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.
Earnhardt qualifies 38th in Martinsville
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.
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.
Earnhardt going for three
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
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.
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.