DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the No. 8 famous during his tenure at Dale Earnhardt Inc. This year, though, the No. 8 could be on the sidelines as sponsorship issues could force Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to park that team and driver Aric Almirola.
And that’s too bad, Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, where NASCAR hosted its Preseason Thunder Fan Fest.
“I do have an emotional connection to it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I hope that it's able to run all year.”
Earnhardt Jr. wanted to bring the No. 8 with him to Hendrick Motorsports for 2008, but DEI officials wouldn’t relinquish it with terms acceptable to all parties. Instead, Earnhardt Jr. switched to the No. 88.
But Earnhardt Jr. felt worse for Almirola instead of the No. 8.
“He's had to sort of put off this season, this full season, that he's been so excited about having for a couple years now, and he's not had that opportunity,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I hope that he gets the chance to run this year and run all year, and I hope he's with a good group of guys that will do a good job. Obviously he had a good group last year with [crew chief] Tony [Gibson] and them guys, but they moved on.
“You know, it's just unfortunate. So much has changed in the last six months in this sport, in the last 18 months a bunch has changed, and I just hope we can get all settled down somehow and start having a little bit of order around here and start rebuilding, everybody getting some stability financially to where we can have more expectations than we have questions.”
DEI and Chip Ganassi Racing merged their operations in the offseason, and Earnhardt Jr. had only positive things to say about the merger. Earnhardt Jr. drove for DEI for his entire career before leaving after the 2007 season.
But Earnhardt Jr. didn’t have much insight on the merger, despite quizzing his friend and former teammate, Martin Truex Jr.
“You can't get a word out of Martin,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He's like talking to a rock. I see him on the Internet all the time, and try to talk to him. I have no idea what's going on over there. The only thing I know about what's going on over there is what you guys [in the media] are printing, and I don't know whether to believe half of that because you just don't know. Heck, y'all might not be getting the truth.
“I don't know what they're doing, but I hope that it's good. Merging has always been pretty decent for everybody that I've seen it happen to. Chip has some real strong views, and he's a tough, tough, tough competitor. He's got a reputation, and I think that will be good for them because he's certainly visible at the race track, and that's good as an owner for them, and Teresa [Earnhardt] didn't really like coming to the track and didn't want to be around the race track. So now they've got one of the owners that will be at the race track. A driver has questions and he needs to talk to an owner sometimes on a Friday night or a Saturday, so that will be good.” - scenedaily.com