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TMS replaces billboards referencing Earnhardts
Four identical Texas Motor Speedway billboards referring to the strained relationship between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother, Teresa, will be replaced within the next two weeks. The flap is over ads featuring a picture of the driver and the wording "Reason #88: Step-Mom." TMS president Eddie Gossage said Thursday night that the billboards, part of a series of similar ads to promote the Sprint Cup weekend at the track in April, will be changed after a request from Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, the driver's sister and business manager. "The first thing I told her when I answered the phone was if you guys are uncomfortable with it, all you have to do is say the word," Gossage said. "We had a very pleasant talk." #88 is a reference to Earnhardt's new car number with Hendrick Motorsports, the team he went to after last season when he decided to leave Dale Earnhardt Inc., his late father's company that is run by Teresa Earnhardt. He left DEI after months of contentious negotiations with his stepmother. Earnhardt will still be displayed on the billboards, but the wording will change to "Reason #88: New Car Smell." Gossage said Elledge thought the new slogan "was cool, and Dale Jr. loved it."

There are billboards with catchy slogans featuring the car numbers of three other drivers. One features a wide-eyed, grinning Tony Stewart with "Reason #20: Road Rage!" Then there is one for Jeff Gordon with "Reason #24: 81 Cup Wins. Zip At Texas!", and one for two-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, "Reason #48: Twice As Good As 24!" After getting the call from Elledge, Gossage decided to make sure Stewart was all right with the #20 ad. "I e-mailed Tony, 'What do you think?' He thought they were hilarious," Gossage said. Gossage said he didn't follow up with Gordon and Johnson, Earnhardt's new teammates with Hendrick, because the TMS president considers those slogans "benign" despite one small glitch. Johnson's slogan "Twice As Good As 24!" was supposed to end with a question mark, not an exclamation point.

Elledge told Gossage that she and her brother still have friends and family at DEI and want to see the company succeed, but that they were "excited about Hendrick Motorsports" and saw no reason to point to past issues. "We were trying to be edgy," Gossage said. "If this went over the line, in their opinion, we don't want to." There are 15 billboards, three featuring Johnson and four for each of the other drivers, displayed on Interstates and busy highways throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Gossage said there will be similar-themed broadcast and print ads in the coming weeks. ESPN.com/AP

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