Dale Earnhardt Jr says he will look to try and secure a repeat of his success in the 2008 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona as the new NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign kicks off at the Florida circuit this weekend.
Earnhardt made a stunning start to life with the Hendrick Motorsports team in the event last season, winning the Shootout and the Gatorade Duel 150 in his first two starts for the team and will now look to repeat that kind of form heading into the Daytona 500 a week later – a race he won back in 2004.
However, while he admitted that a repeat of his Shootout win would be nice, he was quick to point out that it wouldn't have too much influence on the remainder of Speedweeks and the 500 itself.
"Winning the first race of the year - whether it's for points or no points - is always pretty special,” he said. “There's no better way to start a season than by winning the first one right out of the gate. Being that it's an exhibition, it's more cool than it is important.
“It doesn't necessarily determine how the rest of your Speedweeks will go because we run different cars for the Daytona 500. But it's the opening act of a new season, and everyone wants to start off with a bang. I guess it's more important for bragging rights."
After finishing twelfth in the standings in 2008 following a disappointing run in the Chase, Earnhardt added that he was keen to put the final stages of last year behind him and return to the kind of form that saw him enter the Chase as a title challenger.
"I want to go out there and run up front and try to win some races and be in the Chase,” he said. “We did good last year for the first half of the season, first 55 per cent of the season. We need to show up in the summer time, around July and August, and continue to be competitive.
“I feel we will come out of the box just like we did last year and do well and get everyone excited. We just need to maintain that. When we get to the Chase, we've got to be ready mentally and physically as a team. The cars, me, the team - everybody's got to be ready to go.
“It seemed like when the Chase started, we stumbled and tripped all over ourselves. We've got to figure out what's going on there and how to fix it."