Earnhardt News
2001 Season

2nd in Points: Dale Earnhardt
By Karen Van Allen - SpeedFX

(January 5, 2001)
Dale Earnhardt
2nd in Points
#3 Goodwrench Service Chevrolet
Richard Childress Racing, Welcome, N.C.
Crew chief: Kevin Hamlin
2000 Earnings: $3,701,391

With the official retirement of Darrell Waltrip, and Dave Marcis stating he plans to cut back on some of the races he drives in 2001, seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt will be the oldest driver. Of course, don't tell Earnhardt that he's 'over the hill.'

His 2000 season was strong, despite poor qualifying efforts which left him with an average start of 21st. With no DNFs, two wins, 13 top-5 and 24 top-10 finishes, Earnhardt's average finish was ninth. Consistency is the key, and that is how the driver of the Black #3 Monte Carlo wound up second in the final points standings.

When Waltrip gave his retirement 'speech' at Atlanta Motor Speedway last month, he suggested that maybe there should be a mandatory retirement age of 50 for NASCAR's top drivers. Just as one would suspect, Earnhardt disagreed with that theory.

"I’ll probably know when it's time to retire when I’m racing for 31st instead of first in points," Earnhardt said. "The last 12 years, I’ve been in the top 10 in points. When you’re racing in the top 10 in points, I don’t think that’s getting less competitive.

"I’m still winning a race or two and still racing competitively. Why would (I) retire? Why would (I) even think about retiring? Why would people think you’re over the hill when you can still race these guys and race up front?"

Good question.

Though putting the theory to a vote test might take as long to certify as the 2000 Presidential election. You see, when it comes to Earnhardt, fans see only in black or white - there's no gray area. Either the collective they 'love' him, or 'hate' him. Three-time series champion Jeff Gordon learned the meaning of black or white real quick.

Last season, Earnhardt managed to finish seventh in the points standings, and it was a long, hard drive to get there. After an incident at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, he experienced pain in his neck and shoulders along with numbness in his fingers and hands. With therapy, and proper eating, Earnhardt was able to finish out the 1999 season with a sweep of Talladega Superspeedway and a win at Bristol Motor Speedway in August.

A week before Christmas, though, Earnhardt knew he needed to take care of the problem, so he submitted to an MRI which showed a ruptured disc between the C6-C7 vertebrae. Earnhardt decided he needed an immediate "tune-up" and underwent an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion procedure at Wake Forest University Medical Center performed by Dr. Charles Branch.

Earnhardt was cleared to drive for testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early February 2000. Missing testing at Daytona in January, however, was not on his list of reasons to pout. Those who know "The Intimidator" are aware that he might prefer a double root canal to testing at a restrictor plate track.

The Y2K season was also memorable, and emotionally fulfilling, for Earnhardt. Not only did two-time NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National champion and Winston Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender, not to mention son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. win two Bud Pole awards (Charlotte in May and Brooklyn, Mich., in August), two points races (Fort Worth and Richmond in May), along with The Winston All-Star event, there were three Earnhardts in the field for the Pepsi 400 presented by Meijer at Michigan International Speedway in August when Kerry Earnhardt qualified the #71 Realtree Chevy of Dave Marcis in 27th place.

After winning The Winston, Junior said, "it’s kind of funny for me to stand there on that podium and hear people cheering 'Earnhardt, Earnhardt, Earnhardt' when I'm the only Earnhardt standing up there. That was kind of weird. I made sure the big Earnhardt hurried up and got up there so I didn’t feel so weird anymore. He’s the Earnhardt in the family." Earnhardt, Sr., is the only driver to have won three times in The Winston - 1987, 1990 and 1993.

'Big E' lost his father, Ralph, in 1973, who had a heart attack while working on his race car. Earnhardt's Winston Cup debut didn't occur until 1975 when he drove one race. He went full-time in 1979 and won Rookie of the Year honors; the very next year he beat out veteran Cale Yarborough for the 1980 series championship. Earnhardt is the only series driver to win Rookie of the Year and the title in consecutive seasons.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. His six other titles came in 1986-87, 1990-91 and 1993-94. Earnhardt also holds six wins, exclusively, in the Busch Clash (now called the Bud Shootout), is a four-time IROC champion (1990, 1995, 1999-2000) and after 20 tries won his first Daytona 500 in February 1998.

In addition to fielding three Winston Cup teams through DEI in 2001, Earnhardt joined with Speedway Motorsports, Inc.'s Chairman and CEO, Bruton Smith, and NASCAR team owner, Larry Hedrick in forming Carolina Baseball Inc. last month. Hedrick owned the affiliate team of the Chicago White Sox, the Piedmont Boll Weevils. The team will now be known as the Kannapolis Intimidators.

Along with 'going for' his eighth championship next season, Earnhardt is also looking forward to teaming up with Junior and Andy Pilgrim in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The trio will compete in a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, and completed three days of testing at Sebring International Raceway right after the Winston Cup NAPA 500 finale. When the question was posed to Senior regarding who would take the night shift in February, he smiled and said: "If this thing’s got a 10-disk CD player in it, Junior might stay up all night driving it!"

Stay tuned...we all might witness Winston Cup history come next December.



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