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Earnhardt not focused on contract issues

MIKE HARRIS • Apr 19, 2007 at 11:51 AM

AVONDALE, Ariz. - While everyone else worries about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s future with his late father's team, he insists the present is the biggest concern.

"The Bud team has really been great this year, but people who haven't been paying much attention may not have recognized it because we've had a lot of bad luck and haven't had the finishes this entire team deserves," Earnhardt said.

Entering Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt is 18th in the points, with two top-10 finishes in seven starts.

His contract negotiations with DEI, controlled by stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, have gotten a lot of attention this season. Right now, the most important thing is on-track performance and, hopefully, racing for his first championship.

But last Sunday's race at Texas is a good example of what this season has been like for the fan favorite.

Earnhardt had one of the strongest cars, led 96 laps and was a likely top-five finisher before slowing to avoid a spinning Tony Stewart. Earnhardt was hit hard in the rear by Kyle Busch and wound up 36th.

"It wasn't anything we had control over," Earnhardt said. "But the things we do control, like car preparation, pit stops and me driving my butt off, we had all of those things going our way. And it's been the same story all season. We know if we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll be celebrating sooner rather than later."

Earnhardt loves the mile Phoenix oval, where he won races in 2003 and 2004. But this week's wild card is the Car of Tomorrow, making its third Nextel Cup start and first on a track longer than a half mile.

"I was really encouraged by how well we've done in the first two races with the Car of Tomorrow," said Earnhardt, who finished seventh at Bristol and fifth at Martinsville.

"I think everyone in the garage is anxious to see how this new car reacts on a track that's longer than the two short tracks we've raced on so far," he added. "We've been able to find some things in the setup that the CoT seems to respond to, so I'm anxious to climb in and get out there."

Earnhardt led qualifying for a while Thursday evening, but eventually wound up 15th in the 43-car field.

"The car was pretty good," Earnhardt said. "I was happy with the lap and we'll see tomorrow in practice what the car feels like in traffic. It's probably not going to be the easiest car to drive in the race, but we'll be OK."

Meanwhile, Earnhardt said an online report that he has been offered ownership in DEI is "news to me."

After qualifying, he was asked about the story that he has been offered 51 percent ownership of the company started by his late father.

"I don't know anything about that," Junior said, raising his eyebrows. "As far as I know, there's been nothing new in the last week or more."

Earnhardt, in the final year of his current contract with DEI, said he isn't worried about the negotiations.

"I just want to get some wins and some good finishes and concentrate of what we're doing on the track," he said.

A story on ESPN.com Thursday said Max Siegel, president of global operations at DEI and the team's chief negotiator, said Earnhardt has been offered ownership in the company but would not say what percentage.

Siegel could not be reached Thursday for comment.

AP-CS-04-19-07 2245EDT

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