The answers fans of NASCAR’s most popular driver have been waiting to hear for the past four months finally came, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and new team owner Rick Hendrick announced he will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet sponsored by Mountain Dew Amp Energy drink and the National Guard.
While speculation on the deal has been rampant since Earnhardt announced in May he would be leaving the company his late father founded to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, the official announcement came at a press conference Wednesday at the Dallas Convention Center, as well as the unveiling of the racecar’s two paint schemes.
Now that the business questions have been resolved, Earnhardt said his focus is on finishing the current season strong and beginning next season with his new team.
“I can’t get wait to get to work, I can’t wait to show everybody at Rick’s [Hendrick] how dedicated I am, how much I’m devoted to being successful,” Earnhardt said.
The Mountain Dew Amp car will race in 20 events in the 2008 season, and the National Guard paint scheme will be featured in the remaining 16 races of the season.
NASCAR assigns car numbers to the teams, and after negotiations for Earnhardt to take his famous No. 8 with him to Hendrick failed, Hendrick said Earnhardt’s business manager and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge went to working finding a new number for the driver.
She originally approached Robert Yates Racing, which owns the Nos. 28 and 88 about using the later, because the team isn’t currently fielding cars with it, but Yates was willing to let the No. 88 go, and a deal was hammered out.
“The 88 makes perfect sense…it’s just the eights, there’s not another number we have to throw in there,” said Elledge. “We couldn’t have a more perfect number.”
Pepsi CEO Dawn Hudson said sponsoring Earnhardt was a major coup for the soft drink giant, which also counts Hendrick driver and NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon in its portfolio of endorsers. She added sponsoring Earnhardt allows the company to broaden its marketing influence.
“We’re still going to go strong with Jeff Gordon on Pepsi, and now we’re going to go strong with Dale Jr. and Mountain Dew Amp. It’s just a broadening of a success formula that’s worked for us in a way that allows us to touch more of our brands,” she said.
Hudson added Pepsi isn’t concerned about any conflicts between its Pepsi sponsorship of Jeff Gordon, which also includes the Jeff Gordon 24 Energy drink.
“We’re in the spirit of choice and competition. We’d have only one beverage if we thought, ‘geez we don’t want any competition.’ I think competition is a great thing; the tension between brands,” said Hudson.
The press conference was held in Dallas because the Pepsi bottlers’ annual conference is being held in Dallas this week. Earnhardt participated in multiple personal appearances with Pepsi.