Race Weekend Central

What’s the Call? Should We Care About Dale Earnhardt Jr. Driving the No. 88?

Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s What’s the Call? Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: Should We Care That Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gets the No. 88 for 2008?

Dale Jr. In The No. 88? Junior Nation Cares – And The Rest Of NASCAR Should, As Well

Car numbers have always been associated with teams, not drivers; anyone who switches rides through the years has been forced to take what their owners were assigned by NASCAR. But nothing can change the way certain numbers become attached to superstars of the sport, simply because of their long-standing relationships with successful teams. When a change is made, it is often a shock that takes months, if not years, to get used to.

Let the transition begin for Dale Jr.

On the heels of the announcement Junior will drive the No. 88 car, you couldn’t help but be satisfied at the way in which the sport’s most popular driver will retain at least a reasonable connection with the number he used to run. Naturally, the furor over not being able to bring the No. 8 to Hendrick Motorsports was to be expected. However, the number chosen to replace that for Junior represents more than just his identity; it’s family tradition.

Ralph Earnhardt, Junior’s grandfather, became a legend on the Carolina short tracks while carrying the No. 8 on his car. Despite never using that number in Grand National Series competition, the No. 8 is still the only one most race fans associate with the eldest Earnhardt. To honor his father’s memory, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. began racing Busch Series cars under the Dale Earnhardt Inc. banner, he chose to race the No. 8 to honor the memory of a man who died far too soon, before two of the Intimidator’s three children were even born.

While Senior’s time behind the wheel of that Busch car was fairly limited, the family legacy surrounding the Earnhardt name was already firmly established by the time Junior got behind the wheel of the No. 8 car in the late 1990s.

Certainly, there’s no denying the No. 88 had a little history of its own with Robert Yates Racing; the lone championship Dale Jarrett won with that number stands as the organization’s greatest achievement to this day. But in the end, the value of the number for Yates was far outweighed by the pure desire for the Earnhardt tradition to continue on. By securing the the No. 88 for Junior in 2008 and beyond, Hendrick was able to make a crucial link from Earnhardt’s past to the organization’s present, making the future that much more special.

See also
It's Official: Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Drive No. 88 Car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008

There’s no question a power play was made in order for this move to unfold. Dale Jr. has been a star since the drop of the green flag in his first NASCAR race, and coupling the Earnhardt name with his on-track success, his popularity has only increased over the years. But what’s the harm in using that influence to ask for something you want? While the casual fan of the sport might not appreciate the issue – passing it off as a trivial detail for a driver attempting to get what he almost couldn’t have – the ones who are loyal to the Earnhardts and their family legacy will surely know the historical significance of the number.

The No. 88 still gives Junior a link to his grandfather, who drove that very number in a race at Martinsville along with seven other Grand National races behind the wheel of the No. 188. It also gives his legion of fans something to hold onto – everyone hears about the tattoos and how they’ll have to be changed, but all joking aside, there are a lot of changes these fans are going through.

With the announcement public, those changes can now begin; and what a relaxing transition it will be. In the end, Junior will still be driving a car with an eight on the side of it, even if it is a pair of eights… and that means something to enough people for all of us to care. – Mike Neff

It’s Just a Number. They ALL Have Numbers on Them.

The question of Dale Jr.’s number and sponsor has taken on a life of its own, ever since Junior’s announcement in June that he would drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Well, such speculation was finally put to rest on Wednesday when the announcement was made that Junior will drive the No. 88 next year, sponsored by Mountain Dew, Amp and the National Guard.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for Earnhardt Jr. to put time and effort into getting just the right number on his car. Junior has always respected both his family history and the history of the sport, and he wanted to carry a number that represented more than just a trademark on a t-shirt. He wanted a number that really meant something.

But it meant too much to other people, as well.

All summer, it was the hot topic in the garage and in the stands. ALL summer. And frankly, it wasn’t all that important. The sponsors, especially Amp, are a good enough fit (although it would seem that Casey Mears more closely fit the National Guard ideal) and the number is one that has a history in the Earnhardt family. How nice. Let’s move on, already.

Too much other racing information got buried under a completely meaningless story all summer long. Tony Stewart got hot in July and August and won another Brickyard 400. That’s nice, but what was Junior’s number going to be? Brian Vickers and John Andretti had their qualifying times disallowed at the New Hampshire races in July and September, sent home after violations were found on their CoTs after qualifying.

Neat-o. Who is Junior’s sponsor going to be?

Current DEI teammate Martin Truex Jr. hit his stride in June, winning a race and lighting up the track en route to his first ever Chase. Really? I heard Junior’s going to drive number 6.7! While Truex soared, Junior missed the Chase for the second time in three years. WHAT!? NO &%#*!$@ WAY?! But, do you think he’ll get number 452?

Sadly, all it took was for Teresa Earnhardt to retain her rights to the No. 8 for every race fan to hear nothing but numbers in their heads all summer long. It even got to the point where Junior himself had to ask his fans to stop calling his stepmother horrible things because she didn’t want to part with the number. At the time, more petitions were circulated to “Free the No. 8” than for most political issues. And compared to the future of our country, our children, and our environment, frankly, Junior’s car number should be the least of anyone’s worries.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Teresa Earnhardt Still Making All the Right Moves

And to be honest, the simple fact people were concerned about it at all should be enough to raise some eyebrows in the first place. It wasn’t as if people would suddenly stop buying t-shirts and hats because they didn’t like the number on them. It wasn’t as if the sponsor wasn’t going to pony up millions for the opportunity to grace Junior’s hood every week. It certainly wasn’t as if Junior was going to morph into someone else.

Well, now it’s over. Finally. Contrary to popular belief, the world didn’t stop on its axis at the moment of the announcement. Knowing Junior’s number and sponsor didn’t solve global warming or find a cure for the common cold. Just like every other sponsor and number unveiling… it happened. Enough No. 88 Amp/National Guard t-shirts were sold to clothe a small county; that’s about it.

To Junior, it’s probably a relief for the ordeal to be over, as well as a good feeling to know there’s some family history in his number. For the rest of us, we can finally push the speculation aside and fans can buy their new t-shirts. There is a number on the side of his car, now… and it’s No. 88.

Can we please move on? There are nine races left, and someone is going to win a championship. That person also has a number on his car. Wow.

By the way, did anyone notice that Clint Bowyer won his first race this week? – Amy Henderson

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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