JOLIET, IL - When Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaves his late father's team to drive for Hendrick Motorsports next season, longtime corporate sponsor Budweiser won't be going with him.
The Hendrick team announced on Friday that Budweiser would not continue as the sponsor of Earnhardt's car next season because of Hendrick's "long-term contractual commitments to existing sponsors."
Earnhardt announced in June that he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. to join the Hendrick team next season, but Hendrick has not yet made it clear what number car Earnhardt will drive or who his sponsor will be.
Kyle Busch, who is leaving the Hendrick team at the end of the season to make room for Earnhardt, currently drives a No. 5 car with sponsorship from Kellogg's and several other companies.
"We have agreements in place with sponsors for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, which prevent us from having a relationship with Budweiser," team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "Honoring our commitments is important to us. The trade-off is missing an opportunity to bring Budweiser, a marquee brand synonymous with NASCAR and its fans, into the fold."
The team has not announced a timetable for its sponsorship announcements.
"They had a full plate," said Earnhardt, who said he'd prefer to keep driving the No. 8 car for his new team. "They had sponsors pretty much already signed in agreements through '08. It wasn't really an option for Rick to make room."
Budweiser will continue as a sponsor in NASCAR.
"Budweiser has sponsored Dale Jr. for nearly a decade, and we wish him the very best," said Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch Inc. "Budweiser will remain an active sponsor of NASCAR, and we look forward to building upon the legacy of the iconic Budweiser red car in 2008 and beyond."
Earnhardt called it a "privilege" to drive the Budweiser car.
"Although Budweiser and I will be unable to continue our partnership beyond this season, I remain committed to driving for Bud the rest of this year," Earnhardt said. "I'm a race car driver. All I can do is drive as hard as I can for my fans and sponsorship partners and give my best effort each weekend."
Earnhardt said he had some regrets about splitting with the Budweiser brand, but he's excited to see what new sponsorship deals the team will put together.
"We felt like we possibly only accomplished half of what we could do together, so that part of it's kind of unfortunate," Earnhardt said before qualifying at Chicagoland Speedway. "Sure, I would have loved to continue working with Bud. But under the circumstances, that's not a possibility. We'll have to change our frame of mind and see what the possibilities are for our primary sponsors next year. Those should be in line with what I like and what I enjoy, and I'm excited to put that together."
Earnhardt said it would be "cool" if Budweiser decided to stick with DEI, but believes there might be substance to rumors that the company is looking at sponsoring Evernham Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne.
"You hear the rumors - they've been looking at Kasey Kahne for about two months now in case things weren't going to work out, I guess," Earnhardt said. "So they've definitely been entertaining some ideas on other drivers. Kasey would really have a lot of fun with that. I think they would enjoy Kasey, might bring him out of his shell a little bit."
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