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Fitting in: Earnhardt Jr. happy to be 'doing work' at Vegas

LAS VEGAS (Jan. 28, 2008) – On a day when gale-force winds scoured southern Utah and surrounding mountains, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet) was happy to be sitting in his race car, getting rocked by the gusts buffeting Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I’m having fun testing, doing work,” Earnhardt said during a lunch-break visit to the track’s infield media center. “I just want to be working, doing something. The guys have been preparing for the season, getting the shop and the cars ready. It’s good to be here testing. It feels good to be working, driving the car, talking, giving input, being an asset. You know, that’s really good enough for me.”

In the first weeks of his transition to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt and 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series peers spent Monday—the first of two test days at Las Vegas—battling wind nearly as much as handling, set-up and other research.

And Earnhardt admits he’s still science-ing out his new role in Hendrick’s stable—a lineup that includes two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet).

“I’m just taking it in, man,” Earnhardt said. “I mean, I’m just listening to what they’re saying and trying to find out what kind of drivers they are and how serious about their work they are. Listening to the crew chiefs.

“I’m just trying to figure out how serious they are about their jobs, what the temperature is, you know. Sort of how to be or how to act around them, what they want from me, what they’d like to know from me.”

This week’s work—part of the West Coast swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, NASCAR’s annual preseason tests—is particularly important because the 2008 season marks the first fulltime campaign for NASCAR’s new car. Data mined Monday and Tuesday at Las Vegas, and on Thursday and Friday at California Speedway, will carry NASCAR Sprint Cup teams a long way into the season’s opening months.

And for Earnhardt, it’s a few more laps of assimilation into his new role.

“I definitely never really was the kind of guy that’s a stand-up leader,” he said Monday. “If I end up leading, that’s fine. But I never really try to take those types of situations under my own control. I mean, I think every other week there’s going to be a different guy that’s sort of helping run that deal, being at the top of it, as far as drivers go. Hopefully we’re all sort of enjoying some of that.”

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