Looking For Luck In Vegas

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Things have suddenly gone downhill for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After starting off strong in "Speedweeks" at Daytona with wins in the Budweiser Shootout and one of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona qualifying races, Junior has been dealt two disappointing hands.

He finished ninth in the Daytona 500 when he was left in the lead pack without and teammate drafting help.

And his day ended early last Sunday in the first half of the Auto Club 500 when he was caught up in an accident with Casey Mears and Sam Hornish Jr.

"I hate it for my team that we ended up in an early wreck," said Earnhardt Jr., a victim of the moisture that kept seeping on to the track. "I know with the rainout and everything, the team had to stay another day just to run 40th all day. But we're here to race, and, believe me, they fixed that wrecked car so good we were running in the top-five on the speed charts with it."

Earnhardt, Jr. has to hope that speed can b found this weekend at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track where he's enjoyed limited success during his Sprint Cup career.

In his eight previous starts, Earnhardt has led 145 laps and recorded one top-five finish and two top-10s. His best finish was second place, which he achieved March 2, 2003.

But that was while Junior drove for DEI. His new team, Hendrick Motorsports, has an excellent record at LVMS.

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, has won the last three races at the track, while the other three Hendrick teams have combined for an additional five top-five finishes and six top 10s during those events.

Sunday's race will be the first for the new NASCAR Sprint Cup car at LVMS.

"We had a real good test in Vegas last month," said crew chief Tony Eury Jr. "We learned a lot about the track and decided that, instead of running the car we tested, to build a new car based on the data we collected (at the test). We're unloading this new car we built blind as a frog. Seriously, every week we run this (Car of Tomorrow), we will get better at it. It's a work in progress and has evened out the playing field."

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