Although the sport’s most popular driver still has inventory for sale on the No. 88 Chevrolet, Earnhardt believes “things are on the upswing.”
“We have a unique, limited amount of races to fill, and those packages aren’t the most exciting propositions for corporate America to come in and do an eight-race deal,” Earnhardt said Wednesday. “You have to find the right guy that’s interested in something that size and is willing to fit the price range you want as a team.
"You can’t undersell compared to what you’re working with on the other races and the contracts you have in place. Everything has to align itself, and there’s other opportunities out there.”
The lack of sponsorship on Earnhardt’s car doesn’t seem to concern team owner Rick Hendrick, who also has several races for sale for Kasey Kahne’s program. Hendrick Motorsports is by far the most successful organization currently in NASCAR. In the past dozen years, Hendrick drivers have won six Sprint Cup titles. In the short term, Hendrick believes that finding the proper fit for Earnhardt is more important than making a hasty decision.
“We’re always talking, working with people,” Hendrick said. “You can take the short-term deal and fill the car up, or you can try to work with someone that’s a long-term situation for years to come. The way we’re positioned, our cars are covered until the end of the summer. I don’t have a timeline. I’m looking for the right deal — not any deal. If I wanted any deal, I would put Hendrick Cars on it. We have two or three deals that are close, but we’re looking beyond 2013. We’re looking at 2014 and 2015. We haven’t put a line in the sand.”
Earnhardt understands his branding. The third-generation driver has enjoyed extremely successful runs with Budweiser in the past, and his reach with the National Guard and other military programs has been stout. Earnhardt also realizes that the race-sponsorship market is cyclical and agrees with his boss that patience is prudent.
“There are 15-race deals that were available, but, like Rick said, we feel like we can be patient and find the right package and the right deal that’s a good fit for me and something that I’m going to enjoy working with and something that will be around for more than one year or a couple of years,” Earnhardt said.
“They usually like to work with people that are interested in working their way up into the sport starting with a package that is kind of small and working their way into a full-time deal or a multiyear deal with teams.
“I’m not really worried about it, but I think it’s at the tail end of the reset that we had several years ago. I think it’s the remnants of that. Everything else seems to be moving in the right direction. There seems to be a lot more attention being paid to this season; maybe that’s a sign of things to come.”