FORT WORTH, Texas - Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears relaxed and confident these days after top-five finishes in two of his last three races.
Earnhardt comes into Sunday's Nextel Cup race sixth in the season points. He has yet to reach Victory Lane this year but returns to friendly territory in Texas, where he earned his first Busch and Cup victories and has a tremendous fan following - just as he does in most places.
"I'm in the best position I've ever been in when it comes to what I have at my disposal with my crew, my resources, my team and the effort," Earnhardt said. "Everything behind me right now is as good as it has ever been, and better in a lot of areas."
One of the most obvious changes is having Tony Eury Jr. back full time as his crew chief. The two reunited for the final 10 races last season, when Earnhardt didn't make the Chase for the championship and was a disappointing 19th - his worst finish in his six full seasons.
Earnhardt said even his competitors have been noticing the strides he has been making lately.
"That means the most when your peers are noticing what you do and appreciate what you do even though they've got to race against you," he said.
Earnhardt qualified 15th for the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at the track where he has six top-10 finishes in seven Cup starts. His victory came in the first in 2000, two years after winning a Busch race there.
His best effort this season was third last month in Atlanta, a 1½-mile track very similar to Texas. Earnhardt was 11th at Bristol and fourth at Martinsville last weekend even after getting caught in a multicar crash on the second lap, causing front and rear damage.
"I was just really proud, mainly for the car handling the things it handled. I got in a few accidents," he said. "I'd like to have been able to run that race with the car in one piece."
NOT YOUR FATHER'S SCANNER: The NASCAR Nextel FanView - a banana-colored hand-held race day scanner that looks like a cell phone on steroids - is the newest tool to help fans in the stands track their favorite drivers.
The device, which can be rented for $50 per day or $70 for the weekend, makes the traditional race day scanner and its required list of frequencies look like a dinosaur. They have not yet been offered for sale.
The FanView comes equipped with live video, race statistics and a remarkably clear color picture. It carries in-car views from the cars equipped with cameras for the television broadcast of the race.
One of the most talked-about features is audio replay, which allows fans to play back a driver's radio transmissions to the crew. That can come in handy in the heated moments just after someone has been knocked into a wall.
The wireless set, produced by Sprint Nextel, NASCAR and Kangaroo TV, debuted Feb. 17 at Daytona. About 5,000 were available this weekend, and they were being used to monitor both Busch and Cup races.
AMBER ALERT SIGNUPS: RadioShack representatives are stationed around Texas Motor Speedway all weekend to sign up fans for free wireless Amber Alerts.
In January, RadioShack launched a nationwide campaign to sign up 1 million new wireless Amber Alert subscribers in 2006.
The alert allows consumers to receive text messages on their wireless phones when a child has been abducted in their area. Subscribers who sign up for alerts in five zip code areas will receive about three to five such notifications a year.
To sign up on the Internet, go to www.wirelessamberalerts.org.
Amber Alerts are named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.
PIT STOPS: Seventeen drivers were running in both Saturday's O'Reilly 300 Busch race and the Cup race Sunday. Nine of the top 10 starters in the Busch race were Cup regulars.... An estimated 107,000 fans attended the Busch race. Close to 200,000 were expected Sunday.... Sonoma Valley, Calif.-based Ravenswood Winery is banking that NASCAR is not just for beer drinkers anymore. The company will sponsor Jeff Green's Busch series car in three races this year. Marketing director Jeff Lubin emphasized that Ravenswood wines go great with barbecue - a staple at race weekend tailgate parties. "We specialize in red Zinfandels," he said. "Not the wimpy white Zinfandels."
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