From the first day I heard that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was negotiating to get his No. 8 back from his mother and DEI, I wondered why. I know he has been connected with that for a long time, but this was part of a change -- not only a new team, but a new sponsor and likely, along with that, a new color.
So the fact that negotiations broke down, apparently for a final time, between his new team Hendrick Motorsports and his old DEI over his old number, I believe is the best thing that could have happened to his future merchandise sales.
I predicted more than a month ago that a sponsor and number change will lead to a 15 percent increase in merchandise sales and will make 2008 the biggest year for Dale Jr. That's more important than ever before because now he's getting a real cut of his merchandise due to the fact that "Little E" is the only driver who -- through his company JR Motorsports -- controls the rights to his own licensing.
In the end, he'll realize that his stepmother was wrong to try to sell the No. 8 to him for anything more than $1. That number has no value without Dale Jr. attached to it and the fact that they tried to put a value on it doesn't make any sense.
For his part, Earnhardt has been overly gracious, especially concerned about all those fans who have No. 8 tattoos. The favorite seems to be No. 81 now so that they can just add a one and perhaps add the new color. But Earnhardt really shouldn't worry about such issues. One tattooed woman admitted she's not even sure she'll even get it changed.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt continues to drive without wins. With four races to go until the Chase is determined, Earnhardt is in 14th and is in serious jeopardy of making the top 12. While it's easy to rib DEI for their decision to try to make No. 8 a big-time negotiation, it's harder to go after their decision to let Earnhardt go. How long can a guy who hasn't won continue to be the most marketable in the sport? He has two victories in his last 100 starts.
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