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Earnhardt Jr. Car No. and Sponsor announcement transcript

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NASCAR Nextel Cup
September 19, 2007

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Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

PARTICIPANTS:

- DALE EARNHARDT JR. (NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLETS)
- RICK HENDRICK (OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS)
- DAWN HUDSON (PRESIDENT AND CEO, PEPSI-COLA NORTH AMERICA)
- LT. GEN. CLYDE A. VAUGHN (DIRECTOR, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD)
- EDDIE GOSSAGE (PRESIDENT, TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY)
- WINSTON KELLEY (MODERATOR)

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the over 500 employees at Hendrick Motorsports, we want to welcome you to one of the most anticipated announcements that I can ever remember in my 25-plus years being involved in NASCAR racing.

Before we get under way and introduce some of the key players today, there's a lot of very special folks here, but there are a handful that we do want to single out. We have with us today three-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Darrel Waltrip. Also with us today, the deputy commander of the Texas Army National Guard, Brigadier General Joyce Stevens.

Also with us today, the president of JR Motorsports, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, and the general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, Marshall Carlson.

It's only appropriate that we have our formal welcome here to the press conference at the Dallas Convention Center from the president of the Texas Motor Speedway, where nothing is done any bigger than here in Texas, our good friend Eddie Gossage.

EDDIE GOSSAGE: We're glad to have you here in Dallas, Texas, just a few miles down the road from Fort Worth where the Texas Motor Speedway is located. Really excited about this announcement today. We've had so much success through the years. This is just another one of those steps of affirmation of the role that Texas Motor Speedway and the Dallas-Fort Worth market plays on the national motor sports scene today.

A couple years ago, we're having a conversation, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I were. He told me that when he was older and sitting on his front porch with his grandkids and started to tell them the story about his racing career, that it would start with Texas Motor Speedway. It's where he won his first Busch Series race. It's where he won his first Cup Series race.

Here today, he's announcing a big step forward, one of the most anticipated announcements our sport has had in years and years. We only are starting our 11th season, but last year when we finished up our 10th year, more than 190,000 fans voted for the moment of the year. I'm sorry, the moment during our first decade. What was the number-one moment? They almost unanimously selected Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win at Texas Motor Speedway, his first Cup win, as the biggest moment in our first 10 years.

We couldn't be more proud, more excited. We look forward to seeing him at the front of the field. We look forward to seeing him contending. We look forward to seeing him in Victory Lane, hopefully winning some championships down the road. Big day. Thank you for coming. Glad to have you here in Dallas-Fort Worth.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Eddie, for being here, being a part of our program. At this time, if you could join me in welcoming to the stage the CEO of Hendrick Motorsports, a man who definitely needs no introduction to this crowd, Mr. Rick Hendrick. And the newest member to the Hendrick Motorsports family, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Rick, it was three months ago, I guess it was now, that there were some questions that were asked at the press conference up at JR Motorsports that you weren't really in a position, you said the process hadn't gotten started. I remember you telling the media, 'If we had those conversations now you guys would have been ahead of us.'

Now is the time to talk about it. Tell us about what's going on with Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Jr. for 2008.

RICK HENDRICK: Today, this is an exciting, exciting day for us today. It's also a relief, I'm sure, for some of you folks that have been asking us about sponsorship and car numbers.

I'm excited about our sponsorship announcement today, most of all because we're dealing with two partners that we've had inside our organization for a long length of time. It's always better when you're dealing with people that you've been with and you enjoy working with and have been good to your company.

To have an opportunity to partner them up with a guy like Dale Earnhardt Jr., it's going to be kind of a dream come true.

Now, if Darrell wasn't sitting here I would call it the 'Dream Team'. But since Darrell and I have been down that road, we won't use that 'Dream Team' again. Pepsi and the National Guard have been partners of ours for a long time. Really energetic, great partners. Good relationships with our company.

On the Pepsi side, when Dawn Hudson was willing to come to Charlotte, the president and CEO of Pepsi, to talk to us about this opportunity, it showed the commitment that they had and have had for our company, and now for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

So we're excited about a company that's been in racing for 49 years. They've been with us for 12 years. They have an interesting and exciting brand like AMP Energy drink and Mountain Dew, which are colors that we've known in our sport that have been to Victory Lane many times. We're excited about that. The creativity, the implementation of the way they go about things is outstanding.

