Earnhardt Jr On Cover Of TV Guide

As NASCAR approaches the midpoint of its 2006 NEXTEL Cup season, TV Guide magazine roars into newsstands with the annual mid-season special issue, featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr., (June 26 issue, on sale June 22). In an exclusive interview with TV Guide's resident NASCAR expert Robert Edelstein, Earnhardt speaks candidly about his reemergence at the head of the pack--after enduring his worst season ever last year, finishing 19th-and how adopting a new attitude has made all the difference.

"I think our chances are great," says NASCAR's most charismatic star, who after 14 races sat in sixth place with one win and only three finishes worse than 20th. "We're on the verge of being there."

Earnhardt's spirited resurgence comes on the heels of his reunion with crew chief and first cousin Tony Eury Jr., with whom he separated last season due to a rift. Now both driver and crew chief are bringing a previously missing element of maturity to their partnership. "It looks like that relationship and communication is better. They don't scream at each other anymore," says NBC racing analyst Benny Parsons.

Earnhardt agrees. “For the past several years, I had no regard for how [Eury Jr.] felt about what I had to say,” he says. "If he didn't like it, he could shove it. I was really childish. And I think the way I acted rubbed off on him, made him childish. Now if I'm not happy, not comfortable, not fast, I'm direct yet conservative with my tone. I try to be optimistic. That's the difference."

Earnhardt's attitude readjustment extends beyond his relationship with his partner to his outlook on life, both on and off the track. He even found a way to put a good spin on his recent fortunes at Daytona. "I don't really get too fired up for Daytona anymore,” he admits. “We've lost our competitive edge there. But I [realized] I would trade in all my success there for consistency everywhere else. I've had that success, and I want to have success elsewhere. That's what it's gonna take to win a championship."

The key to that success, he adds, is keeping cool under pressure and not sweating the small stuff. “When I was in the tenth grade, I had some problems with my stomach. I was heading to an ulcer, and I had to really overhaul my thinking," he says. "Instead of worrying about every single thing, I had to quit [caring]. When everything was going poorly in my rookie [Cup] season, I started having to go to the doctor again. I was just worried. But now if we finish 30th or 35th it's real hard, but I know you have to forget about it as soon as possible."

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