lot of NASCAR history with it. So, too, could Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s

Dale Earnhardt Inc. said officially on Friday that Martin and Aric Almirola will share the season in the No. 8 Chevrolets, with the U.S. Army sponsorship moving to that car.

That’s the number, of course, that Earnhardt Jr. has used in his entire DEI career. But he’ll leave that team at season’s end to move to Hendrick Motorsports, and another number – one used by some of the sport’s biggest stars for a total of 76 Cup victories – is now at least a possibility.

The Hendrick team has filed a trademark application for the No. 28 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Aug. 31. The team had previously filed trademark applications for the 38, 51, 58, 81 and 82, but the No. 28 was added a week ago.

Robert Yates Racing last used the No. 28 in Nextel Cup in 2002 with driver Ricky Rudd. Davey Allison, Dale Jarrett, Kenny Irwin, Ernie Irvan, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Fred Lorenzen and A.J. Foyt are among others who’ve used it.

Asked Friday if the Yates organization still had any claim on the No. 28, team co-owner Doug Yates said it did not.

“It’s his if NASCAR lets them have it,” Yates said

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Friday that Earnhardt Jr. will not use the No. 25 next year. Casey Mears is switching from that number to the No. 5 for 2008.

Hendrick also said Earnhardt Jr.’s new number would likely have an “8” in it.

Martin’s Chevrolets will have only that number on it. Regan Smith will drive for what is now the No. 01 Chevrolet team, but that car’s number and sponsor are still to be announced.

Martin/Almirola and Smith join Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard on the 2008 driver roster at DEI.

“I know that there will be a backlash from a certain number of his fans,” said Martin, who will use the number as he runs a partial schedule of 23 to 26 Cup races with Almirola driving in the rest.

“But you have to understand that that number has a lot of meaning to DEI. I raced against Dale Sr. in the No. 8 Busch car owned by DEI in 1984. So it’s very important to this company and it’s part of keeping Dale Earnhardt's legacy alive. I'm sorry for the ones that don't like it but for the ones that do, I appreciate them.”

Martin said he talked to Richard Childress and to members of the Earnhardt family about his decision to take on the No. 8.

“Richard was the one that really made me feel good about it,” Martin said. “He had some really awesome things to say about it and unfortunately, in this business, the numbers pretty much stay with the owners. That's all they have. Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets to take his name and superstardom anywhere he wants to go.”