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Wow, nice smile on Dale Jr.'s face after Sunday's Michigan 400. Maybe his fortunes are turning

  Looks like the mood may be changing in the Earnhardt camp. Dale Jr. (R) talking here with Jamie McMurray (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Well, what do we have here? A suddenly rejuvenated Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
   It's been exactly two years since his last NASCAR tour victory, but Earnhardt was unexpectedly back up front in Sunday's Michigan 400, running decent all day, if not a serious threat to win. He wound up seventh, and he was in a good mood after it was all over, a very good mood.
    "I enjoyed the car all day," Earnhardt said after ending a mediocre stretch of finishes, 32nd, 18th, 30th, 22nd and 19th.
    And he credited crew chief Lance McGrew:  "Lance and the team did a good job all weekend.
    "We were happy in race trim; we just didn't have any speed in qualifying (he started 27th).
    "It was fun to drive.
    "Matt Kenseth was better, and there were a bunch of cars -- obviously everybody in front of us was better. But we felt we had a top-10 car, and we were able to show it.
    "That caution come out (with some 40 miles to go) and got me worried: 'What the hell is going to happen here?'
     "But we were on the good end of it for a change.
     "I just want to thank everybody...the engines are great, and the cars are bullet-proof.
     "This is the kind of run we want to have.
      "We can do it. We did pretty good. I felt very confident."
    Earnhardt Nation hasn't had much to cheer about lately, so Earnhardt himself has been carrying a load of frustrations: "Hope they enjoyed today's good run...and I hope I can bring more of them to them, man.
     "We've just got to have a good car. And Lance has done that the last two weeks. Real good cars.
    "But with the way these races go at the end, you've got to have a ton of luck too, to make a lot of right calls."
     And the driver has to get up on the wheel, which Earnhardt did.
     "I worked the bottom (lane) all day, trying to discipline myself and figure what my car needed to run down there," he said. "Because we could run fast up top but we'd get beat at the end of the race running up there.
    "So I figured I'd try to work on the bottom.
     "The car worked down there, and so I said 'I'll just stick around down here.'"
    And that next NASCAR win?
     "We're not a team challenging for victories just yet, so top-10s, for us, are a direction we need to go," Earnhardt says.
     But for the moment, he says "I feel happy....and ready to go home – I've got a buddy that's got a birthday -- and drink some beer and have a good time.
    "It'll be a good day."

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   Crew chief Lance McGrew's guys did a good job in Sunday's 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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