History The Earnhardt Connection

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audio.gif (67 bytes) Dale Earnhardt says his crew and his car are to credit for his win in the Gatorade 125.
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Earnhardt wins ninth straight Gatorade 125
The Earnhardt Connection
Daytona Beach, Florida (February 12, 1998)

So far, Dale has won one a Gatorade 125 race in Daytona every year in the 1990's.

Dale Earnhardt may not have won the Daytona 500 yet, but when it comes to the twin Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifying races for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' most prestigious race, he is the absolute master.

He proved that again at Daytona International Speedway Thursday as he led from start to finish to win the day's second 125-miler and thus record his ninth consecutive win in a qualifier. He hasn't lost one since 1989. Additionally, the victory was his 30th at Daytona, which extends his career record in that category, well ahead of Bobby Allison, who won 16 times.

"It was a heckuva day for us," said Earnhardt, a seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion. "It is good to get our car back in Victory Lane."

Earnhardt might well have be happy to be in any Victory Lane, since he has not won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in his last 59 starts. But you would have never known that watching him run 50 laps on the 2.5-mile Daytona track in the qualifier.

He started on the outside of the front row, alongside Terry Labonte's Kellogg's Chevrolet. But as the field completed the first lap, Earnhardt had put his GM Goodwrench Plus Chevrolet at the point, while Labonte -- who will start the Daytona 500 from the No. 2 position following his Feb. 7 Bud Pole Qualifying run -- retired to the garage with mechanical problems on the sixth lap.

On lap nine, the race's first caution period was triggered when the cars of Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Steve Park, Ricky Craven and Mark Gibson were involved in a crash coming out of Turn 4. None of the leaders pitted and when the race resumed on lap 17, Earnhardt remained in front, followed by Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Mike Skinner and Greg Sacks.

With five laps remaining in the race, Earnhardt still led and had never been seriously challenged. Michael Waltrip, in the Citgo Ford, had moved into second place while Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, occupied third in the Lowe's Chevrolet.

With one lap to go, Loy Allen spun off the track on the frontstretch to bring on the combination of the yellow and white flags, ensuring Earnhardt of the victory. Earnhardt averaged 147.203 mph over the 50 laps.

"I think Michael may have wanted to make a move on me, but I think he was a bit worried about losing position," Earnhardt said. "I really don't know how it would have played out on the last lap, but then we got the caution. I think it would have been interesting."

"The Daytona 500 is a handling race and my car made me smile," said Waltrip, whose runner-up finish is the highest of his career in a qualifier. "I may not have the fastest car but it took the corners the way I like all day long. It's a car that qualified about 30th fastest and I almost won a race with it.

"I liked having the opportunity to win a race, but we fell just a little short."

"It's hard to believe I could win a race like this nine times in a row," Earnhardt said. "It's a fun race to be in. The car did a great job all day. I was a little under the weather and was a bit concerned about finishing the race, but the car ran so smooth it helped me. I look forward to Sunday's race."

Skinner held onto third place while Irvan, in the Skittles Pontiac, took fourth. Fifth place went to Wallace in the Miller Lite Ford, sixth to Jeff Burton in the Exide Batteries Ford, seventh to Lake Speed in the Cartoon Network Ford, eighth to Andy Hillenburg in the Shoney's Chevrolet, ninth to rookie Kevin LePage in the Little Joe's Auto Chevrolet and Bobby Hamilton rounded out the top-10 in the Kodak Chevrolet.

Positions 11-14 were taken, in order, by Sacks, rookie Jerry Nadeau, Joe Nemechek and Robert Pressley, all of whom earned starting positions in the Daytona 500. Hillenburg, LePage and Nadeau will start the race for the first time in their careers.

1998 Unimount Enterprises