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Earnhardt hopes to take Daytona momentum into Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Coming off a strong run in the season-opening Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway.

Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, didn’t get the finish he wanted in the 500-mile event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last week, but he scored several notable achievements. He earned the pole position – his first at the historic racetrack – and he spent 187 laps running inside the top 15, the most of any driver. He also led nine laps and scored the second-highest average running position of 9.188.

Now, Earnhardt and the No. 88 team are turning their attention to Phoenix International Raceway, a one-mile desert oval that places a premium on handling.

“It takes something special to make a car work really good there,” said Earnhardt, who won at PIR in 2003 and 2004. “Turns 3 and 4 have been a challenge for me lately. Both ends can be challenging but (Turns) 3 and 4 create a longer corner, and they are just so different from each other.”

In preparation, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team took Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-542 to New Smyrna Speedway, a half-mile oval in Florida. Earnhardt will drive this car in Sunday’s race, which will begin at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. Race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m.

“The configuration is what makes that place (Phoenix) so unique,” Letarte said. “It is what makes the racing so exciting. I think you need to go to a short track somewhere and work on your brakes and some basics. Practice is going to be very important in Phoenix; there is not another racetrack that is quite like it.”

Earnhardt will enter the race ranked 22nd in the Sprint Cup driver standings after finishing 24th last week at Daytona.  In 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt has earned four top-five finishes and seven top-10s along with his two victories. He has led 460 laps at the short track.

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