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CUP: Earnhardt Jr. ‘Plugged In’

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Testing at Daytona International Speedway is not the favorite activity for most drivers. It’s hurry-up-and-wait, with mostly uneventful short runs after team members make minor changes.

Drivers have been known to fall asleep in their cars while they wait on pit road to hit the track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he deals with the down side by staying plugged in.

“As a driver, you don’t really have to pay attention to what they’re putting on the car and what they change,” he said. “If you don’t ask and really get into it, rarely will the crew chief include you in that conversation. If I do it that way, I get really bored and have a hard time staying awake. I have a hard time getting through the day.

“What I like to do is plug into what they’re doing. I get out of the car and ask what they changed, why that’s better, what’s next. I try to plug into the kind of technical things they’re doing to the car. It helps me. The day goes by super-fast when you’re plugged in like that.”

Earnhardt Jr. said he is fully recovered from the concussion issues that forced him to miss two races late last year.

“I feel really good,” he said. “It was good to get in the car at the end of last year and run a couple of races and get that out of the way and get rid of any doubts about yourself and the recovery.

“I feel really good down here. I feel ready to go. I’m glad I did it the way I did. It gave me an opportunity to get better faster and come back right and sharp.”

Earnhardt Jr. said winning the Sprint Cup championship remains his top goal.

“With the way we ran last year and getting a sense we’re starting to compete at that level, it got really exciting,” he said. “I think we have the opportunity. Our time is now.

“If we can just find some more pieces and keep improving, we’ve steadily gotten better over the last few years. We can be one of those teams that are sitting there at Homestead with a shot at it.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.