Then our other co-partner, the National Guard, I have so much pride in the relationship. We owe them so much in our country for what they do for us each and every day, not only around the world to protect us, but the job they do at home in national disasters. They are citizen-soldiers that are first up and first on. Tornados, hurricanes, you name it, they're there. But the activation of their program has been just unbelievable.

So the two partners being the National Guard and Pepsi AMP, Mountain Dew, it's really an outstanding opportunity for us. Dale Earnhardt Jr. deserves to have a brand and co-branded opportunity that's going to be second to none. With these partners, it's going to put him in a position with his fans that I think we're going to do some of the most innovative things you've seen in motor sports yet today.

We're really excited. I think, Junior, everybody has been wearing me out about the number. Do you want to go ahead and take care of this number thing?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah. We came here to announce not only the two great partners that we're going to be working with next year, which I'm very excited about and I think are a perfect fit for me, but also we have finally decided on the number. It took a long time, much speculation by not only ourselves but the press as well. We decided to announce today we're going to be the No. 88 car for next year.

I'm really happy with that. It's a great choice. I want to thank Robert and Doug Yates for working with us in obtaining this number. It's been a great pleasure sort of playing along with you guys and seeing what the idea was and seeing -- we looked at a lot of great opportunities, a lot of different things, and this was the number, actually, we didn't think we would have a chance to get.

But as it worked out we were able to, and I'm pretty excited about that.

THE MODERATOR: I'll tell you what, guys. I think, Rick, you mentioned up front glad to put this behind you. It will kind of answer some questions. I think folks who host shows, it will be good fodder for conversation for a couple of weeks, but you guys would have liked for it to have gone on for weeks and weeks and weeks.

You guys are happy to put it behind you. I know the race fans are. Some of the folks that host these shows, maybe you can come up with something else to give them a chance to speculate on.

RICK HENDRICK: We did all kinds of things to throw you guys off. We got licenses for different numbers. We even had our decal people print bogus numbers thinking you'd pick them up. But you guys are just too good.

THE MODERATOR: A few things out there on the Internet that may not have been entirely accurate. I even got an email from somebody today that said, 'Is it the such and such?' They're 50% right. We'll leave it at that.

At this time we'd like to welcome to the stage the president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, please welcome Dawn Hudson. And also welcome to the stage, Lieutenant General Clyde A. Vaughn, Director of the Army National Guard.

Before we get into some of the details and questions, we'd like to direct your attention to the screens that are on both stage left and stage right to give you some exciting insight into what you have to see for 2008 and the No. 88 Mountain Dew /Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet .

(Video Shown.)

THE MODERATOR: A lot to look forward to in 2008.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., let's start with you. As I told you when we got off the plane this morning, you seemed to have a lot of spring in your step, big smile on your face. Talk about why you feel like these are such good partners for Dale Earnhardt Jr. specifically.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, you know, I've been a big fan of Mountain Dew for a very long time. I even go back to Darrell's time when he used to drive for them, even that far back. They have a great history. Have been a sponsor in motorsports for nearly 50 years, a partner of Rick's for quite a few years as well.

It sounded like a great opportunity and a great fit for me. I've had several chances over the last several years, and even earlier in my life, to be involved in the military and work with the military. The National Guard also had a relationship with Rick. That was a great fit, too, one I was very interested in. I was just at the right place at the right time.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, I know we talked a little bit earlier about the great partnership that you have that you're extending. We went back to three months ago when there was so much work to do. What all went on, and what does it feel like to get this aspect behind you so you can start looking forward to 2008?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I talked about it coming down here on the plane today. Boy, I wish Daytona was tomorrow. It seems like we've worked harder on this program, just the negotiations from his standpoint and then making all the pieces fit.

When you look back at all the work that's been done and all the things we had to go through, then to have the sponsors line up, then to have the sponsors that you want line up line, it's been an awful lot to do.

I never thought a car number would create as much excitement as the car number did in this situation. It's just been so much excitement, so much energy, and I guess with the meeting with the Guard, talking about all the possibilities, some of the ideas are unreal. When Dawn came down and brainstormed some of the ideas they had with AMP and Mountain Dew, we got so excited. It's like you want to do it today.

Probably the biggest problem has been trying to keep it quiet and get all of the parts together so you could say, 'Okay, here it is.' Now it's all done. This is all of it. We're ready to race. It's just a shame we've got to wait until Daytona.

