Note: This was originally posted June 17, 2007.
It's finally official, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive for Rick Hendrick Racing for the next 5 years, apparently in the ride to be vacated by the somewhat stunned Kyle Busch.
First of all, as a fan of Dale Jr., I'm thrilled that he's going to drive for one of the best, if not the best owners in the sport. Rick Hendrick has celebrated 159 wins in the Cup series since he first began entering cars in races back in 1984. That's not a bad winning percentage. A lot of those wins, 79, to be exact, are from long time driver Jeff Gordon. 27 more of them are from relative newcomer Jimmie Johnson. About 12 of those 159 are from a man some of you remember, Terry Labonte.
Jeff has won 4 championships for Hendrick. Jimmie has won 1. Terry Labonte won the other championship that Rick Hendrick has to his credit. Terry won that championship and all those races in the 5 Chevy.
A lot of people have been saying since Wednesday of last week that they hope that Teresa Earnhardt will give up rights to the 8 number so that it may follow Dale Jr. to Hendrick. A lot of folks have also pointed out that Rick and Teresa could trade numbers; Teresa gets the 5 and Hendrick gets the 8.
Folks, I don't know that it will happen. And I'm not just talking about Teresa wanting to hold on to the 8.
Rick Hendrick's first car in the Cup series was the 5, driven by Geoffrey Bodine. Bodine got Hendrick's first wins in the cup series. Terry Labonte won a championship for Rick Hendrick in the 5 car in 1996. I can see why Rick might want to hold on to the 5. I wouldn't blame him if he did.
Teresa Earnhardt also has reasons to hold on to the 8 as well. It was Dale Sr.'s father, Ralph's number. It was the number of the car that Dale Sr. first raced in the Cup series. It is also the number which has won DEI most of it's wins in the Cup series. 17 wins is 17 wins, and so far that number has worked out pretty well for DEI.
Sponsorships are completely a different deal. Budweiser is signed through 2008 with DEI, but they can certainly jump ship and follow Dale Jr. to Hendrick if they want to. Remember, old time fans of the sport remember Budweiser on Rick Hendrick's own 25 Chevy back in the 1990's.
Even if Budweiser doesn't follow Dale Jr. to Hendrick, I don't think it will be a problem. Hendrick already has sponsors waiting in the wings, and Kelloggs and GMAC would love to have a guy in their car who is the most popular in all of Nascar Nextel Cup.
Jr. fans, the number is not worth as much as the driver and the sponsorship. Maybe it's time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make another number famous.