Longtime Dale Earnhardt Jr. sponsor Budweiser made the ultimate touching tribute video ahead of Earnhardt’s final NASCAR race. It’s the story of Dale Jr.’s career: from victory lane hugs from Dale Sr. to Dale Jr.’s incredible Daytona win following his dad’s untimely death. Yet it omits one odd thing: the number on Dale Jr.’s car.
Dang it, this video. I’m not crying. YOU’RE CRYING, okay? Regardless of the fact that I refuse to admit that feelings exist and I have them, Budweiser had a reason for putting out this tear-jerker of a film.
The iconic red Budweiser livery Dale Jr. ran early in his career will be making a comeback this weekend for his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with current No. 88 sponsor Axalta taking the main billing, as For The Win notes. Earnhardt also drove for Budweiser for eight years and was the first sponsor of his former No. 8 car, so they’re not going to let the extra press from his retirement slip away, either.
The big hitch is that Bud’s old livery is going on the No. 88 this time, not the No. 8. So, No. 8 got blurred out in the tribute video, as eagle-eyed fans were quick to note. Most of the time, the car number is chopped off or obscured by the interlacing effect added to the older clips in the video, but a close-up of a victory lane ceremony shows a strangely greyed-out number atop Dale Jr.’s car:
The No. 8 in particular has a bit of a strange history. Car numbers are owned by the teams in NASCAR—not by drivers—and Jalopnik confirmed that this was why No. 8 wasn’t in the video. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s former team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., would not sell the No. 8 to Dale Jr.’s current team, Hendrick Motorsports, as ESPN explains:
Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports tried to purchase the No. 8 from Teresa Earnhardt, the co-owner of EGR and Earnhardt Jr.’s stepmother, before Earnhardt Jr. left Dale Earnhardt Inc., now EGR, for Hendrick in 2007. But Teresa would not sell the number.
“If I was in her shoes, I probably would have done the same thing,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t have any malice about Teresa’s decision on keeping that number. I really wasn’t as upset about it as everyone thought I was. It wasn’t as ugly a situation as a lot of people felt like it was.”
While Dale Jr. downplays the lead-up to his departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc., it certainly wasn’t a happy split. Dale Jr. didn’t win at all in 2007, and couldn’t come to an agreement with his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt over control and ownership of the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team, Sporting News reports.
Earnhardt told ESPN that he wishes he could have kept racing the No. 8, but “had to” change it “under the circumstances.” Earnhardt selected No. 8 because his grandfather Ralph Earnhardt had used it as well.
Dale Earnhardt Inc. eventually merged into Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009, Fox Sports notes. The No. 8 car has sat idle since 2009 due to a lack of sponsorship.
So, even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. was by far the No. 8's most successful driver, No. 8 still wasn’t shown in Budweiser’s tribute video. Dale Jr. himself made a shout-out to his old number in when he told Budweiser thanks, however:
Budweiser will always have a special place in my heart. They took a chance on me early on, sponsored my first Cup ride, and paved the way to many great opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m deeply honored in what they’ve done to commemorate my final race. It was unexpected and humbling. It brought back a rush of memories, but more than anything it reminded me how awesome it was to drive that red No. 8 car.
Regardless of which number he’s in, we’ll certainly miss seeing him on track.