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He might be reluctant to sing in a TV commercial, but Nextel Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs no persuading to honor the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

Earnhardt and his sponsor, Budweiser, recently announced that they will salute the troops with two military-themed paint schemes and collectible die-cast cars.

NASCAR’s reigning Most Popular Driver will run a brown-and-beige “desert camouflage” car on Memorial Day weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., and a red, white and blue “stars and stripes” car for Independence Day in the July 7 race at Daytona International Speedway.

Special paint schemes have grown in popularity in the past several years, Earnhardt said. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, was one of the first drivers to run a car with a special paint scheme.

“With the country at war, we’re trying to keep everybody’s spirits high, keep everybody motivated and patriotic,” Earnhardt told Stars and Stripes. “We thought this would be a good opportunity to show our support for the troops.

“We believe this is a good chance to bring attention to the fact that we still have a lot of men and women over there fighting for our freedoms and the freedoms of others,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep the country alerted to that.”

The paint schemes also give the No. 8 race team a chance to benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Budweiser will be selling the die-cast models of the cars and will donate all proceeds to the foundation, which provides scholarships to dependents of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations personnel killed in combat or training missions. The fund also gives immediate financial assistance to special operations personnel severely wounded in the war on terror.

Earnhardt hopes his season will be turned around by the time he debuts the “desert camo” car on Memorial Day weekend. He got off to a rough start, finishing 32nd at Daytona and 40th at California.

Things began to change at Las Vegas. Earnhardt finished 11th, and followed that with a 14th-place finish at Atlanta, a seventh-place finish at Bristol and a fifth-place finish at Martinsville.

Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway was tough. Earnhardt led three times and was running in third place on lap 252 of 334 when Tony Stewart spun out in front of him. Earnhardt, who had slowed to try to avoid Stewart, was rammed by Kyle Busch. He finished 36th.

“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Earnhardt said. “I think we’re a top-five team. When we’re not in the top five in points, we’re pretty disappointed.

Earnhardt, who is 18th in the Nextel Cup standings, believes his team is improving.

“Weeks can be ups and downs, high and lows. Maintaining good performance is the key, but you have to be ready for either success or failure right around the next corner. I don’t know if you’d really call that fun, but we enjoy it. And I think we are improving,” he said.

As for that Chevy commercial that ends with Earnhardt singing the George Jones-Tammy Wynette song “(We’re Not) The Jet Set” while driving down the road in a brand new Corvette … It turns out that was Earnhardt’s first singing gig and it took a bit of trickery on the part of the Chevrolet officials.

“They kept me in the dark about because they knew I wouldn’t do it,” he said, laughing.

Earnhardt wasn’t told he was going to have to sing right up until the time he was getting ready to sit in the car.

“I’ve gotten good reviews and some bad ones from it. Most of the bad stuff has just been my friends ribbing me.”

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