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1999 NAPA AutoCare 500

Race: NAPA AutoCare 500 (Race No. 28)
Date: October 3, 1999
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Qualified: 38th
Finished: 2nd
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 500 of 500
Points Pos. Before/After Race: 7/7
Points Earned: 175 (with 5 bonus pts.)
Money Earned: $70,225


Earnhardt almost wins in close finish at Martinsville
Oct. 3
  With four fresh tires, Dale Earnhardt caught up to Jeff Gordon in the closing laps of the NAPA 500 today, but by the time he caught Gordon, it was the last lap. Earnhardt finished 2nd, .198 seconds behind Gordon.

The finish came after Dale started the race from 38th. Following the green flag, Earnhardt moved steadily forward through the field.

Dale was running in about 12th spot when he came in for his first pit stop. Just as he was coming down pit road, the caution came out for a spin involving Tony Stewart. Dale drove through pit road without pitting, but still lost a lap before coming back onto the race track. Had he pitted, he would have lost two laps. Dale came back into the pits during the caution for his stop.

After that, Earnhardt raced with the leaders, trying to get his lap back. Finally, following the restart on lap 311, Dale passed race leader Bobby Labonte to get his lap back. He was in 7th at the time. On lap 374 the caution came out to let an ambulance cross the track, and Earnhardt was able to circle the track ahead of the pace car to get his lap back for good.

A bit later, Dale stayed out on the track while the race leaders pitted. On the restart, Dale passed Kenny Wallace on lap 431 for the lead. He led for awhile and built up a good 4-second lead over Bobby Labonte in second place. His 4-second lead was wiped away when on lap 473 the final caution of the day came out after Chad Little spun.

All of the leaders pitted except for Gordon, who's stategy was to keep his track position by not pitting. Earnhardt had a 15-second stop for four tires, while Bobby Labonte took only two tires. Labonte barely beat Dale out of the pits. On the final restart with 19 to go, Bobby Labonte's engine dropped a cylinder. Labonte's balky motor held Dale up for a couple of laps before Dale finally got around him for second. Then, Dale got held up by Hut Stricklin, who was several laps down. Seven laps after passing Labonte, Earnhardt finally got around Stricklin. From there, Dale continued to close the gap between he and Gordon until he finally caught Gordon on the last lap, but it was too late.

"We didn't need that last caution," said Earnhardt, who raced despite flu-like symptoms. "He (Gordon) played the cards right, I reckon. It was the right call and time ran out on us. I got to him too late."

"The 18 (Labonte) and the 58 (Stricklin) held me up bad," Earnhardt said. "If they hadn't, I think I could have beat Gordon. I maybe ran too hard trying to catch him and then I started taking it easy and started catching him more. If I had caught him with three or four to go, we'd have made a race out of it."

The finish is Dale's 6th top-5 and 18th top-10 of the season. It is also his third top-5 finish at Martinsville in his last five races there.

qualifies 38th in Martinsville  Oct. 2

Dale Earnhardt qualified only 44th on Friday in first-round qualifying for the NAPA AutoCare 500. On Saturday he took his second-straight provisional and will start tomorrow's race from 38th. Despite the poor show in qualifying, there is good reason to be hopeful about Earnhardt's chances at Martinsville this weekend. In 1998, Earnhardt finished 4th in the spring race at Martinsville after starting 31st. Two years ago he was runner-up in this race. That makes two top-5s at Martinsville in the last four races there. He has won six races at the .526-mile track. In his 40 starts there, Dale has 16 top-five finishes. The NAPA 500 in on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

dot.gif (845 bytes) Jeff Gordon may have won more races than any other driver in the 1990's, but Earnhardt has won more championships than any other driver in the 90's. Earnhardt is tied with Darrell Waltrip for winning the most championships in the 1980's also.

going for three  Sept. 30
Whether it was in Victory Lane at Bristol or in his three heart-stopping IROC wins, somewhere along the line this season we've witnessed the transformation of an old Dale Earnhardt to the Dale Earnhardt of old.

If the fans cheering his last-lap passes in the IROC series didn't signify that change, the throng who booed his controversial pass at Bristol certainly did.

Earnhardt's numbers this year aren't gaudy, but they do show improvement. And that is something for the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champ to hang his helmet on. Full Story.

dot.gif (845 bytes) Effective immediately, the trunk deck on Earnhardt's Chevy will change from black to white in conjunction with GM's new "Good Time Savings" promotion. Previously, Earnhardt's 25th Anniversary logo covered the trunk.


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