The No. 8 was once the stuff of tattoos, of piles of money from merchandise sales, of racing lore.
The very suggestion that it would ever belong to anyone else but Dale Earnhardt Jr. was so unimaginable, it was mocked in television commercials.
That was just three years ago. And now this: When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season resumes at Phoenix, the No. 8 won’t even be on the track.
How did this happen? The chain of events that led the No. 8 from its iconic attachment to the most popular driver in the sport and the most familiar car to this entry into nothingness is still hard to grasp.
It wasn’t supposed to end up this way. After all, the 8 car equaled Earnhardt Jr.; Earnhardt Jr. equaled the 8 car. The No. 8 seemed destined to be one of the great racing numbers of all time.
Now, the 8 car is no more. At least for the time being. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing couldn’t secure funding for Aric Almirola, and so the No. 8 will not be coming to a track near you in the immediate future.
Fans didn’t have any particular attachment to Almirola or his team, so they won’t mourn the loss of the car. The number 8 itself is what held the meaning for them.
As is the case for so many other missteps involving the former Dale Earnhardt Inc., Teresa Earnhardt deserves the blame here.
Call it Earnhardt’s Error. Teresa’s Terrible Try. To recap:
• Under Teresa’s watch, DEI made poor decisions that affected Earnhardt Jr.’s performance, such as switching his cars with those of teammate Michael Waltrip’s after Earnhardt Jr. had just enjoyed a stellar season.
• That ultimately led Earnhardt Jr. to consider driving elsewhere, and when his stepmother refused to give him partial ownership and control of the team, the biggest cash cow in the sport took his show to Hendrick Motorsports.
• Earnhardt Jr. still wanted to keep the No. 8, but Hendrick couldn’t work out a deal to get the number from DEI, which claimed the 8 still had equity and value for sponsors even if Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t driving it.
• Mark Martin drove the 8 with U.S. Army sponsorship last year before leaving the team and handing the car off to Almirola, who never attracted a full-time sponsor even with the number that supposedly had so much of its own identity. DEI had even kept the No. 8 to have the same style as it was on Earnhardt Jr.’s cars, just with a different color.
• With no sponsorship money, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing was forced to shut down the No. 8 team.
How different would things be today if Teresa had just given half of DEI to Earnhardt Jr.? Haas CNC Racing did that for Tony Stewart, and look how competitive Stewart-Haas Racing has turned out to be.
Earnhardt Jr. could have stayed at the company his father founded for the remainder of his career while driving the 8 car, perhaps building a championship-winning organization in the process.
Ultimately, letting Earnhardt Jr. walk irreparably damaged DEI. The organization as we knew it then doesn’t even exist anymore. Yes, the new team is called Earnhardt Ganassi Racing – but it seems in reality to be Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Teresa Earnhardt.
And do you really think a merger would have even been necessary had Earnhardt Jr. stayed with the team?
As for the 8, without Earnhardt Jr. in the driver’s seat – where he earned 17 of his 18 career victories – the number apparently wasn’t worth that much after all. If it was so valuable, why not shift it to EGR’s Martin Truex Jr., who currently drives the No. 1 car? Perhaps because there’s now more equity built into the 1 than the 8. And that’s sad.
To some people, it’s just business. Numbers don’t mean anything, they say.
But that attitude ignores history and shoves any nostalgia out the window. Fans of Earnhardt Jr. will remember their driver’s time in the 8 as the good ol’ days, when he was winning and tossing back Buds.
If you close your eyes – or load up YouTube, perhaps – you can see the red No. 8 car leading the pack at Talladega as the masses roared their approval.
It’s the same thing for Richard Petty’s No. 43 or the No. 3 of the elder Dale Earnhardt. Numbers are married to drivers in this sport, and it could have been that way forever with Junior and the 8.
Instead, the 8 is lost now, left to suffer a lonely fate. It deserved better. - scenedaily.com