The Intimidator moves into striking position
(September 10, 2000)
Dale Earnhardt's second place
finish Saturday draws him closer to Bobby Labonte and the points lead.
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
Earnhardt's surge is capturing the attention of the fans and
"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
"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
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