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Earnhardt Jr. ending sponsorship deal with Budweiser after 2007 season

JOLIET, Ill. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s only association with Budweiser after the 2007 Nextel Cup season will be in the refrigerator.

Earnhardt announced on Friday at Chicagoland Speedway that beyond ending his association with Budweiser on the hood of his car, he will end his personal services deal that was to run through 2008.

"You don't have to pay me to drink the beer," NASCAR's most popular driver said. "It's good beer and I'll always drink it and I enjoy it.

"The relationship I have with Budweiser and the partnership that we had for all these years is a big huge chunk of my life and it will always be very memorable to me and they'll always be a huge part of that. ... When I look back on it years from now it will be a real positive thing for me."

Leaving Budweiser is another sign that Earnhardt's new deal will be with PepsiCo Inc., likely the Mountain Dew brand or a combination of several Pepsi products that include Gatorade, because the soft drink company can't be associated with a beer company.

"Budweiser and I came to an agreement on that," said Earnhardt, who has been associated with the sponsor since 2000. "I think that will help us and them."

Earnhardt would not speculate on who his sponsor will be next season at Hendrick Motorsports.

"I would hope there would be no pressure on me to do something or pair me with someone I didn't have a good feeling about or didn't have anything in common with," he said. "That would be a foolish mistake on our part.

"It will be a product that I'll fit right in with, and I'll have a lot of fun with."

While Earnhardt won't be in the red Budweiser Chevrolet at HMS, he remains hopeful he can drive the No. 8 that has been his since he moved to Nextel Cup at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Max Siegel, the president of global operations at DEI that has rights to the number, said giving up the 8 is "not an impossibility."

But Siegel said there has been no offer from Hendrick Motorsports and that his focus is on this season.

"Everybody has a view on the 8," he said. "I view it as I want to see it in Victory Lane for the rest of the year and win a championship. And then we'll see if the value of it goes up."

DEI, which has a year left on its contract with Budweiser, could keep the sponsor if it is paired with the right driver. Sources said Budweiser has a list of about four drivers it would like, with Kasey Kahne of Evernham Motorsports and Kyle Busch topping the list.

The top choice appears to be Kahne, but for that to happen Dodge Motorsports would have to give up having Dodge on the hood of his car. Dodge officials have consistently insisted they plan to move forward with Kahne next season.

Sources said Kahne is being pursued by several other sponsors, including Allstate.

"You hear the rumors that they've been looking at Kasey Kahne for about two months now," Earnahrdt said. "They've definitely been entertaining some ideas on some other drivers.

"Kasey would really have a lot of fun with that. They would enjoy Kasey. It might bring him out of his shell a little bit. But there are a lot of great guys here that would definitely fit that brand and work well with Budweiser."

Earnhardt said it would be "cool" if Budweiser stayed at DEI. Signing Busch, who also is considering Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Evernham Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates would increase those odds.

"But wherever they decide to go will be the right choice for them," Earnhardt said. "They always make the right decision."

David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com.