- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR's most popular driver will enter the 2013 season with 13 unsponsored races.
But team owner Rick Hendrick doesn't seem concerned that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 has open inventory.
Hendrick said there has been plenty of interest from sponsors and that he is more concerned with finding a match that will work beyond 2013.
"We've got a lot of good opportunities," Hendrick said during Wednesday's stop of the Sprint Media Tour. "The way we're positioned, the car is covered until the end of the summer. I don't have a deadline [for a deal]. I'm not looking at a timeline. I'm looking at the right deal."
Hendrick said he was close on two or three deals, but "we haven't put any line in the sand." It was announced last year that National Guard would be on Earnhardt's car for 20 races in 2013. Diet Mountain Dew was contracted for 16 races in 2012 with PepsiCo having the sponsorship rights for 20 races.
Earnhardt said in September that there would be no problem luring new sponsors.
"We have more demand than we have supply, pretty much," Earnhardt said before the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. "We have got the majority of the season with the Guard and then Diet Mountain Dew is going to back off a little bit, and that makes it a bit of a challenge to fill that small of a gap.
"If it were a bit larger gap, it would be easier to fill."
Hendrick said his other three Sprint Cup cars are fully sponsored. He doesn't believe that the open inventory on Earnhardt's car is an indicator that the economy hasn't turned around. He noted that more Fortune 500 companies entered the sport over the past year than in 2008 and that the crowd at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona last week was the largest since 2006.
"The money spent was about twice what it was last year," Hendrick said of the Barrett-Jackson auction in which he purchased two Corvettes for more than $1 million each. "That's a great indicator."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will enter the 2013 season with 13 unsponsored races.