Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the pressure of winning the Daytona 500 lifted when he captured his first victory in the "Great American Race" back in 2004 on his sixth career start. Complete Coverage

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the pressure of winning the Daytona 500 lifted when he captured his first victory in the "Great American Race" back in 2004 on his sixth career start. During the lunch break of Monday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. said he feels confident that his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet could bring a second Daytona 500 triumph in February. "We're pretty excited," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Already today, we've been able to gain a lot. The first few hours we've been here have been real productive. I'm pretty excited. We've got a great track record here. It's a great race track for me. I really enjoy running here and feel like we will have a good car and great shot at winning." Earnhardt Jr. was 10th fastest on Monday with his No. 8A Budweiser Chevrolet posting a time of 183.195 mph. His other car - the No. 8B Budweiser Chevrolet that would mostly likely be used in the Budweiser Shootout - posted the 23rd fastest time with a speed of 182.149. While he already has a Daytona 500 victory to his credit, Earnhardt Jr., who overall has 10 DIS victories, is still seeking his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship. After missing the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup in 2005, Earnhardt Jr. reunited with his crew chief Tony Eury Jr. in 2006 and made the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. He is hopeful that they can backup that success in 2007. "I think going into last year, I was worried whether me and Tony Junior could be successful again as we were in '04," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I was worried whether we could match that. I had the pressure of trying to make the Chase. We didn't have any excuses. All of these things were going through my mind last year. "This year, I feel like I proved to myself what I wanted to know last year and I feel like we're very capable of winning the championship. I feel like I know more each year, in and out, about what to do to win the championship and how to better position myself to make the Chase and do those types of things. "Each year you learn more about that. I have to minimize my mistakes. It's really hard as a human being able to do that, but you¿ve just got to really, really try, just to be perfect as a driver, not to make mistakes on the racetrack." Raines opens as fastest: Preparation for the 49th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18 began with Tony Raines as the fastest driver. Raines, driver of the No. 96 Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing, found his name atop the speed charts as NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing got underway on Monday at Daytona International Speedway. Raines posted a fast lap of 183.974 mph in the morning session while 2006 Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson was second fastest with a lap of 183.869. Rounding out the top five were Dave Blaney (183.756), Jamie McMurray (183.703) and Mike McLaughlin (183.700). "The DLP car seemed to drive pretty well," Raines said. "The second car, the one that's fastest, seemed to drive a little bit better than the other car, obviously. We'd like to get both cars to run the same speed. That's kind of the goal of the test here. I wouldn't get too excited about it, because things change so fast, but it's a good feeling. The DLP guys have worked hard on the cars the last month and a half, and it's starting to show. We're off to a good start." The afternoon session of testing was rained out and a half-day session has now been added for Thursday. Ricky Rudd returns: After taking a year off, Ricky Rudd is back in a full-ride in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Rudd took the entire 2006 season off with the exception of serving as a mid-race relief driver for Tony Stewart at Dover. He returns to Robert Yates Racing, the team he last drove for in 2002. "It¿s pretty neat," said the 50-year-old Rudd. "I missed it. There¿s a lot of it I missed. Talk to

me at the end of the year and I¿ll let you know the real story but right now I¿m fresh and feel good and ready to go." Rudd, whose lone Daytona International Speedway victory has come in the Gatorade Duel in 2000, will make his 29th start in the Daytona 500. Rudd says comfortable with his role at Robert Yates Racing. "The sponsors have been really good about working with me through some of the commitments that are required," Rudd said. ¿They¿re working with me a lot and being flexible on that. I feel like I¿m kind of needed over here. They¿ve got some work to do and I feel like I can contribute and make it a better race team." Wrist not a problem: Jimmie Johnson, who broke his wrist in a golf kart accident over the off-season, says that he isn¿t feeling any pain and the injury won¿t be a problem when he is driving his No. 48 Chevrolet ¿My wrist is good," Johnson said. ¿I'm going to wear a splint in the car just to be smart and to be sure, but the cast is off and the hand is working and everything is good. The timing was perfect. I got the off-season to heal up and I'm ready for Daytona. ¿It won't affect the 500. I'm going to be able to race in the 24 Hours of Daytona coming up here real soon and so it's just something that kind of slowed me down over the off-season. I had a cast on my hand and it kind of kept me on the sidelines watching my wife swim and being on vacation and watching my friends do all these fun things and I had to sit around and watch. But, beyond that, everything is good.¿ Said ready: Boris Said captured the pole for last year¿s Pepsi 400 and knows it will take another good qualifying effort if he wants to race in the Daytona 500. Said, who will also compete in the Budweiser Shootout, and his No. 60 SoBe No Fear Ford are not in the top 35 in owner¿s points and will have to qualify for the Daytona 500 with fast qualifying speed or through a good finish in the Gatorade Duel. ¿This year it¿s gonna be so hard to make these races,¿ Said remarked. ¿Down here there will probably be 30 people going for eight spots and it¿s gonna be tough - really seven spots because Dale Jarrett will be here - so it¿s gonna be a nerve-wracking week for sure.¿ Super subs: Mike McLaughlin and P.J. Jones are lending a helping hand during this week¿s testing session. McLaughlin is testing Tony Stewart¿s No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet while Jones is filling in for Robby Gordon in the No. 7 Ford. Gordon is competing in the Dakar Rally. First on track: The first car on track during the first session of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing was the No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota of Dave Blaney. Daytona 500 champions: Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the Daytona 500 champions that are in attendance for the first wave of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing. Speedweeks 2007 tickets available: Tickets for Speedweeks 2007 events, including the 49th annual Daytona 500, are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or by logging onto www.racetickets.com Monday¿s Speeds Speeds from the morning session of Monday¿s NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing session at Daytona International Speedway: Tony Raines, No. 96 Chevrolet, 183.974 mph, Garages No. 29 and 30
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, 183.869, Garages No. 23 and 24
Dave Blaney, No. 22 Toyota, 183.756, Garages No. 31 and 32
Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, 183.703, Garages No. 27 and 28
Mike McLaughlin, No. 20 Chevrolet, 183.700, No. 5 and 6
Jeff Green, No. 66 Chevrolet, 183.700, Garages No. 19 and 20
Ricky Rudd, No. 88 Ford, 183.460, Garages No. 1 and 2
Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, 183.240, Garages No. 60 and 62

/> Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, 183.195, Garages No. 13 and 14
Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, 182.697, Garages No. 21 and 22
Boris Said, No. 60 Ford, 182.645, Garages No. 64 and 65
Dale Jarrett, No. 44 Toyota, 182.615, Garages No. 69 and 70
Sterling Marlin, No. 14 Chevrolet, 182.400, Garages No. 35 and 36
Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, 182.216, Garages No. 25 and 26
P.J. Jones, No. 7 Ford, 182.194, Garages No. 33 and 34
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, 182.113, Garages No. 17 and No. 18
Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, 181.881, Garages No. 7 and 8
Joe Nemechek, No. 13 Chevrolet, 181.767, Garages No. 37 and 38
Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, 181.690, Garages No. 3 and 4
Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, 181.408, Garages No. 11 and 12
Brian Vickers, No. 83 Toyota, 181.130, Garages No. 66 and 67
Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, 181.083, Garages No. 9 and 10
Bill Elliott, No. 37 Dodge, 181.072, Garage No. 73
Scott Wimmer, No. 33 Chevrolet, 180.886, Garage 15
Eric McClure, No. 04 Chevrolet, 180.556, Garage 43 and 44

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