Dale Earnhardt Jr drove through the pain barrier for 60 laps in Sunday's Siemens 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway before the first of 12 caution periods allowed him to hand the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet over to Busch Series driver Martin Truex Jr.

Driving through "a pain I've never felt before," Earnhardt Jr's sole objective was to get the #8 car to the first caution period, so minimal time was lost handing the controls to Truex Jr, who would then try to salvage as many points as possible for Dale Jr in the Nextel Cup points chase.

After starting 43rd and last as a result of having Truex Jr qualifying the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet on Friday, Earnhardt Jr hauled an ill-handling machine up to 30th position around the flat one-mile oval as the opening green flag stint dragged on further than both the driver and the #8 DEI team would have liked.

Truex Jr, who drives Earnhardt Jr's NASCAR Busch Series car, acknowledged that the team were simply aiming for last place points although, after climbing as high as 18th following a driver change that took less than 40 seconds, contact with Ken Schrader and a 31st place finish was still a little frustrating.

For Earnhardt Jr, whose neck and leg injuries caused him visible discomfort, it was a strange sensation watching another driver race his car (Truex Jr is the first driver other than Dale Jr to pilot the #8 car in Cup Series competition), but he admitted that he was in no shape to complete all 300 miles.

"There aren't many people I'd let drive my racecar, and Martin is going to do really well," said Earnhardt Jr as he watched Truex Jr's early laps from pit wall. "I've been in a lot of pain, constant pain, but it felt better to sit in the racecar than to stand-up or walk. It ain't no fun at all to get out of that racecar - or to be lifted out like a crash dummy - but I trust Martin and he may be better at this track than I am anyway.

"I've been in two burn centres this week, and this is a pain I've never felt before," continued Dale Jr, who was lifted out of the cockpit by his gasman Jeff Clark during the driver change. "But, I saw an awful lot of people that were in a lot worse shape than me, so it makes me appreciate that I was able to get out there and at least start the race. I mean, these were people who were burned badly just doing everyday things, and I'm lucky I was able to crawl out of that racecar (last week) and not be hurt worse than I was."

"I want to thank everyone in the sport - and especially the fans- who have wished me well or sent 'get well' wishes for me. It makes me feel good. I appreciate it a lot."

Unfortunately the #8 Chevrolet was not in a co-operative mood, giving both its drivers an awkward job around New Hampshire's tight but invitingly wide turns. While Truex Jr and the team were able to iron out some of the difficulties as the race wore on, Earnhardt Jr had to suffer when the handling was at its worst.

"The car wasn't very good," he stated. "It just wouldn't turn - so I think the car was in worse shape than I was in there.

"We were actually pretty good at the end of the race and we were able to run a pace with the leaders," stated Truex Jr. "But, we were already down two laps so it didn't make much difference. I think if we didn't get spun there and didn't have to make so many stops to try to straighten the car up again, we were in contention to do well. I felt the same thing Dale Jr, did - the car was tight - but we made it better and better by the end."

Although it was an unconventional way to start a race, Truex Jr wasn't phased by the frantic driver change, a scenario that was closely documented by the TV cameras.

"The driver change was a lot faster than I expected," he continued. "They lifted Junior out, and all of a sudden I'm buckled in and on my way. It happened really fast."

The points Truex Jr gained for finishing 31st ensured that Dale Jr remained second to Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points table.

"All week, the guys said there was no pressure on me," said Truex. "We were there to race for last-place points, and anything better than that was a bonus. So, I guess that means a bonus of 12 positions. It's not a lot, but it keeps Dale Jr. in second-place in the points."

After watching the first 100 laps of Truex's stint from pit road, Earnhardt Jr left the track early in order to return to his North Carolina base and continue his recuperation. The team have announced that John Andretti, part-time driver of the #1 DEI Chevrolet, will be on hand to deputise for Dale Jr next weekend in Pocono as Truex Jr is competing at Pikes Peak in Colorado in the NASCAR Busch Series.