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“I like racetracks where you can move,” Earnhardt said. “It’s real rough down the straightaways, really. The corners are fine, not rough at all. If they would just re-pave the straightaways, this place would be a blast. … We should have a pretty good run here if we do everything right.”

If last week was an indication of Earnhardt’s readiness, this could be his time. Earnhardt started 32nd at Bristol and moved up 26 spots, with third-year crew chief Steve Letarte guiding him through smart pit stops.

When Kahne won, he brought Hendrick’s Victory Bell into the shop for everybody’s enjoyment _ and it served as a reminder to Earnhardt.

“Every employee rings the ball,” Earnhardt said. “It’s fun. I enjoyed that. I thought it was a good way to bring everybody together as one unit, one team. I’m ready to ring the hell out of it.”

When Earnhardt isn’t working on another win, he’s checking out his bracket, which he said was 11-5 on Thursday. As a big fantasy football player and a North Carolina basketball fan, he’s even got a strong feeling about the NCAA final.

“I think Indiana will beat Duke,” he said. “I’m not a big Duke fan.”