For the first time in a long time, Dale Earnhardt Jr really seemed to be enjoying himself on the racetrack.

"Bad ass!" Earnhardt crowed Sunday after passing Matt Kenseth for the fifth position just past the midpoint of the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway. With Brian Whitesell and Lance McGrew on the pit box - having replaced long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr - Earnhardt sped to the front of the field and ran as high as third before his handling deteriorated in the final third of the race.

Nevertheless, his twelfth-place finish was a marked improvement over his past three Sprint Cup results of 27th, 27th and 40th. His average finish for all 13 races is 20.6.

"I'm happier," admitted Earnhardt, who spent a stressful three days answering questions about the crew chief change, "I would like to have run better than twelfth. We had the car really good there for most of the race. We got it a little too loose, then got real tight trying to fix it.

"Track position was real important, and we didn't have it at the end of the race. We had good communication and we made the car a little better [and], by lap 200, I was pretty happy and pleased. We need to keep doing that."

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

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