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Dale Jr.’s Hendrick career begins



Atlanta was supposed to be another opportunity for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to capture his first win of the season, but as it has turned out over the course of the season it ended up being just another forgettable day at the track for the lame duck driver.

His 25th-place finish on Sunday would normally have him itching to get back home and continue counting the days until he can crawl behind the wheel of one of Hendrick Motorsports always fast Chevrolets.

Jr. is going to get his wish this week, and he will not have to fight the post-race traffic of Atlanta to do so. Jr. and several other drivers stayed over at Atlanta for a two-day test of the Car of Tomorrow. Hendrick Motorsports will use the test to get a jump-start on its 2008 plans by having Jr. and Casey Mears test with the teams and crew chiefs that they will be with next season. The only difference is that neither driver will be behind the wheel of cars that will display their 2008 numbers.

Mears will test in his #25 National Guard/GMAC paint scheme that he competes in this season but will be teamed with present HMS driver Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson. Next season, Mears will be behind the wheel of the #5 Chevrolet with Gustafson as crew chief.

Earnhardt Jr. will be behind the wheel of the #5 Chevy and will be teamed with his longtime crew chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc., Tony Eury Jr. Eury has been at HMS for several weeks after parting ways at DEI, which has given him time to see how Hendrick’s crew chiefs prepare for a race and observe how they share information.

It seems that everything Jr. does requires a special paint scheme and this test will be no different as his #5 Chevrolet will be painted to resemble the scheme that owner Rick Hendrick used when he first competed in the series. Back in 1984, Rick didn’t campaign under the Hendrick Motorsports banner; instead it was an upstart outfit that went by the name of All-Star Racing. The car’s paint scheme was red and white and it was driven by Geoff Bodine.

Next season, Earnhardt will compete with the #88 on his Chevrolet and will have Mountain Dew/Amp energy drink and National Guard as his sponsors. Ironically, it was Earnhardt who suggested that his test car use the red and white paint scheme and he also had input in the paint schemes that he will be campaigning next season.

Hendrick’s Jimmie Johnson’s and Jeff Gordon’s teams will not participate in the test sessions as they are both seeking this year’s title, but like all test sessions attended by a Hendrick team, every team will benefit from the information derived from the test. Both Mears and Earnhardt hope their new teams will benefit from the success these other two teams are now experiencing and, knowing the way the business of racing is handled at HMS, there is no reason not to believe both of these new teams can get off to a fast start in 2008.

Chase notes: Being a past winner at Texas doesn’t really give you an edge as there has only been one driver to post more than one win. Jeff Burton’s win in the spring race this season made him the first repeat winner in the 13 races held at Texas. Neither Gordon or Johnson has visited Texas’s victory lane but both have been runners up. Gordon has two secondplace finishes and Johnson posted his only runner-up finish in last fall’s race. Johnson may get the edge between the two as the favorite as no driver with at least eight Texas starts has a higher average finish than his 10.25. When looking for a winner, Tony Stewart may be the man to beat as he also owns a Texas victory and has led more laps at the track than any other driver with 452. Besides the victory, the front-runner has collected seven top-10 finishes, which ties Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most at the track.

Race Preview – Event: Dickies 500. Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Nov. 4, 2:50 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.

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