But, you know, it's probably been because of Dale Jr.'s popularity and all of the questions around what he was gonna do, I think all of the excitement has just been built over the past year.

I know it's been an awful lot of sleepless nights from both organizations. Kelley and Marshall have done a lot of work. Again, it's just trying to do it and keep it quiet from the rest of the world till you have it all put together. It's probably been the toughest thing that I've ever done in motorsports.

THE MODERATOR: Ms. Hudson, Mr. Hendrick referenced Dale Jr.'s popularity. Junior Nation is legendary. When he was racing with Jeff [Gordon] and Tony [Stewart] and those guys for second at Richmond, they'd get up and get out of their seats. I was thinking Junior Nation may have grown with the contingent in Dallas, but you were telling me they've always been Dale Jr. fans here in Dallas. Tell us about that, and why we're here in Dallas. Some folks may not know why.

DAWN HUDSON: We're here in Dallas because the Pepsi bottlers are having their annual meeting here in Dallas. We're about 1,500 strong. This morning he was kind enough, Dale Jr. came out on stage and the room erupted. They all stood up, standing ovation.

Needless to say, they've been following the news a little bit, thought there might be something announced here at the meeting. They were overwhelmed. You did just a great job with them.

So I'm sure there are one or two additions to Junior Nation, but, for the most part, I think a lot of people are thrilled to be in this partnership.

THE MODERATOR: Lieutenant General, we were talking earlier about how race fans and potential National Guardsmen and women, there's a tie-in there, how it's helped your recruiting and retention effort, being so involved in NASCAR over the years, and Hendrick Motorsports. Talk about how adding Dale Jr. to the family can take that to another level.

LT. GEN. CLYDE A. VAUGHN: What you said about family is exactly right. We're the nation's largest community-based defense force of over 350,000. We're a magnificent family. The following of that family with Dale driving that car has been an enormous source of pride. Gives them a great rallying point.

The other piece about it, it's good to have Dale in a Department of Defense car. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, Coast Guard, can be proud of this. Everybody is going to be in there with it.

Rick Hendrick and his approach to business as a family, that's what we are. That's what the Guard is. The Guard is family. We really appreciate what you've done in putting this team together. We want to be on this team.

I tell you what, with Casey Mears, that Memorial Day race, you know how emotional that was to us. It will be the same thing to see Dale win the entire thing here the next couple years. We're going to pull for him in every way possible to make that happen.

THE MODERATOR: Dale Jr., we saw some of the pictures of putting the decals on the cars. I understand that you had quite a bit of personal involvement in designing the cars, the color scheme. Elaborate on that some.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I was fortunate enough, our new partners were willing to give me some opportunities to put some ideas together, get a shot at seeing if we could design some things that would be entertaining, not only for my fans, but our sponsors as well. Really make a great-looking race car.

Me and a friend of mine named Kevin King, who helped design a lot of the JR Motorsports stuff up to this point--logos, race cars, what have you-- we put together several ideas. With our partners' help here, Mountain Dew, AMP Energy, the National Guard, and also a lot of people at Rick's shop also pitched in.

We just kind of tweaked and molded to come up with the paint schemes that we're going to unveil here a little bit later.

I'm really, really proud of them. I think they're really, really good-looking cars. The sponsors and the numbers all pop well. The scheme is basic and clean. I really enjoy it.

I told Rick when we first started talking about the contract that it was really important to me that it was in the contract that my car had color matching side skirts. He calls my sister and jokes with Kelley, says, 'He doesn't really care about the big stuff; he's a real nitpicker' (laughter). We've had a lot of fun with those little things.

But we did do one thing that I was -- we painted the rear deck of the car flat black, which is sort of consistent with the Corvette that me and my father raced in 2001, which I thought was a really neat part about that car.

I'm really excited to unveil them. I haven't seen physical, tangible race cars designed until today, so I'll be the first one, as you guys will.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to open it up now to the folks here in the audience to ask questions.

Q. Dale Jr., you're going to have some new toys to play with next year, new team to go to. How difficult has it been going through this season and having to wait to know what you're going to have next year?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It hasn't been that difficult. I've used the anticipation to motivate me for the rest of this season. You know, there's all kinds of ways to find motivation, to work hard.

I think I've said quite a bit here lately especially, the integrity of my team that I'm currently driving for is really on the line here, not only for myself but the road guys, the road crew. It's really important that we work hard, we sort of make a good statement as we close this out and start a new chapter next year.

