It has been a couple of weeks since Dale Jr. announced he would be moving over to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season and since that time, the sport’s domino effect that comes into play anytime a major driver changes teams has been trying to line itself up. All we know for sure is that Junior will have Jeff, Jimmie and Casey as his new teammates next season and other than that the questions of sponsor, car number and crew chief are still up for discussion.
The only sponsor and number Junior has ever had since he started full time at the Cup level in 2000 have been Budweiser and the number eight. Part of that equation for Junior is about to change as Rick Hendrick has said he already has four primary sponsors lined up for his four-car operation next season. With that said, the highly popular tandem of Budweiser-Earnhardt Jr. is apparently in its farewell tour.
It appears that Junior will still be sponsored by a drink company next season, but it will not have any alcohol in it as longtime Hendrick sponsor Pepsi is apparently going to step up its involvement and become his primary sponsor. Pepsi has been an associate at Hendrick for years and at times becomes the primary sponsor for selected races for Jeff Gordon. Pepsi’s Mountain Dew is also expected to become part of the sponsorship package as it will be Junior’s primary sponsor for several races each season.
Pepsi announced at Daytona before the Pepsi 400 that it would be ending its long-running sponsorship agreement with International Speedway Corporation’s Daytona International Speedway after this season, ending a relationship that started back in 1959. Beginning with the Daytona 500 next February, Coke will become the official soft drink sponsor at Daytona and will be the title sponsor of the July Firecracker 400. Coke will also become the soft drink sponsor at ISC’s Richmond, Michigan, Chicagoland, Homestead-Miami and Kansas tracks and will eventually hold the same title at Talladega, Darlington, Phoenix and Watkins Glen when Pepsi’s current contract runs out with those tracks.
The highly lucrative Budweiser sponsorship is apparently up for grabs even though it has a long history with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Bud has always been a huge player in the series in individual team sponsorship and title sponsorship of races, but now the beer giant must plot its future in the sport and it could be that the familiar Budweiser logo may find a new home.
Since DEI is yet to name a driver to replace Junior for next season, Budweiser hasn’t announced it will stay there in 2008. The rumors have started to float around the garage area that Bud may be on the move to Ray Evernham Motorsports. Kasey Kahne is Evernham’s flagship driver but his car is under contract with Dodge Motorsports for next season and there are still some questions about how well Kahne fits the mold Budweiser is looking for in a driver. Evernham’s Elliott Sadler has also been mentioned as the recipient of the sponsorship for next season, but Evernham and Budweiser have not answered any questions concerning the rumors.
When Dale Jr. announced he was making his move, he said it would be the most important move of his career and it is easy to see that maybe Pepsi and Budweiser are also about to make their most important moves since becoming involved in the sport. Just like there are no guarantees that Junior will win races and championships at Hendrick, both Pepsi and Budweiser know that putting their names on the hood of a car doesn’t always mean success in the sport.
Both brands have a long successful history in the sport and both have always shown they will ride out the tough times that eventually come around if you stay in racing long enough. Pepsi will benefit from Junior’s enormous popularity while Budweiser’s ability to market its product to its target population is tailor-made for Cup racing. These are definitely two companies that will not only be in the sport for the long haul but will be successful over the long haul.
Race Preview – Event: Allstate 400 At The Brickyard.
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile rectangle, 9 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: July 29, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: IMS. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.