With his three Hendrick teammates - defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears - testing here this week, Earnhardt Jr. didn't want to go it alone next week. He wanted to be a part of the first debrief of the first testing session of the new season.
"I'll be bored as everybody else when I'm testing myself," Earnhardt said, grinning under a fresh, tan Hendrick cap. "But I've just been looking forward to the season to get started. The cars are at the racetrack, and I felt like coming to check it out. That's all there is to it.''
Earnhardt Jr's much publicized team-switching odyssey began at this same test session one year ago when he revealed - reacting to negative criticism in a Wall Street Journal article - that his relationship with step mother/team owner Teresa Earnhardt was strained. He announced in the spring he would not re-sign with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team his father created, and in the summer announced his much-anticipated future plans, to drive for NASCAR's top team.
After years of a relationship he described as no "bed of roses'' and winless in 62 Cup races, he was done with DEI, and he admitted to being eager for begin anew.
"It's pretty cool to see how jacked up he is to get started,'' said Johnson, whose car set-ups have proven to be the most compatible with Earnhardt Jr.'s driving style.
All the new guy needed was a fire suit and race car to borrow for a few minutes before jetting back to the Charlotte area. Not happening, but not for the lack of trying.
"That's against the rules,'' he said with a sigh. "I already asked about it.''
Where do you think JR will finish in the Daytona 500???.....let me know.