NASCAR & Auto Racing

Dale Earnhardt Jr. expected to run No. 88 on Hendrick Chevrolets

LOUDON, N.H. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive the No. 8 again next season. In fact, he’ll drive two of them.

During a news conference Wednesday in Dallas, Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports officials will announce Earnhardt Jr. will drive the No. 88 beginning next season, The Charlotte Observer and have learned.

The sponsor and car number announcement will complete the final puzzle to the seasonlong courtship of the services of NASCAR’s most popular driver.

The Observer and have previously reported that Earnhardt Jr.’s sponsor for next season would be PepsiCo, which is the parent company of Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Gatorade and Quaker.

Hendrick officials - as has been the case throughout the process - declined to comment Friday on Earnhardt Jr.’s sponsor and car number search.

Robert Yates Racing currently fields the No. 88 in Nextel Cup Series competition and would have to relinquish the number for Hendrick to use it. Yates co-owner Doug Yates did not immediately return a call for comment on Friday.

The No. 88 is already trademarked for racing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Earnhardt Jr. through his JR Motorsports company, which coincidently fields the No. 88 Chevrolets in the Busch Series.

The No. 88 already has a history with a PepsiCo product in the Cup series. From 1976 through the 1980 season, NASCAR star Darrell Waltrip drove the No. 88 with Gatorade as the sponsor.

Throughout the summer, Hendrick has applied for various trademarks for possible car numbers for Earnhardt Jr., including the Nos. 38, 81, 82, 28 and 51. The most recent was the No. 28 applied for on Aug. 31.

“I’ve done about as good as I can do about narrowing it down and what not,” Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun to really see the reaction of the fans and I hope that they really enjoy what we’re going to do.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun with design and with the approach and sort of forming what our identity is going to be on the race track and off the race track. It’s going to be lots and lots of work.”

Earnhardt Jr. has driven the No. 8 since he debuted fulltime in the Cup series in the 2000 season. He announced earlier this summer he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at season's end.