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Earnhardt to make 350th Cup start

BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 14, 2009) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 350th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start when he lines up for Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Race coverage begins Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN, and the green flag is scheduled to drop at 2 p.m.

Since making his Cup debut on May 30, 1999, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has scored 18 wins, eight pole positions, 87 top-five finishes and 140 top-10s. He ranks fifth among active full-time drivers with 6,473 laps led.

Earnhardt has paced the field for 167 of those laps right here at Michigan’s two-mile oval. He’s led at least one lap in seven of the last eight events, including his win at MIS on June 15, 2008, when he was the frontrunner for 43 laps.

“I enjoy racing at Michigan, and we seem to run pretty well there,” said Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet. “It’s a big track, and there are multiple grooves to run. If one line doesn’t work, then you can move around the track. We had a good car last time out so hopefully we improve on that.”

Last time, Earnhardt rallied from the 30th starting spot to finish 14th. Working with interim crew chief Lance McGrew, Earnhardt improved 11 spots within the first 30 laps of the 400-mile race. McGrew plans to use the notes he acquired in June to coach Earnhardt in this weekend’s 200-lap event. The duo returns this time with Chassis No. 88-556, the first car McGrew built specifically for Earnhardt.

“I think setup-wise, we weren’t altogether where we needed to be (at Michigan in June),” McGrew said. “I think we’ve learned a lot more things about what Dale likes and what Dale doesn’t like. And I think that our cars are better. I think where we’ve had opportunities to build a couple new cars and get a car or two in rotation, that’s going to alleviate some of the problems that we were fighting there the first time that we couldn’t seem to overcome as much.

“I definitely think Dale’s tuned in, and I’m looking forward to starting to go back to some of these tracks that I feel like we had three-quarters of the race put together, and we just didn’t follow through on the last 25 percent. So I feel like we’ve learned a lot since then, and it’s up to us to put something under him that he’s happy with for the whole race, not just three-quarters of it.”