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Chaos reigned in the 30-second spot as Earnhardt fans altered tattoos, cut down tailor-made hedges and mourned over rooms full of obsolete merchandise.
Then, on June 13, 2007, it became a reality.
That was the day Earnhardt really announced he would be changing his number – to 88 – and that after eight years of driving for the team his father founded, he would join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
You can now draw a line down the middle of Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup career. Eight full-time seasons with DEI, eight with Hendrick.
His eight seasons with DEI included 17 victories. He has nine wins with Hendrick, seven of them coming in the last two seasons.
During the first eight Hendrick years Earnhardt has worked with five different crew chiefs, starting with Tony Eury Jr. and ending with Greg Ives in 2015.
The only constant for Earnhardt has been the Most Popular Driver award, which he has been given every season since 2003.
But how much else has changed in the sport in the eight years since arguably the biggest free agent move in NASCAR history?
2008 also marked the first year of Sprint being the title sponsor of the Cup series, following up Nextel’s four years of service. That was also the second season the Cup series used the Car of Tomorrow, or Gen Five car. It would be put out to pasture after six seasons in 2012.
During the era of the CoT, Earnhardt won only two races and teammate Jimmie Johnson claimed five of his six championships.
In the last eight years the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been through three different iterations.
Then, only 12 drivers were included in the post-season. Now, 16 drivers are trimmed down to four over the course of 10 races.
In 2008, Mark Martin still had five seasons in front of him before finally retiring after 2013.
Clint Bowyer was in his third full-time season with Richard Childress Racing and wouldn’t join Michael Waltrip Racing for four more seasons. MWR competed in its first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2008 with David Reutimann driving the No. 00 and Waltrip in the No. 55. Reutimann hasn’t driven full-time since 2013 and MWR shut down at the end of 2015.
Tony Stewart, who Bowyer will replace in 2017, still called Joe Gibbs Racing home in 2008. The next year, he was off to Stewart-Haas Racing where he would claim his third Sprint Cup title in 2011.
Other drivers who raced for different teams in 2008 than they would in 2015 included: Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kurt Busch (Team Penske), Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing), Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, David Ragan and Jamie McMurray (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Aric Almirola (DEI), Casey Mears (Hendrick), AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing), Kasey Kahne (Evernham Motorsports) and David Gilliland (Robert Yates Racing).
Drivers who have retired, left NASCAR or the Sprint Cup Series since 2008 include: Martin, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Gordon, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dave Blaney, Kyle Petty, Marcos Ambrose, Sterling Marlin, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler (racing for Earnhardt at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series).
Including Earnhardt, the only drivers who competed for the same teams in 2015 that they were in 2008 were Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle (Roush), Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin (JGR).
But probably the biggest signifier of the passage of time is in who the Gillette Young Guns were in 2008. The five drivers were Newman, Bowyer, Hamlin, Edwards, Kahne and Kurt Busch.
Those “Young Guns” are now all 35 years or older.
Earnhardt ended his association with Gillette after the 2006 season.
The former “Young Gun” is now enjoying his early 40s, which so far has included getting engaged to girlfriend Amy Reimann and having his best on-track success in more than a decade.