So I'm having a lot of fun working real hard the remainder of the season. You know, I'm going to put the cars that I'll be driving in the next few races, they're going to go through it because the anticipation is just, you know, at a boiling point and I'm ready to get over to Rick's and start working.

I haven't really had a chance to get over there and meet everybody one-on-one, understand the personalities that are moving around in that shop. That's another exciting part about it that will happen in the off-season. I'm trying to really focus on the job that I still have to finish and trying to give those guys all the focus I can.

Q. Dale Jr., we've heard so much about your re-branding. How do these companies fit into your re-branding? Do you know what your new brand is now?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, the persona, my personality, hasn't changed at all. There are just some new partners in the fold. I'm really excited to be pairing up with Mountain Dew and AMP especially, to be able to work with AMP. When they got me up at 5:00 this morning, I've had a chance to really try out the effectiveness of the product (laughter). I'm pretty pleased to be sitting here and not yawning in front of you guys.

The National Guard, too. Me and my sister, we were in military school for a couple years together. We have had a relationship with the Navy over the last couple years in the Busch Series with JR Motorsports. Those experiences, I look on both those experiences very fondly. And the National Guard, from what I know as far as the personalities sitting around me today, it's very comfortable. I feel like we're both going to have a great relationship, a great partnership.

Q. Dale, having these two sponsors, does it free you up to spend more time on your race car and yet develop your personality as to who you are because you won't be making appearances at night clubs and things like that?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, you know, one of the things that we had talked about over the last couple years was consolidating our library of partners down to a few to where we can spend more time and be more prominent with our fans as to what we are relating to, what we enjoy.

Obviously, you know, some deals take time to work themselves out. I think that it will give me an opportunity to have a little more, not so much focus on the race car, but just have a little more time to breathe, to think. I think just the comfort level of having met these two people here sitting next to me, the comfort level that I have already in just the few weeks that we've known each other, has really surprised me quite a bit. Where I'm going to drive is another comforting factor, if you will.

I'll just really be able to relax and race. I can't wait to get to work. I can't wait to show everybody at Rick's how dedicated I am, how much I want to devote to being successful. I really can't wait to get over there and prove myself.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, Dale Jr. talked about blending in with the organization. You probably have as much experience as anybody in the garage area with that aspect as well as the automotive side. How have you seen that part evolve over the last several months?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think from the driver standpoint there was a good relationship already. Jeff and Jimmie, Casey welcomed Dale, and they're friends. Casey and Dale and I have actually been fishing together. So the relationship on the driver's side, there's a tremendous amount of respect. The guys that are there know what Junior can bring, and Junior respects them for their abilities.

It's a very good professional relationship built around respect. There are so many of those guys that have worked -- you know, Robert, Junior's granddad, worked there, and a lot of the people that remember Robert as a big part of this foundation of our company. He's got a lot of fans there now.

We've been just really excited. Combining the Busch operation has gone much easier than we thought it would. And working together, it's really been enjoyable and it's exciting. Everybody's looking forward to it. There's just an awful lot of kind of pent-up excitement in our company.

We want to try to finish the year off, just like Junior said, we have an opportunity to win a championship with three cars, and Casey is motivated to try to get to 13th. We're having a good year. But we're just really, really pumped up. It's not one of these deals that you have to convince someone that this is gonna be good. Everybody knows it's gonna be good. I think that's why it's just so much energy at our place.

On the plane coming down here today from our sponsorships, to the activation of the things that they want to do, it's just -- we just would love to get it on. That's kind of where we are right now.

THE MODERATOR: For some of the new fans, folks know one of Dale's grandfathers, of course, the great Ralph Earnhardt. But the Robert that Mr. Hendrick refers to is Robert Gee, who prepared some of the most meticulous cars ever run in what was the NASCAR Sportsman Division that Dale Sr. drove to Victory Lane. That may be where the meticulous pickiness comes from. It may be honest.

RICK HENDRICK: That's exciting, too. Dale and I just talked about that. Robert had a car that actually his dad, Dale Sr., won races in. It was [named after] Robert's mother, I think its name was 'Emma.' Darrell knows this. That was an unbelievable car. Emma is in our museum. Dale Jr. will be driving Emma II in the Busch race. We might name all of them next year. It's gonna be neat.

THE MODERATOR: If you need anywhere to loan Emma I, we'll talk about it later.

