DOVER, Del. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was close to driving the No. 81 next season at Hendrick Motorsports instead of the No. 88 that he announced on Wednesday.Robert Yates, who surrendered rights to the 88 to HMS for Earnhardt's use, said the No. 38 also owned by Robert Yates Racing never was a serious consideration."I had one conversation with Dale Jr. and he said, 'I don't want the 38. I'm probably going to go with the 81,' " said Yates, who recently announced his retirement as co-owner of RYR."Then it came back around and it was like, 'Yeah, I'd like to take the 88.' "Yates was more than happy to give up the No. 88 because of his past relationship with Earnhardt's grandfather and father, Ralph and Dale Earnhardt. "They taught me a huge lesson in life," he said. "It would be a long story to explain that, but certainly they taught me that respect is earned, and not something that you can demand. "I didn't quite understand it with Ralph, but after Dale came along ''Yates is confident Earnhardt will do the number proud."These guys will take the 88 to where it needs to be," he said.Yates said the decision of whether to bring the No. 28 back to RYR is up to his son, Doug.