Putting Dale Jr. in No. 8 car could drop No. 25 or No. 5 from HMS

Updated: June 17, 2007, 4:51 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Team owner Rick Hendrick will attempt to keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a car with the No. 8 next season at Hendrick Motorsports.

The number, owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc., has been Earnhardt's since he entered the Nextel Cup series in 1999. He lost the right to that number after this season when he announced on Wednesday a five-year deal with HMS.

Max Siegel, the president of global marketing at DEI, said owner Teresa Earnhardt is willing to consider a formal offer.

"Since they opened the door, we're going to talk to them about it, so I'll follow up on it," Hendrick said before the start of Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

Siegel declined to put a monetary value on the 8.

"I don't even know if you can quantify it," he said. "I don't know if there's a number or figure for what it's worth. Before I can give any recommendation to my owner I have to evaluate what the proposal is.

"One of the reasons why I'm not trying to speculate or give hypotheticals is because it's part of the Earnhardt legacy, whether it's Dale Jr. or the Dale Earnhardt Inc."

Geoff Smith, the president of Roush Fenway Racing, doesn't think it matters what number Earnhardt drives from a marketing standpoint.

"The world will see that Junior could use mandarin Chinese numbers on the car and they would sell just as much souvenirs as the No. 8," he said. "I personally think that the brand equity is with Junior.

"It's like the Nike swoosh. There was a Nike before the swoosh, but everybody got to know the swoosh because there was marketing around it. Whatever number he has will take his character."

If Hendrick gets the 8 he will have to decide whether to eliminate one of two significant numbers -- the 5 or 25 -- at HMS. The 25 was the car owned by his late son, Ricky, and the 5 was the first car at HMS.

Hendrick also will have a difficult decision if he can lure Earnhardt's longtime sponsor, Budweiser, which has one more year left on its deal with DEI. He has four primary sponsors for the 5 and 25 next season and he plans to honor them. Budweiser officials said they want to remain with Earnhardt, with whom they have a personal services contract through next season. Siegel is willing to listen to a proposal for the sponsor, but he also would like to continue a relationship with the beer company.

He would like to have those issues, as well as a replacement for Earnhardt, settled within the next 30 days if not sooner.

One possibility is Kyle Busch, the driver Earnhardt will replace at HMS. Siegel said DEI has reached out to Busch, adding the 22-year-old is at the top of their list.

That could open a possible trade of sponsors and numbers between HMS and DEI.

"All of us are trying to adjust business issues," Siegel said. "There are not a lot of moving parts."

Siegel laughed about the possibility of putting Busch in a Budweiser car to compete directly with his brother, Kurt, in the No. 2 Miller Lite car.

He added that there is no way to totally replace Earnhardt. "He's in a class by his own," Siegel said. "Arguably, nobody has replaced Dale Sr. It's very unfair to compare anybody to him. You have to start with someone who is excellent at the core product, which is competition."

David Newton covers motor sports for ESPN.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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