Q. My question is for Ms. Hudson. Obviously there's some money changing hands here. This is not a charitable contribution. What, on behalf of Pepsi, and the General can answer this too, what is it about the Junior Nation, the Red Nation, this whole thing, what is it that draws you as a sponsor to him? Why is he the commodity that we're having this thing to talk about today?

DAWN HUDSON: First of all, I'd have to say we're not new to NASCAR, that we've had a tremendous relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. We've had that with our Pepsi brand with Jeff Gordon. That's over a 10-year relationship. Then for four years we've had our Gatorade brand with Jimmie Johnson.

What that allows us to do is to connect to large fan bases, to obviously be at the tracks, but also get NASCAR into grocery stores, convenience and gas stores, promotional programs, innovative new products. It really has worked with us in the past. Obviously this is an extension of that support of NASCAR to now have the Mountain Dew energy drink brand AMP running with Junior Nation and hopefully reaching out and touching an additional fan base of NASCAR.

We're really having a great history with NASCAR, and with Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports, which is just the best. It's really exciting to extend that and work with Dale, Jr. I can already tell you the ideas that Dale Jr. has, that our marketing people have, that our bottlers have. We're going to put that together and do some things we've done in the past, but we're going to do some new things. I think that is going to be exciting.

I think everybody wants to come to a race or website and see something new. I think that's what you can expect from this partnership.

THE MODERATOR: Lieutenant General, follow-up?

LT. GEN. CLYDE A. VAUGHN: The recruiting aspect for us, we have to recruit some70,000 Army Guard soldiers a year. The active Army has to recruit 80,000. This is big business. It just happens that the strong point of recruiting the force happens to be exactly where the NASCAR Nation is. You don't have to put two and two together too many times to figure this out. We did it.

We went over strength last year. We have had the most historical surge in strength over the last two years that the Army National Guard has ever had. We put all that together, we think about the most popular driver, you don't have to be real smart to figure this out. But we're proud to be on this team and we're proud about the attention it draws to our organization, an institution that's 370 years old, older than the nation.

It gives great opportunity for men and women to serve this country, not leave their communities unless called by the president of the United States. Dale is going to be part and parcel of that. I'm so very proud of just that simple fact.

Q. Mr. Hendrick, can you talk a little bit about the process of working with Robert [Yates] to get the 88 number. Was that pretty quick and easy or fairly long and complex?

RICK HENDRICK: I really didn't have anything to do with that. That was Kelley who got that done. You'll have to ask Kelley. We appreciate Robert working with us. The 28 was available. We were looking at everything with an 8 in it. When we couldn't get the 8, we were trying to find something with an 8 that wasn't used.

The 28 was available. It wasn't being used. Trying to be sensitive to the Yates family because that was the number they used. They weren't using it, and Kelley started the conversations. Like Dale said, Robert and Doug were gracious enough to work with us on that. It works out.

Junior had 88 on his Busch car. His granddad drove that number. That's always been a good-looking number on that car. I like it better, the looks of it, than any number we were actually looking at, so...

Q. The issue among fans is always the talk of driver skill versus quality of race car they're put in. How much is this going to be an improvement, Dale, with you moving into a piece of Hendrick equipment? And, Rick, with the mentorship available of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to help bring Dale Jr.'s racing skill to the next level, when can we expect to see a throwback 88 car that DW once drove?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That's a great question. But the one thing I want to avoid is any kind of comparison between team owners or companies or whatnot. It's really difficult in this sport, the way it is today, everybody has the opportunity to obtain the same equipment, same personnel, the same talent, whether it be behind the wheel or over the wall.

To be honest with you, I feel like I'm the best driver out there. I think every driver will have that attitude. I don't feel it's overconfident to have it. I feel like my crew chief needs to feel the same way, and I need to feel that way about him. It goes on down the line to each crew member and everybody that ever touches or ever has any association with the car itself.

So, you know, the one thing that I can say is since Tony [Eury] Jr. is pretty much my projected crew chief for next year, I think we'll have a lot of gelling and sort of getting all the bugs out of the way. I think we'll have a lot of that stuff already fixed and done before we ever hit the track for points.

You know, if we can put ourselves -- everybody knows that Rick's is the best thing going right now. He has the best cars, the best track record, he's got a lot of great drivers. His equipment, everything over there is top-notch, from one end of the shop to the other.

