Earnhardt finds his way back to victory
Chevy Monte Carlo
|Car No: 3
|Sponsor: GM Goodwrench Service Plus
Not many in his legion of fans had truly written off
seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, but Earnhardt and crew chief
Kevin Hamlin made a capital-letter statement that they were back in 1999.
Earnhardt finally achieved one of his ultimate goals, a
Daytona 500 win, in 1998. But from the Purolator 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March
1996 to the 1999 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in April, that Daytona 500 victory
was the only mark in the victory column by Earnhardt, who has 74 career NASCAR Winston Cup
wonder the faithful might've been thinking about shaking their heads in doubt. But it was
all premature according to Earnhardt.
"I'm not thinking about retirement by any means,"
Earnhardt said emphatically after scoring victory No. 74 -- which came when he won the
Winston 500 in October, giving Earnhardt a Talladega sweep in '99. "It's real funny
to me that all of a sudden I became Dale Sr. I mean, Darrell Waltrip's the guy who's
talking about retirement, not Dale Earnhardt.
"And I'm still winning races and running in the top-10
in points all the time and have for the last several years."
Earnhardt's trip across the stage (in 1999) at the Waldorf-Astoria will be
his seventh straight and his 19th in his 21-year career in "The Bigs." Earnhardt
and crew chief Hamlin truly hit their stride in 1999, with seven top-5s and 21 top-10
finishes. It's no wonder that car owner Richard Childress is also talking the talk, since
his team has stepped up this season and walked the walk.
"We're going to win that eighth championship, that's our
No. 1 goal right now," Childress said in the stretch run of the championship chase,
as Earnhardt held an outside shot at the top-5. A second Daytona 500 is surely a
possibility, as is another title to go with the last six he has won with Childress.
"Dale Earnhardt can still do it," Childress said,
"and anyone that's ever doubted it made a big mistake."
Some had said that Earnhardt had too many other business
ventures going on-- a farm, auto dealerships, race teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series,
NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and his
souvenir business. That's no distraction, according to people in the know.
got a lot of stuff going on, with the 8 car and 1 car and the Busch car," Hamlin
said, "but he's got a lot of other people to take care of those other ventures. When
we're at the track, you won't find another person as focused and intent as Dale
This season, that has paid off, most apparently in three
"Earnhardt's the best there is and that's why he wins
races," said Jeff Gordon, who proved his mettle by holding Earnhardt off at
Martinsville in the NAPA AutoCare 500. "He knows how to position himself, how to use
air, how to use the other cars and knows where to be at the right time at the right place.
If anybody's got an advantage, it's Earnhardt.
"I don't know how he does it. I watch him in awe. I try
to learn as much from him as I can."
If Earnhardt has learned anything in his career it's a
dogged, gritty determination that comes from hardly knowing where your next meal is coming
from and having to race hard to put it on the table.
"You never give up on your race car and never give up on
your race team," Earnhardt said. "You keep working and driving as hard as you
can and it'll work out for you."
"You have your ups and downs in your career, and I've had 'em over the
years," Earnhardt said. "'88 and '89 weren't good years for me. To have '96 and
'97 droughts and '98 was a little bit of a tough year. We won Daytona in it, but to come
back this year and the team is doing the right things and we're getting competitive to the
point we can consistently run in the top-5 and top-10 (is big).
"If you do that you're going to win races. We've proved
that. I felt like we should have won Martinsville. Circumstances change and you don't do
it. We had a good car at Charlotte, we just over adjusted and started the race with a
couple of things we shouldn't have done, but we just made a mistake there."
"The team, Kevin and I, are getting more in tune
together with what we want and what we feel like the car needs and more comfortable for me
to drive," he said. "I think we're doing a better and better job at it as we
And that might only spell trouble for the competition in
Hamlin is another who thinks the combination of a hungry race
team, a fired up driver and a new hot rod may be just what the GM Goodwrench Service Plus
"We just finished the season and we're pretty happy with
it," Hamlin said."We're just trying to improve on a few things for next season.
I think after some things we went through this year, and with the new 2000 Monte Carlo,
we'll try awful hard for that eighth championship."
Copyright © 2000 The Earnhardt Connection
Home Page | Contact Us