Column: Junior is big news always

Published 3:13 am Friday, September 21, 2007

By Staff
Major sports cable networks interrupted programming, it was broadcast in streaming video on the Internet, and was the top sports story of the day all across the nation.
Never before has something as simple as a car number and sponsor caused so much fanfare and interest. But that is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is big, very big.
Within minutes of the announcement that his car number would be 88 and the sponsorship would be split between the National Guard and Pepsi's Amp energy drink, I received at least three emails offering the new Junior merchandise. Everything from hats and t-shirts to wall clocks and coffee mugs was available for purchase. It is amazing.
To be honest, I am a bit underwhelmed with the appearance of the cars. I was really expecting someone more "snazzy." To me, the white on the back ends of the cars looks weird. But that doesn't matter. Fans will scoop up the new merchandise in record numbers. Some have predicted that Junior will haul in over $40 million in total compensation next season, with as much as 75 percent of that coming from endorsements and souvenir sales.
Kudos to Robert and Doug Yates for being so gracious in releasing the 88 for Junior's use. Evidently, Junior and Hendrick went to Yates looking to use the 28, with no idea that the 88 would be available. When it became apparent that the 8 would not be moving, I think Junior got the best alternative.
The release of the number also allows Yates to start afresh next season. After losing sponsorship of both of the team's cars, Yates can wipe the slate clean and offer a potential sponsor a new face in Travis Kvapil and a new number. It looks like the sponsor Yates' No. 38 team, M&Ms candy will be moving to Kyle Busch's No. 18 team next season.
Now, with the announcement made, the attention can be turned to what is most important – the races.
Big-time congratulations to Clint Bowyer for earning his first victory at New Hampshire last week. That guy has a ton of talent and seems very likable. I bet he spent some time with his sponsor, Jack Daniels, in celebration after that dominating performance.
Bowyer was the only driver in the chase to have not visiting Victory Lane in the first 26 races. However, with the win, he moved from 12th in the standings to fourth. Kurt Busch had engine troubles and dropped to 12th, 102 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Because the field was so closely seeded going into the race, nine of the 12 positions changed hands. Only the top three remained unchanged. You will see this movement after every race until the final race in Homestead.
The Monster Mile at Dover, Delaware is next on the schedule. The high banked one-mile track is the site of the first win of another chase driver, Martin Truex, Jr. I think Martin makes it two in a row at Dover. He's my pick to win this week.