So, I think, when you put me and Tony Jr., who have proven to be a successful combination, in that kind of equipment, it can only mean more success than we actually have achieved in the past.

I'm anticipating hitting the ground running from Daytona on.

THE MODERATOR: No surprise there's a lot of interest. We've been joined all over the United States by a lot of live television and radio audiences. When I was talking to Jesse [Essex] earlier today, I asked him 'Who is carrying it live?' He said, 'There's too many to name individually.' We want to give those fine folks an opportunity since they broke into their regular programming, if they need to transition out, we thank them for joining us here at the Dallas Convention Center.

Again, thanks to everybody who joined us live from all across the United States on television, radio and Internet. Thank you very much.

Q. Dale, can you talk about how you narrowed the list down to the No. 88? There was a lot of you possibly being in the 81 or having a 3 in the number to honor your father. And, Rick, could you talk about the length of the contract? There's been a lot of reports with the combined sponsorship, it puts you in the $20 to $25 million range for this one team. Can you confirm that or reveal the details?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, as far as the number, it really was a mixed bag of different ideas. There was really no truth to any of the other rumors out there. A lot of different things happened. But it was a lot of loose conversation. It was basically gonna come down to whatever me and Rick had options and decisions on.

Kelley helped a tremendous amount. We worked with our partners AMP and the National Guard on their opinions, tried to really -- you know with that many people in the fold it was really loose talk for a long time as to what the opportunity would be. We really had plenty of time up till this announcement to make that decision.

It really wasn't, you know -- really didn't get moving till we started looking at the 28. Like Rick said, we called Robert to talk to him about us running the 28. He showed some interest in maybe allowing us to just have 88. So that was really sort of a stroke of luck, in my opinion. I was very fortunate that Kelley was smart enough to make that call. She earned her paycheck that day (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: Rick, follow-up about the sponsorship, what you can talk about.

RICK HENDRICK: Well, I can't talk about the financial side of that. That's something that's confidential through our companies and our sponsors.
Let me just say that when we look at deals, it's not all about money, it's about fit and it's about trying to expand Junior's brand. Again, like I said earlier, it's about relationships that we've been with these people before, they've been with us through thick and thin. I think we have a moral obligation to take care of our people that take care of us.

I couldn't be more excited because this deal fits. It's just one of those deals that you know it feels right from the patriotic side, what the Guard is doing, from what we've seen. I never thought I'd have a car in a Super Bowl ad till Pepsi put Jeff [Gordon] in a Super Bowl ad years back. I've seen what they can do for our drivers and our sponsors.

You have to weigh all of the elements of picking a sponsor. When you have good business opportunities between sponsors that work together that like each other, we have Chevrolet now that has worked with Pepsi and the Guard, and Chevrolet's gonna be a major part of what we do and how we do it, how we go out into the market.

I just can't tell you how excited I am about this relationship because I think we got the best sponsors. Forget the money; they're the best out there in the garage area that we could go find anywhere.

I think when you have a driver of his caliber, I want to answer that question over there that I didn't get a chance to, I don't think our guys are gonna be able to mentor Dale Earnhardt or teach him anything. He's got tremendous talent, and so does Tony Jr.

The way our organization works, we all kind of lean on each other to one day Jimmie Johnson will be a little bit better and he'll help Jeff Gordon. It might be Kyle Busch, it might be Casey Mears. They work together. They understand that together, just like the Guard, together we're stronger.

If we all pull together, and Tony Jr., I've known him since he was 14. His first race he worked on a car that I drove. He came home on a plane with us the other night with our other crew chiefs. It's like they've been together forever. When you have people believing in each other and sharing, Tony Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., are gonna bring as much to our organization as we're going to get from them. So we're excited about that part of it, too.

The whole mix for us is spot on. We're just really pumped up about it.

Q. Dale, the 88, anything you can get into about the sentimentality of that number? Numbers are big things to drivers. Colors of cars are a big thing. Can you talk about the whole scheme?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, when we first started working with a scheme we worked with -- me and a friend produced something really close to what Darrell had in the '80s 'cause I thought that was a great-looking race car. Vickers ran it in the Busch Series last year. Still a great-looking race car.

We massaged that quite a bit, and came up with the scheme. I really am happy with it. Just give me a little input and I feel real good and comfortable with it. That was really good. I got more than that. I got about 90 percent control. That was awesome. So I was really surprised.

