BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) _ Dale Earnhardt Jr. is excited about the future now that he knows for sure he will have to leave the No. 8 behind at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Negotiations to take his iconic number along to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 broke down earlier this week, leaving Earnhardt disappointed and putting the onus on stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his late father.
``It's her number, it's her decision,'' he said Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. ``My personal feelings are disappointment. But, like I said, I kind of knew that it was going to be hard to convince her to let us have it, and that's the case.''
Earlier in the weekend, Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, said, even though he expected all along that the talks would fail, he didn't say anything because he hated disappointing his fans.
But, Sunday, he said he was only looking ahead.
``I've already been thinking about what other direction I want to go and we'll do that.''
Asked what numbers he is thinking about, Earnhardt said, ``When I'm ready to decide and tell everybody, I'll tell everybody then. I'm not going to tell you everything that runs through my head, but we got some pretty neat stuff that we talk about.
``I mean, it's a lot of fun, sort of building what we're going to do next year. ... We definitely were planning to have to go in this direction, so we got our game together and, whenever we decide and whatever we decide, I think that I'm going to be excited about it.
``I think my fans will be excited about it and we just kind of get over the idea that we're not going to be No. 8 no more, which I'm fine with that and, hopefully, my fans can do the same and we'll build on a new identity.''
Max Siegel, president of global operations for DEI, said he and DEI tried their best to work out a deal with Earnhardt and the Hendrick team.
``I understand his frustration and his disappointment,'' Siegel said. ``We share similar disappointment in the way the future's going (with Earnhardt leaving). But, again, we're going to support him and we're going to do everything we can to represent Dale Earnhardt Inc. in a positive way.
``As (Junior) said, I don't know what to say to the fans. I certainly don't expect them to understand. Hopefully, five years from now, people will say nice things about Dale Earnhardt Inc. and this will be a part of our growth process.''
This was just the latest failed negotiation between the driver and DEI. Earnhardt tried and failed earlier this year to negotiate a new contract with DEI that would have kept him in the No. 8 and given him control of the team.
After six weeks as the stock car sport's most famous free agent ever, Earnhardt announced June 12 he would join Hendrick Motorsports. At that point, the focus turned to whether he would be able to take sponsor Budweiser and the 8 with him.
Budweiser will not follow Junior to Hendrick but has not yet announced its plans.
Asked if it was possible Earnhardt's longtime sponsor would stay on the 8, Siegel said, ``As we sit here today, they are (a possibility). Again, we've had to come up with contingency plans in the event they are not with us.''
But Siegel said one sure thing is that the team will run the 8 next year, with a new driver to be announced sometime in the next two weeks.
``If we didn't have plans to run the 8, then we wouldn't have gone through this whole exercise,'' he said.