Last Call For Dale Jr

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - There will be several lasts on display in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The final race for the current Cup machine, Ricky Rudd's last start as a series regular and the end of what was known as the NEXTEL Cup Series, which will change to the Sprint Cup in 2008.

But maybe the one with the biggest impact will come in the DEI Budweiser No. 8 Chevrolet.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will strap into the famous red ride for the very last time, before moving on to Hendrick Motorsports next season.

Since the day Junior became a Cup driver, he has been associated with the team his father built for him along with Anheuser-Busch sponsorship. But after eight full-time seasons, that era will end when the checkered flag flies in South Florida Sunday night.

"There will be so many mixed feelings for me this week," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "It's hard to imagine it was 1999 when we made our first Cup start with this team and with Budweiser."

Earnhardt, Jr. accomplished several goals during his tenure with DEI and is proud of what he and the team were able to do together.

"I never thought we'd be here in 2007 with things like four consecutive "Most Popular Driver" awards and having a Daytona 500 trophy with my name on it," he said. "Man, those are things I only dreamed about when I was living in a trailer and changing oil at my dad's dealership. It's been a helluva great time."

Unfortunately it has been anything but a good time this year for Earnhardt, Jr., who has been hampered by numerous mechanical problems and accidents, which added up to his missing the Chase for the second time in three years.

"It's been a rough year for the team and I'm sure it's been tough on my fans with everything that has happened," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "We've had such a great team that's run so strong but has little or nothing to show for it. Whether we go out with a whimper or a bang, we're going to do it together as a team, running as hard as we can every lap."

Earnhardt, Jr. would like nothing more than to go out with that bang and plans to finish his tumultous DEI career with as much effort as possible.

"I'm excited about the off-season and jumping right into my new deal, but it's very, very important for me to end my time with Dale Earnhardt Inc. with integrity and with my head held high," he said.

"When your career is over and you look back, I think that's critical: a measure of your character is more important than the number of wins you have. That kind of thing will last longer than any driving career."

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