Earnhardt Jr. Ready For Road Battle

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Is this the day Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks his Infineon Raceway slump?

The driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet has visited the 1.99-mile road course seven times with limited success; zero top-10s and only two top-15 finishes. However, on Friday afternoon he surprised many by setting the third quickest qualifying time for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, only .025-seconds off the pace set by pole winner Jamie McMurray – by far his best time trial effort and only the second time he secured a top-10 start at this venue.

"I just tried to get me a good sold lap in that would hopefully get me a top 15 or a top 10," said Earnhardt Jr. "I think we under credited ourselves because we didn't get a clean lap in practice. I didn't know what the car was capable of. I was really surprised the car was as quick as it was and that lap was as good as it was. I didn't make any mistakes but I think there was a whole lot more in the race car and in the speed. I'm really happy to qualify amongst the competitors that I did. That was pretty good for our team."

Besides helping his chances to score a positive result which will help him in the championship standings, where he currently holds the 12th and final spot for the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup,” Earnhardt looks forward to today’s green flag because he hopes to prove those who doubt him wrong.

"I’m sick of hearing people say ‘Oh, he can’t drive on a road course,'" said Earnhardt Jr.

Combining his understanding of the Car of Tomorrow, which is making its road course debut this weekend, and the lessons he has learned by playing Infineon Raceway on the computer, NASCAR’s most popular driver hopes to prove those doubters wrong and reach "the next level" at this 12-turn circuit.

"I can't get to that next level where I start concentrating on track position and qualifying well and putting that effort in. My whole goal when I get here is can I make a clean lap as a driver? I can do it at Watkins Glen, but this track has so many technical corners and parts to it. I don't run here enough to acclimate myself and learn the course," admitted Earnhardt Jr.

Will he be able to achieve his goal? Today’s running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 gets underway at 5:00 p.m. (ET). Live coverage of the 16th race of the NEXTEL Cup Series season will be available on TNT (TV), PRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.

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