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NASCAR Earnhardt Jr. not getting attention


Published: Sat, March 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


He'll try to race back into the spotlight today at Bristol Motor Speeday.
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) -- NASCAR's most popular driver isn't getting much attention these days despite a strong start that has him in the top 10 of the standings.
That's weird for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who usually can't do anything without attracting a flock of followers who hang on his every move -- both on and off the track.
"It's considerably more low key than it has been in the past," he said. "The first four years in the series was pretty wide open. Last year sort of took a lot of spotlight off us and put it on some other drivers that were coming into the series.
"In a sense, it's kind of fine with me. But at the same time, you want to be as successful as you can in the sport. We definitely want to get back to our form on the race track. I think everything else will take care of itself."
Earnhardt will try to race his way back into the spotlight at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he starts 19th in today's race. Qualifying was washed out by rain, so the field was set based on last year's owner's points -- and everyone knows how terrible 2005 was for Earnhardt.
Didn't make Chase
He started last year with a new crew, never found any chemistry or rhythm and failed to qualify for the Chase for the championship. He wound up a career-worst 19th in the final standings.
But he was reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. -- who is also his cousin -- for the final 10 races of last year and gave his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team a head start on this season. The early preparation has paid off with two top-10 finishes in the first four races, including a third place Monday in Atlanta.
"We're definitely better than we were last year," Earnhardt said.
But he doesn't really use last year's debacle as a measuring stick, preferring to compare his current progress to the 2004 campaign when he won six races and finished fifth in the final standings.
Yet that season was far from perfect, despite the on-track results. He and Eury were at each other's throats most of the year, and were barely even speaking during the season finale.
Reunited with crew
It led to the swapping of crews and a ton of hard feelings between the two. But they slowly patched things up in their time apart, and were eager to be reunited and build the team back up to an annual contender.
"It's really a great feeling, to have put all that nasty stuff that had come between us aside and not see that anywhere around us now," Earnhardt said. "You can kind of tell when you work with people whether that's still going to be a problem. I don't have that feeling at all.
"I've changed and he's changed and it's really a good feeling to be able to get in his race cars."
When people are getting along, it makes work a lot more pleasant for everyone involved with the race team. That's translated into Earnhardt feeling like he's got a shot at winning every time he goes to the track.
"My cars are better and the way they're better is to me there's a lot more confidence going in to building them," he said. "We're putting cars together now with a lot more confidence in the shop. That just shows in craftsmanship and how good they look when they roll off the trailer.
"I feel a lot more excited about each weekend, each race, about the rest of the season."
It's not clear if Earnhardt will carry his momentum into today's race. Poor weather limited the Cup teams to just two practice sessions to prepare their cars. Earnhardt was only 25th on the speed chart in the first practice, then dropped to 31st in the second session.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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