- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will be introduced as next season's drivers for the No. 8 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. in two weeks at Richmond International Speedway barring a last-minute objection from sponsors, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com.
Regan Smith is the leading candidate to step into the No. 01 that he has split with Martin and Almirola this season. Sources said a deal could be reached by Friday.
Jeremy Mayfield, who recently announced he would not drive for Bill Davis Racing in '08, also has been under consideration.
Max Siegel, the president of global operations at DEI, acknowledged that Martin is a possibility for the No. 8. But he would only confirm that DEI should have its five-driver lineup in place by the end of the week and would announce it at Richmond.
"It's always been an option," he said of Martin. "When you look at who you want as a company representative who really has an appreciation for the heritage of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and is relative to the company now, Mark certainly represents those qualities.
"And quite frankly, he's been a tremendous asset to this company."
Without identifying the car, Siegel said Martin will drive in 24 to 26 Nextel Cup races next season and that Almirola will take the remaining events. He added that Almirola would be in a Busch and/or Truck Series event every weekend in '08.
"We have a real focus on developing Aric," Siegel said.
Siegel added that all the sponsors are set for next year and also will be announced at Richmond, but would not elaborate.
U.S. Army, which has been the sponsor of the 01, and the entire 01 crew are expected to move to the No. 8 with Martin and Almirola. Martin has made it clear that he wants to remain with crew chief Ryan Pemberton.
Although DEI has a year left on its deal with Budweiser, the beer company will not be on a DEI car in '08 unless there is a last-minute breakdown in negotiations with other teams.
Budweiser has been working on a deal to be on the No. 9 of Kasey Kahne.
Siegel said DEI is doing everything to make sure the transition from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the next driver of the No. 8 goes smoothly.
"Regardless of what we do now, who goes in that car, we understand it's going to be an emotional, volatile and difficult situation to deal with," he said. "People should have the freedom to express themselves.
"What we have to do is prepare ourselves to weather that storm and to win the fans over to make them proud of Dale Earnhardt Inc.," Siegel said. "The more we can get people focused on what the company stands for, all the people that contribute on a weekly basis, the better off we'll be."
Siegel said '08 will be a transition year for the entire organization, acknowledging the driver lineup could be quite different in '09.
"You look at who's available out there, there'll be more free agent talent [for] '09 than there is in '08," he said.
Greg Biffle, who has had talks with DEI about driving the No. 8, has a year left on his deal with Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle told ESPN.com he will not make a decision on '09 until probably this time next season, and that it will be based on performance.
Biffle is 15th in points and likely to miss the championship Chase for the second straight year after finishing tied for second with teammate Carl Edwards in 2005.
Siegel said DEI reached a point where it couldn't wait any longer to see if drivers they might be interested in got out of their deals.
Although disappointed the company did not get Kyle Busch, who announced two weeks ago he was going to Joe Gibbs Racing, Siegel is pleased with the direction things are going.
"This company is headed in a very positive direction," he said. "We have a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of the year. Quite frankly, I want to let our actions speak louder than our words."
David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com.
Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will be introduced as next season’s drivers for the No. 8 at Dale Earnhardt Inc., a source close to the situation told ESPN.com.