Earnhardt News
2001 Season

Record eighth title likely for Earnhardt
By Larry Woody

Dale Earnhardt, left, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., should both be contenders for the Winston Cup championship this year. (Photo AP)

(February 4, 2001)
There are plenty of reasons why Dale Earnhardt will claim his elusive, Richard Petty-passing, record-setting eighth Winston Cup championship this season, but let's start with the most obvious.

During the offseason Earnhardt had a piece of iron removed from his head. Apparently he struck his noggin and the iron lodged there many years ago while he was working on his race car.

That might explain why the Intimidator had been a little, uh, rusty.

And we always thought "Ironhead'' was just a nickname.

Now that he's got the iron out, maybe he can get the lead out too, and regain his championship form.

Earnhardt dominated NASCAR from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. After winning his sixth and seventh championships in 1993 and 1994, however, the slippage began.

Earnhardt went winless in 1997 and had one victory in 1998. The old swagger was missing. Some said he was too old. Too rich. Too this. Too that.

Phooey on that, said Earnhardt. Or something to that effect.

Earnhardt bounced back with three wins in 1999 and last year added two more, finishing second to Bobby Labonte. Had Bobby bobbled, Earnhardt was ready to pounce. But Labonte had an enchanted season — he won a race at Darlington without leading a single green-flag lap — and Dale was denied.

An eighth championship will break Earnhardt's tie with Richard Petty. He wants it more than anything in racing, and the fire-balling grandpa who turns 50 in April knows he doesn't have a lot of shots left.

"Everything is in place this year,'' Earnhardt said recently. "I'm ready to get that championship.''

Top 10 prediction:

1. Dale Earnhardt: Maybe last best shot.

2. Tony Stewart: His turn is coming.

3. Jeff Burton: Will press to finish.

4. Dale Jarrett: The comeback continues.

5. Bobby Labonte: Used up luck last year.

6. Jeff Gordon: Rallying but not back yet.

7. Rusty Wallace: Consistently inconsistent.

8. Ricky Rudd: Always good, seldom great.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: About three years away.

10. Mark Martin: Fire seems missing.

Earnhardt is NASCAR's most popular driver. Forget those polls in which certain drivers' fan clubs stuff the ballot boxes. An accurate gauge is the reception drivers receive at the track, and no driver matches the rousing response of Earnhardt. Likewise, no driver's apparel — caps, coats, T-shirts — is sported by more fans than that those of the Man In Black.

After 27 years in the sport Earnhardt still races the old-fashioned way: foot to the floorboard, rough, reckless and rowdy.

"This ain't tennis,'' NASCAR's resident metal-cruncher is prone of growling.

He's a stock car racing throwback anxious to make his mark on a new millennium.

They took the iron out of Earnhardt's head but they can't remove the steel from his will. Get ready for The Return of the Intimidator.



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