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Earnhardt ready to chase 8th title
Jim Utter
(December 9, 1998)

Seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt said he's not too old or experienced to have learned a valuable lesson in the 1998 season.

Earnhardt said Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon's performance, which included a NASCAR modern era record-tying 13 victories, 26 Top fives and 28 Top 10s, was an inspiration.

Eanrhardt, who picked up his first career Daytona 500 victory to start the 1998 season, struggled much of the year but did manage to finish a respectable eighth in the season's final points standings.

``(Gordon's performance) showed us we really needed to go out and focus on what's going on and make it happen for us,'' said Earnhardt, 47. ``We know what we need to do and that's work harder on aerodynamics and things like that. We're putting things in place to do that -- (team owner) Richard Childress, myself and Andy Petree Racing.

``There's a lot of things going on that I think are going to help us for 1999. Hopefully, we'll get the new (Monte Carlo) in May or so. There are a lot of exciting things that happened this season and there are a lot of exciting things that will happen next year.

``I'm still looking forward to winning another championship.''

Earnhardt said there are many areas in which his team can improve over 1998, but the most important is finding the consistency of running up front -- a trademark of Eanrhardt during his seven championship seasons.

``We have got to be in the top five every race. You got to be a contender almost every race,'' he said. ``You can't unload off that truck and finish in the top 10 or in the top 15. You've got to have those top five finishes and wins. You've got to do it consistently to make it happen.

``I think I'm in good shape. I think (Richard) Childress is in good shape. We want to win. Getting to New York is one thing (for the annual Winston Cup Awards Banquet), but getting up there on the front table is another. We want to be there.''

If Gordon's standard isn't inspiration enough for Earnhardt, he will add a little family rivalry next season, at least in five races when his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- NASCAR's 1998 Grand National champion -- runs a limited Winston Cup scheduled in 1999 before his full-time move to the series in 2000.

``Coming into Winston Cup this year for a few races, I'm excited about (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. racing. He's going to have to settle for second though, because his dad is going to work hard to be the car he needs to beat,'' Earnhardt Sr. said. ``You know Jeff Gordon pushed the mark up higher and I congratulate him on his championship year. He pushed us to work harder and he's pushed his competition to work harder.

``That's the trademark of a champion.''

Earnhardt has been an ambassador of sorts for NASCAR -- he and Earnhardt Jr. raced in this season's exhibition race in Japan, Earnhardt Sr. addressed the National Press Club in Washington and he also played a small role in a comedy movie.

``It gets busy. It can be very taxing at times. But still, it's a very enjoyable thing to be a NASCAR champion or a driver who is recognized all over,'' said Eanrhardt. ``I enjoy going to a lot of different countries and stuff. I was in France this past year and a lot of people knew me.

``NASCAR is truly worldwide now it's not just the United States.''