For the first time in his career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not have the number his father and grandfather made famous on the side of his car. As he enters the first of his last 14 races with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, he's making his frustrations with his current car owner and step-mother, Teresa Earnhardt well known.
"I'm not going to sit here and get personal about this," Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday morning. "This personal stuff is way far away from the racetrack. It's upsetting as hell and unfortunate. But that's just what happens sometimes."
"I kinda had an idea that we were going to come to this road and have to take a turn, and I knew this was the way it was going to happen. I am not really all that surprised. I knew I wasn't going to get the number a long time ago. But you wait and wait and wait and Kelley is working, trying to talk to Max. And Max is trying to help. Max tried his butt off to try to make it work and trying to talk to Teresa and get some sense into her."
But Earnhardt Jr. and his sister/business manager, Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge are looking towards the future.
"It was a difficult decision, but all of us agreed that it was best to move in another direction," she said. "There's disappointment, of course, but we look forward to working with Hendrick Motorsports on what will be a great program for Dale Jr. and his fans in 2008."
Earnhardt Jr. thinks starting anew with a different number will probably be for the best.
"I'm definitely going to look at some 80s and things like that," he said. "When I walk away from DEI, I wanted no ties whatsoever. If I was to get the 8, and allow Teresa to have limited control of it, I'd still have to deal with her, and that wasn't what I wanted. We have to let the 8 go, and we have to get something new."
So while Earnhardt Jr. is behind the wheel of the 80 something car next year, who will be piloting the 8?
J.J. Yeley, the hottest commodity on the free agent market, would be an ideal choice. The very marketable and media friendly Yeley, who will be moving out of his 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet at the end of the season to make room for Kyle Busch, has spent most of his career in the shadow of his teammates, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. DEI could give him his chance to shine by putting him in their primary ride.
Another rumor has the ever popular Boris Said, who currently funds his own team, moving behind the wheel of the 8. With Budweiser following Earnhardt Jr, it would be very easy for Said to bring his sponsor, SoBe No Fear, to DEI.
But if DEI wants to wait for the free agent market to blossom, they could easily move Aric Almirola and his sponsor, U.S. Army to the 8. Moving Almirola would not only give DEI more time to look for a full time driver, it would work promotional wonders for the Army.