Dallas Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have two 8s on his new car.
NASCAR's most popular driver will be in the No. 88 Chevrolet when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports next season, the team announced Wednesday. Earnhardt's car will be sponsored by Pepsi, with the company's Mountain Dew soft drink and Amp Energy drink featured on the car. The National Guard also will be involved in the sponsorship.
The new number and sponsor are another step in the rebranding of Earnhardt from party boy to serious corporate pitchman, one that now can be heavily marketed to the under-21 crowd.
"I never thought a car number would create this much excitement," said car owner Rick Hendrick, who has won five Nextel Cup titles. "Trying to do it and keep it quiet from the rest of the world until you have it all together, it was probably the toughest thing I've ever done in motorsports."
Earnhardt has driven the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI since 2000 with Budweiser's sponsorship. He tried to take the No. 8 with him to Hendrick, but stepmother Teresa Earnhardt refused to give up her rights to it. Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will co-drive that car next year, and it will be sponsored by the U.S. Army.
Budweiser will become the primary sponsor next season for the No. 9 Dodge driven by Kasey Kahne.
"It's important that we work hard and make a good statement as we close this out and start a new chapter next year," Earnhardt said. "The anticipation is at a boiling point. I'm ready to get over to Rick's and start racing."
The No. 88 was retired by Robert Yates Racing, which asked NASCAR to transfer the number to Hendrick for Earnhardt.
"Ralph Earnhardt drove the No. 88 Olds in 1957, and because of this number's history with the Earnhardt family, I felt car No. 88 should continue with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.," Robert Yates said in a statement. "Younger fans don't realize I built cars and raced against Ralph. I also had a very close relationship with Dale Earnhardt Sr. I'm proud to transfer this number to Dale Jr."
The driver unveiled his line of candy bars, "Dale Jr.'s Big Mo'," at a candy expo in Chicago on Tuesday.
Earnhardt already had signed personal services contracts with Adidas and Sony. He became the fourth athlete to receive a clothing line from Adidas, joining soccer's David Beckham, football's Reggie Bush and basketball's Tracy McGrady.
The car sponsorship was announced in Dallas, where 1,500 Pepsi bottlers were holding their annual meeting. Earnhardt appeared before that group before publicly announcing the deal.