Earnhardt is the man, but not
BRISTOL, Tenn. (Mar.
Lee Montgomery, Total Sports
Dale Earnhardt had gotten the lead, and he didn't have to
spin Terry Labonte to get it.
(OK, so he punted Elliott Sadler earlier in the race,
but who's counting?)
The excitement Earnhardt fans enjoyed was
short-lived. Like about 30 seconds. Two laps after Earnhardt passed Jeff Gordon to get to
the top spot, his car was crashed sideways against the Turn 4 wall -- a mangled mess.
Earnhardt had come from 23rd place after an earlier
spin, where he was bumped from behind by Labonte, Bobby that is. His charge through the
field delighted the huge crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But the fans sat in disbelief as Kenny Irwin's
spinning car drifted down the track in front of Earnhardt, who couldn't miss Irwin.
Earnhardt's right-rear clipped Irwin, and Earnhardt turned sideways into the outside wall.
"Irwin hit the wall, and I saw his car up
there," Earnhardt said. "If he had just held the brakes on I would have been all
right. I'd done committed myself to the low side, and that's all I could do, go low. I
went down there and whacked. It was a whack."
Earnhardt's severely damaged car limped behind the
wall, where the Richard Childress Racing crew began repairs as Earnhardt sat in the
driver's seat, window net still up. Some 160 laps later, Earnhardt returned.
"We had a good race car," Earnhardt said.
"I've got to thank the guys for working so hard to fix the car and come back out to
run. I know we were a lot of laps down, but it shows effort. The car was still good under
us. We just kept going after it. Those guys don't quit or give up. The car was all bent
up, but it still ran pretty good."
The car was great before the wreck and likely would
have contended for his second victory of the season. Instead, good buddy Rusty Wallace got
to victory lane.
"My car was probably as good as Earnhardt's car
at the end of the race," Wallace said. "His car was obviously pretty good at the
beginning. There's no telling what he could have done today if he wouldn't have got
himself in that wreck.
"But just about the time he'd be saying he had
the car and he was man, I was going to tell him my car was loose, I finally fixed it, and
I was going to be right on his rear end at the end of that race."
And you thought the Labonte-Earnhardt Show was
something. Wallace-Earnhardt might have brought the grandstands down.
"I think we could have beat 'em today if pit
stops and strategy and everything had been good," Earnhardt said. "We just kept
doing all we could do. That's all I can say. I drove the hell out of it. That one deal was
all it was for us. If we could have got by that we would have been in good shape."
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