Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sponsor announcements loom for Junior, Kahne

LOUDON, N.H. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't providing any hints.

"No," he said. "I've done about as good as I can do about narrowing it down and what not."

And with that, he left reporters and fans to wait until Wednesday, when the final domino in the long line of them set in motion May 10 will finally fall. The sponsor and car number Earnhardt will use next season with Hendrick Motorsports will be introduced in Dallas, also the site of a national bottler convention for Pepsi-Cola. Multiple news outlets have reported that Earnhardt will drive the No. 88 next season, and that the new stylized 88 will be unveiled on his car this Wednesday in Dallas.
But Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway, Junior wasn't telling.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to see the reaction of the fans," Earnhardt said prior to qualifying 19th for the Sylvania 300 on the 1-mile track. "I hope that they really enjoy what we're going to do, and we've been having a lot of fun with the design and with the approach and sort of forming what our identity is going to be on the racetrack and off the racetrack."
Meanwhile, Earnhardt's old sponsor will find a home Tuesday, when Budweiser finally unveils its association with Kasey Kahne for 2008. Gillett Evernham Motorsports has called a press conference to announce a multi-year agreement, and Dodge director Mike Accavitti confirmed that Kahne's additional sponsorship will allow the manufacturer to spread more resources elsewhere. Evernham's No. 9 car, driven by Kahne the past four years, has been backed by Dodge dealers since its inception in 2001.
"This does not change our commitment to be the manufacturing leader in NASCAR's premier series, win races and consistently contend for the Nextel Cup," Accavitti said in a statement. "We now have the opportunity to apply additional resources to areas that can directly impact the on-track performance of all our teams and expand marketing opportunities for our dealers."
Kahne has a tough act to follow. Earnhardt has become synonymous with the beer brand through commercials and billboard campaigns, providing Bud with a level of visibility it never enjoyed in previous driver relationships. Pepsi-Cola now faces the challenge of meshing with Earnhardt, although the company does produce some brands like Amp and Mountain Dew that are marketed to a younger, edgier crowd.
Earnhardt wants from his new sponsor the same thing he received from his old one -- the freedom to be himself.
"The hardest part is not changing anything you do personally, about your personality or your mannerisms, or anything and trying to get them to understand that's who you are," he said. "That's how you stay comfortable and you stay grounded. Our new partners are very aware of that, that we want to continue with our personality and we don't really try to re invent the wheel or try to propose this new attitude or anything on the fan base. I just want to keep doing my job the same way I've been doing it and I want to keep being the same person I've been all this time and they're pretty comfortable with that."

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