Split sponsorship package in works for Earnhardt?


No final decision has been made regarding Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s future team sponsor at Hendrick Motorsports, but one is expected within the month and possibly within the next two weeks, multiple sources close to the negotiations said Monday.

It is widely speculated that PepsiCo. is the leading candidate to sponsor Earnhardt through its Mountain Dew brand, but sources with knowledge of negotiations say National Guard is also a top candidate as part of a split sponsorship package.

National Guard currently sponsors Hendrick's No. 25 car, driven by Casey Mears.

Sources say the combined deal will be the richest team sponsorship in NASCAR history, somewhere between $25 million and $30 million annually.

Earnhardt said last week that Navy will continue its sponsorship of JR Motorsports' No. 88 Busch Series entry in 2008, but sources said that would not conflict with a potential National Guard association in the Sprint Cup Series.

As for the other key piece of the Junior puzzle -- his car number -- DEI and Hendrick are actively negotiating. Hendrick has submitted a proposal to DEI. This is an intricate proposal that carries obvious emotions.

NASCAR owns the car numbers and leases them to the teams each year, and gives the team that ran a respective number the previous season last right of refusal on running it again the following year. Therefore, DEI holds the rights to the No. 8.

NASCAR said it won't stand in the way of any potential transaction.

Earnhardt last week reiterated his want to drive the No. 8 in 2008, but said if the deal ultimately doesn't pan out he'd like No. 81, which he has run at times in the NASCAR Busch Series.

Marty Smith covers Nextel Cup racing for ESPN.com.