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Earnhardt will make ninth Shootout start Saturday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2009)—Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his first start as a Hendrick Motorsports driver here during the 2008 Budweiser Shootout, and he couldn’t have asked for a better debut. In his first outing, he led 47 laps and took his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. In eight Budweiser Shootout events, Earnhardt has won twice and finished second three times (2002, 2004 and 2006).

On Saturday, Earnhardt will return to Daytona for his ninth Budweiser Shootout. Earnhardt will line up ninth in the field of 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. The event will be televised live by FOX and will air at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.

With a year at Hendrick under his belt, Earnhardt hopes to build on the success that his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard team experienced during the 2008 season. Last season, Earnhardt and his team won at Michigan International Speedway, recorded 10 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But starting with another win in the exhibition event at Daytona won’t be easy.

“I think there is more pressure coming in as the (2008) Shootout winner,” crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said. “It’s the first race of the season, and you’ve had the whole offseason to get this car right. You’ve had time to really look at the details. You want to come out of the box strong.”

Even though the first race of the season doesn’t carry any weight in the form of points, it’s significant for other reasons.

“Winning the first race of the year—whether it’s for points or no points—is always pretty special,” Earnhardt said. “There’s no better way to start a season than by winning the first one right out of the gate. It’s the opening act of a new season, and everyone wants to start off with a bang. I guess it’s more important for bragging rights.”

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