DALLAS, Texas – Amp Energy Drink and Mountain Dew, both made by Pepsi, will be the primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolets for 20 races at Hendrick Motorsports next year. The National Guard will be in that position for the other 16 races.
Confirmation of the car number and sponsors came Wednesday in a news conference at the Dallas Convention Center following an early morning appearance at a national meeting of Pepsi bottlers that gave Earnhardt Jr. a chance to test one of his new sponsors’ products.
“They got me up at 5 this morning, so I’ve had a chance to try out the effectiveness of the product,” he said, referring to Amp. “I’m pretty pleased to be sitting here and not yawning in front of you guys.”
There were other reasons for Earnhardt Jr. to be pleased, of course.
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While no terms of the deal were announced, it’s widely believed the deal to sponsor Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports is one of the most lucrative in NASCAR history.
Earnhardt Jr. also was given input into how his cars will look. He and a friend started with a color scheme very similar to the green and white cars Darrell Waltrip once drove carrying a Mountain Dew sponsorship and went from there.
Until Wednesday, though, he hadn’t actually seen the final product. He unveiled two cars – a green and white Amp/Mountain Dew scheme and a blue and white National Guard scheme – that will be his primary colors when he moves from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to the Hendrick team.
Earnhardt Jr. said he’s eager for that move to come, but that he also wants to finish out his tenure in the No. 8 Chevrolets at DEI on a strong note.
“I have used the anticipation to motivate me for the rest of the season,” he said.
“There are all kinds of ways to find motivation to work hard. I have said it quite a bit lately, the integrity of my team that I currently drive for is on the line here. It’s really important that we work hard and make a good statement as we close this out and get ready for next year.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick has three cars racing for this year’s championship, but he’s also looking ahead to next year. “In some ways I wish the Daytona 500 was tomorrow,” he said.
Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t mind that terribly.
“I will just be able to relax and race,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to work. I can’t wait to show everybody at Rick’s how dedicated I am. I really can’t wait to get over there and prove myself."
Earnhardt Jr. will make his 283 career Nextel Cup start Sunday at Dover.
He has 17 victories, but none since a win at Richmond on May 6, 2006. He has 75 top-five and 119 top-10 finishes, but this year failed to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the second time in three years.
The No. 88 has been used in 1,264 races in NASCAR’s top series, and a car bearing that number has competed in every race since Ernie Irvan, returning from an injury, drove it at Phoenix in October of 1995.
It is currently being used by Robert Yates Racing, on Fords that Ricky Rudd has driven this year. But Rudd injured his shoulder at California and Kenny Wallace will be in it for a third straight race at Dover.
Four drivers have won races with that number. Dale Jarrett won 29 times in the No. 88 Fords, with Darrell Waltrip winning 25, Bobby Allison eight and Buck Baker three. Only eight other car numbers have won more races in the circuit’s history.
Wednesday’s announcement wraps up a saga that dates back to late December, when Teresa Earnhardt told a Wall Street Journal reporter that her stepson needed to choose between being a rock star and a race car driver.
There have been many mileposts in the story since – including Earnhardt Jr.’s statement in February that he wanted controlling interest in Dale Earnhardt Inc., his announcement on May 10 that he’d decided to leave DEI and the June 13 announcement that he’d go to Hendrick Motorsports.
But it the end, the path never wavered from what Earnhardt Jr. said when he first addressed his stepmother’s remarks as he began testing for the Daytona 500 on Jan. 8.
“Mine and Teresa's relationship has always been very black and white, very strict and in your face,” he said that day. “It is what it is ... it ain't a bed of roses.
“ ... The relationship that we have today is the same relationship we had when I was 6 years old when I moved into that house with Dad and her. It has always been the same. It hasn’t gotten worse over the last couple years or last couple months. It's always been the same, the way I felt about her then is the way I feel about her now.”