Dale Earnhardt Jr. is preparing for an emotional weekend since Sunday's Ford 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race marks his final event with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
After the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. will become the driver of Hendrick Motorsports' No. 88 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt Jr.'s team isn't going out on a high note as it had hoped. The driver has endured nine DNFs and has dropped to 14th in the standings after a crash at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. has already joined Hendrick to help the team prepare for 2008, and Tony Gibson will lead the team in its final outing.
As he looks to the weekend, Earnhardt Jr. admits that he has mixed feelings.
"It's hard to imagine it was 1999 when we made our first Cup start [in May at Charlotte] with this team and with Budweiser," he said. "I'm excited about the offseason and jumping right into my new deal, but it's very, very important for me to end my time with Dale Earnhardt Inc. with integrity and with my head held high.
"When your career is over and you look back, I think that's critical: A measure of your character is more important than the number of wins you have. That kind of thing will last longer than any driving career. "
As the weeks have wound down, Earnhardt Jr. has managed to maintain his focus.
That might not be quite so easy to do this weekend.
"It's been relatively easy to concentrate and focus so far this season when it was time to pull on the helmet, but it may be much tougher to do that at Homestead," he said. "I have so many close friends and people I've gone into battle with for nearly a decade, and that type of bond will stay with me forever."
Earnhardt Jr. says that his sponsor, Budweiser, took a chance on him when he'd never even raced a lap in a Cup car.
"I'll never forget that, and we've had an amazing run since then," he said. "I never thought we'd be here in 2007 with things like four consecutive 'most popular driver' awards and having a Daytona 500 trophy with my name on it. Man, those are things I only dreamed about when I was living in a trailer and changing oil at my dad's dealership." - scenedaily.com
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