Earnhardt News
2000 Season

The Intimidator moves into striking position

Dale Earnhardt's second place finish Saturday draws him closer to Bobby Labonte and the points lead.

Richmond, Va. (September 10, 2000)
Heading into the stretch run of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule, point leader Bobby Labonte looks in his rearview mirror and sees it filled with visions of The Intimidator.

Dale Earnhardt, gunning to win what would be a record eighth driving title, got a major boost with a second-place finish in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.

"This was just the kind of race we needed," said Earnhardt, whose finish helped him surge into second place in the standings and cut 47 points from Labonte's cushion.

With nine races left in the season, Earnhardt now finds himself 158 points behind Labonte. Dale Jarrett, the defending champion, has slipped from second to third and is six points behind Earnhardt.

Needless to say, Earnhardt knows the chase for the championship is far from finished.

"We can mathematically win it," he said with a sly grin when asked about his chances of overtaking Richard Petty for the all-time lead in NASCAR Winston Cup Series titles.

Earnhardt doesn't have to look far to find instances of where history supports him with examples of late-season rallies that produced championships.

Probably the most famous comeback occurred in 1992, when Alan Kulwicki charged from 143 points back with 10 races left to win the title by 10 points, the closest margin in the circuit's history.

And in 1996, Jeff Gordon lost the points lead with three races remaining and Terry Labonte went on to his second career title.

The man on the move late in NASCAR 2000 is Earnhardt, who less than a month ago was 237 points off the lead. But he has responded with four consecutive top-10 finishes, pushing his total to 20 for the season. No one on the circuit has more.

Earnhardt's surge is capturing the attention of the fans and his peers.

"Dale and his team have done their job," said Gordon, Saturday night's winner. "They're working well this year and they want that eighth championship. They're making it interesting, and it's good for the sport."

But it's not necessarily good for Labonte and Jarrett.

Labonte had gained points on his closest pursuers in four of the five races that preceded Richmond, and he looked capable of contending for the victory in the late stages until a faulty power-steering pump relegated him to a 15th-place finish.

"We might finish 10th in the points before the year is over," Labonte said. "You never know. But we know that we're going to give our best from here on out."

Jarrett, 111 points off the lead when the night started, fell victim to a cut tire early in the race, slapped a concrete retaining wall and limped home to a 31st-place finish.

"Just not a good night," Jarrett lamented. "These are the kinds of things you can't have happen if you're going to win a championship, but we'll keep trying."

Earnhardt started 22nd and never led, but he charged from sixth to second after the race went back to green following the final caution period with 15 laps remaining. Earnhardt powered his way into second with three laps left and trimmed an 8-car-length deficit down to about 30 feet by the time the race ended, but he wasn't about to complain about coming up just short of a victory.

"It was a good day for us," Earnhardt said. "Bobby and Dale had a few problems, so we gained a few on them. But now we need to keep gaining."



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