Inspired by its namesake, Dale
Earnhardt Inc.'s teams have made the organization one of the strongest this season in
Winston Cup. The organization, winless until last season, has two victories, eight top 10s
and all three teams in the top 20 in points entering Sunday's Virginia 500 at Martinsville
Only one team, Robert Yates Racing with points leader Dale Jarrett
and Ricky Rudd, can beat those marks.
Earnhardt's organization succeeds despite his death in the Daytona
The fourth-year team has grown quickly. Buddy Parrott, Roush
Racing's performance development manager, recalls visiting Earnhardt's shop during the
"They had a lot of trophies, but they were all deer head,"
Today, there's less room in the trophy case. Since last year, the
organization has won six races, including The Winston. The difference?
"Dale Earnhardt," said Ty Norris, director of motorsports
at Dale Earnhardt Inc. "It takes people 10 years [to succeed] sometimes because it's
so difficult. Dale Earnhardt knew what he was doing. Secondly, he had to be willing to put
that kind of money into it and invest and Dale was willing to invest his money and his
time and his knowledge."
Earnhardt had a good teacher in car owner Richard Childress, Parrott
said. Earnhardt won six of his record-tying seven championships with Childress and saw
firsthand the resources needed to win.
Earnhardt's team is showing some of those signs. Steve Park has one
victory, has finished second to Jarrett in two of the last three races and is fourth in
points. Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip is 15th in points. Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
runner-up to Waltrip in the Daytona 500 and the pole winner last week at Texas, is 20th.
"We're trying to build and we're trying to be successful,"
Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've got Steve's team pretty much running good every week. The
way I look at it, we need a team up front each week to keep morale up around the shop and
keep everybody pumped up. Each week we've got three opportunities to do that."
The organization has had at least one car finish in the top 10 the
past three weeks, led by Park. In the 20 races since he earned his first career victory
last August at Watkins Glen, Park has 14 top-10 finishes.
This could be a tough weekend, though. Park has not recorded a
top-10 finish in six races at Martinsville. Earnhardt Jr.'s best result last year as a
rookie was 26th, and Waltrip has one top-10 run in his last 14 races at the half-mile
Dale Earnhardt Inc. has had such setbacks before and overcome. The
organization struggled early, Park said, because it did most of its work in-house from
building cars and motors. As the team grew, its stability increased. Paul Andrews
completes his second full year as Park's crew chief in May. Tony Eury Sr. has been
Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief since his Grand National days. Many other key employees remain.
"It's just rolled into an organization that is capable of
running up front on a weekly basis," Park said.
Just as Earnhardt envisioned.