Dale Earnhardt Jr. Finds Joy In Racing Again at New Hampshire

Tom ThomasonCorrespondent IJune 29, 2009

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 06: Dale Earnhardt Jr. driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet talks with Crew Chief Lance McGrew before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 500 on June 6, 2009 at Pocono International Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

For the first time in months, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed to be excited about racing. Earnhardt Jr. had a strong day at New Hampshire, finishing 13th in a race where he was running with the leaders all day.

He was racing hard and giving great information to crew chief Lance Mcgrew. He didn't yell or get frustrated like he has in the past. It was almost shocking to see him passing front-runners like mark Martin and Kyle Busch. I kept double checking the channel info on my TV to make sure it wasn't a replay from an old race.

“We ran good today,’’ Earnhardt Jr. said on Sunday after the race. “I want to thank Lance and the team, our National Guard and AMP guys. They worked hard all weekend. They did a good job, man, giving me a good car. I had fun today. I hope we can keep this up. We are inching so slowly up back in to where we need to run. It is taking awhile, but hopefully we keep moving forward.’’

Very encouraging and positive comments from a man who has been through hell this season. Its been a long and frustrating year for Nascar's most popular driver. From the accident he triggered at Daytona, to losing his cousin and longtime crew chief Tony Eury Jr., it has really taken the joy out of his job.

While it's too soon to claim the new crew chief as a success, he has been making incremental  progress. Earnhardt Jr. has decent finishes of 12th, 14th, and 13th since the disaster at Charlotte where he finished 40th. His finish of 27th at Pocono is misleading since he was running good until he suffered a failed front suspension part. He was also running top ten at Infineon until he was wrecked by an over-driving Carl Edwards.

I think the most important piece of evidence has to be that Earnhardt has been spotted smiling again. He was pumped after Sunday's race at New Hampshire and seemed to be very happy with his car and team. The best thing about that is his energy will be contagious to his crew chief and pit crew. And if we know one thing for sure, a happy Junior makes for a happy NASCAR.