Junior's early arrival at Daytona shows renewed vigor, dedication
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s decision to show up a week early at Daytona testing said plenty about NASCAR's most popular driver, writes Marty Smith.
Updated: January 16, 2008, 12:31 PM ETBy Marty Smith | ESPN.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Each year at this time, as December eases into January, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is itching to scratch the very same emotion: boredom. While most folks in the NASCAR circus are knocking off the cobwebs from a far-too-festive (and brief) holiday season, Junior is plumb stir-crazy. Every single year.Not that the offseason monotony triggered impromptu appearances at racetracks, mind you. He was bored, sure, but that doesn't mean he was making any unnecessary trips off the ranch. That's why his spontaneous decision to fuel up the bird and zip down to Daytona on Jan. 6 was such a striking revelation. It suggested a new vigor, a new dedication.See, Daytona testing itself is a monotonous exercise. Sitting through two-plus days of it is almost comical for competitors -- though it's important to note that this year, the first full season with the Car of Tomorrow, was more fun than normal because teams were actually learning new information. Junior stayed at the track for only a few hours, but that half-day said more about the man than any quote or any lap speed on any practice sheet could ever say. It screamed of a true understanding of just how sizeable the stakes before him are. He has the best cars. He has the most sponsorship backing. He has the best resources and the best engineering and the best people. He believes he's the best driver in NASCAR. That leaves just one crucial variable: chemistry.
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