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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Most of the country is going through a serious drought. But forgive Dale Earnhardt, Jr. if he's unconcerned about how your lawn looks. He's suffering through a dry spell of his own.

Junior's dismal season continues to plague the DEI driver as the NEXTEL Cup Series races toward the halfway point. Last weekend's latest disaster took place at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, when, after qualifying a respectable tenth, early transmission problems wrecked his day, literally. A spin, contact with Mike Bliss and an encounter with a cement wall pretty much summed up Earnhardt, Jr.'s trip to wine country this year.

But maybe this week's return visit to Daytona is just the tonic Earnhardt, Jr. needs. Until recently, Junior and DEI were a feared combo platter anytime the circuit hits a restrictor plate track.

Throw in the nugget that Eanrhardt, Jr. will be making his 200th career NEXTEL Cup start Saturday night and the ingredients are in place for a successful night.

"Yeah, I always look forward to going to Daytona," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "It's no secret it's my favorite track on the circuit and it's cool that I'll be making my 200th start there. It'll make for a good story if we win.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to Daytona, because we learned a lot from Michael's (Waltrip) run there in the 500. We finished third (in the Daytona 500), but the 15 team was really the dominant car all day before they blew up a motor.

"I think we'll be even better because it's a night race and that always seems to play in our favor. It makes the car more consistent over the long run."

Although reaching a milestone is in his weekend plans, Earnhardt, Jr. seems more interested in adding to his career win total.

"I was kind of surprised when I heard this would be my 200th start," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "It’s a neat little milestone, but I don't know that it's a huge deal. Heck, Richard Petty had 200 wins."

"Winning the Daytona 500 is definitely my proudest moment," he said. "That's a race you dream all your life of winning, and to race my buddy Tony (Stewart) for the win was really exciting. Winning The Winston (all-star race in 2000) was a big moment, because we were a rookie team and I passed my dad and Dale Jarrett – two people I admire probably more than anybody else – to win the race.

"That was something I'll never forget."

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