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Earnhardt reflects on Cup season, looks ahead to 2014

CONCORD, N.C. - While Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys time off during the holidays, he cannot wait to get back to where he feels the most at home – the racetrack.

The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS will get his next chance during Preseason Thunder testing in early January at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Until then, he is spending his time reflecting upon the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and anticipating a bright future in 2014 for the No. 88 team.

“I expect us to continue our trajectory to get better, and I expect us to have a lot to enjoy and a lot of good fortune next year,” Earnhardt said.  “I’ll be really surprised if things are not as good as or better than what they were this past season.”

Earnhardt closed the 2013 Cup season ranked fifth in the championship standings, which marked his best final finish while running for Hendrick Motorsports.  During the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he recorded five top-five results and eight top-10s. Earnhardt notably finished fourth or better during the last three races, including a runner-up result at Texas and a third-place finish in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Earnhardt led 28 laps at the 1.5-mile Homestead, Fla., oval and credited it as one of the best moments of his season.

“I thought the Homestead thing was magic,” Earnhardt said. “For some reason, it just kind of lined up. I wish I could have won – I was disappointed and still think about what I could have done and why I didn’t win.”

Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte had an opportunity to figure out answers to that question and others during Cup testing recently at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. Earnhardt said prior to the test that he hoped it would “bear some fruit” and allow the No. 88 team to uncover solutions for the 2014 season. During the test, Earnhardt recorded his best time of the day when he circled Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval in 28.411 seconds at 190.067 mph. Earnhardt, Letarte and the No. 88 team worked through some of the data before the test concluded and the holiday break began.

Earnhardt will spend part of his holiday in the Sunshine State when he takes his two nieces and sister to Disney World in Orlando. However, the 11-time Most Popular Driver has his mind on a different Florida city – Daytona Beach, site of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23. Earnhardt, since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, has recorded three runner-up results and averaged an 11th-place finish in The Great American Race.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to Victory Lane,” Earnhardt said. “We were getting really close there at the end of the season, popping off and winning a race. I’m looking forward to getting to the track and seeing if we can pick up where we left off.”

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