But the number itself, having been a big fan of the car that Darrell and Rusty and Ricky Rudd drove, the 88 from the early '80s, Bobby Allison drove it, that car was a prominent car at that time, in that era. Dale Jarrett has had a lot of success with that number, who is a great friend of mine, a guy I respect quite a bit. I feel like he would be really happy and proud of this.

So I like the fact that the number has some history. That makes me feel very proud to have it. I'm very excited about it. That was what some of the other options sort of lacked, was that they didn't have any true history or true greatness behind them, no substance.

So this was really sort of a gold mine, in effect, for me because of the heritage that it had. I was really proud of that, and very happy that we were able to be part of that and to make that our own.

I was really trying to do the best I could to do good by my fans because that was very important for them. That was one of the more popular questions, is would it have an 8 in it? What's the number? What's the number? So I think they can be twice as happy about the situation. It's got to be sort of a relief for them and they got to be pretty happy about it. I know I've been really excited to make this announcement, not only with the sponsors but the number as well. So this is a great, great day for me.

THE MODERATOR: Some good information in the media kit you have. I think the No. 88, I read, has been to Victory Lane some 65 times. Dale Jr. is looking to build on that.

Q. Dale Jr., the sponsorship now out of the way. The car number out of the way. How important is it for you now to be able to in a few weeks separate yourself from the No. 8, move to the 88, and take over the Dale Jr. franchise where you control what you're doing from here on out?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I just think -- I really don't look at it like that. I've got a job to finish that I'm very dedicated in doing that as good as I can possibly do it. I'm focused really hard on that.

I can't wait obviously for the -- I mean, the last lap of the Homestead race is going to be very emotional for me. You know, I'll be saying good-bye to several great friends that I've had over the last several years, and will be meeting some new friends that we'll have some great relationships with in years to come.

It's gonna be quite an emotional time, you know. So I'm anticipating that, but at the same time it can take it's time getting here. Because it's going to be a hard day. You know, once we get into the off-season, I'm looking forward to being over at Rick's place and working in and around the guys, understanding who does what, what each guy's little niche is, what their personalities are like.

That's very interesting for me and very fun. Also the testing part. Having driven Kyle's car, albeit wrecked a little bit, they repaired it pretty well at Texas. I was able to really see how the Hendrick car cuts down in the corner, a little difference in the power bend in the motor. I can't wait to get to the racetrack and start understanding and adjusting, whatever I need to adjust driving style-wise, and whatever I really need to get used to as far as the feel.

I think that's more important than anything for me right now. Once I finish the job I'm doing now.

Q. What kind of effect does a sponsor have on merchandise sales and how much of an impact did that have on the final decision?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think definitely the sponsor has an impact on souvenir sales, for sure. I think it takes a combination of the driver, though, and the sponsor. The driver seems to -- again, Junior has a tremendous fan base. But then again, when you look at the colors of Pepsi, especially Mountain Dew and AMP and the National Guard, with the number of people that they touch through media and activation, that's the key, is growing our fan base and having products that can promote your driver and take your whole organization to the next level.

That's why with these sponsors, that's gonna help us with souvenir sales. I think you've got Junior, who is the most popular guy out there, and he's leading in the souvenir sales. Just adding these brands, with their activation, it's just going to make it even better. We'll have to wait and see.

THE MODERATOR: Dale Jr., final thought you'd like to add before we break up?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Obviously, I want to thank everybody for coming. Just know that I'm really excited that Mountain Dew and AMP and the National Guard have decided to partner with Rick and to support my efforts as a race car driver. It's such a great feeling, so I'm excited and I want to make 'em proud of the decision they've all three made, to put me behind the wheel.

Like I said before, I just can't wait to be able to get out on the racetrack and prove myself and make them feel like they made the right choice.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Lieutenant General. Thank you, Ms. Hudson. Before we leave, I think the final words come from Rick Hendrick.

RICK HENDRICK: Thank you. I appreciate your help here today. I want to thank the fans and the media. You guys have been very patient with us. It's not normally our M.O. to not give you an answer when you ask us a question, but this has been one of the most complicated deals I've ever been a part of. But it's also one of the most exciting that I've ever of been a part of.

We would just appreciate all the support from the fans, tracks, the media, because we didn't try to drag this out. I appreciate you coming, especially you folks from Charlotte, coming out here to Texas today. I know if Junior wasn't here you wouldn't be here to see me (laughter). Thank you for your support.

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