|The sparks fly as Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip hit the wall exiting Turn 4
on the first lap of the final segment of The Winston Select. The accident was the third
involving Earnhardt of the evening, and it allowed Jeff Gordon (lower right) to slip by
and cruise to a $300,000 victory. (Mark B. Sluder/The Charlotte Observer)
Its a good nickname for him, one that fits his daring racing style, but you may not
want to mention it for a while.
He did a little more terminating Saturday night in the
Winston Select race at Charlotte Motor Speedway than he would care to have brought up over
his morning coffee.
In 70 laps of racing, 10 cars wrecked in accidents that he
accidentally triggered. That was eight others and his twice. He must have felt like Dennis
The Menace out there.
When Jeff Gordon won the Winston Select, Earnhardt was in
the garage area looking at the remains of his Chevrolet.
Maybe it was the color. Earnhardts No. 3 is
ordinarily black, but he agreed to drive a silver car on this occasion to celebrate R.J.
Reynolds 25th anniversary as a sponsor of the Winston Cup program. Maybe it was like
Michael Jordan wearing No. 45 and losing his jump shot.
Whatever, Earnhardt had a tough night.
It began with just a thrill. In the first of three segments
of this unique race, he started fourth but quickly made a move to the front. There, he
came abreast of his buddy Rusty Wallace. Suddenly, they clanged together and got a little
squirrelly, which is not good when you have the entire field packed tightly behind you.
Memories of last years Winston Select flashed to
mind. They tangled in that one and wound up in smoking wreckage.
But theyre good. They straightened up this time and
hurried on off.
In the second segment, in heavy traffic, Dale Jarrett
appeared to slow just a fraction to let another car tuck in, but Earnhardt, who was behind
him, didnt slow. He tapped Jarretts bumper, sending him spinning, and when the
smoke cleared, five cars had run into something hard.
Asked what happened, Jarrett growled, "Got hit."
Everyone went in for pit stops. When they came out,
Earnhardt was sent to the rear of the pack for having exited pit road too fast.
Told you it was a bad night.
But Earnhardt brought his beat-up silver car back near the
front and finished the second segment in third place. That gave him a second-row start
behind Gordon for the 10-lap shoot-out.
Now, the last 10 laps of the Winston Select is not for the
faint of heart. It invites every instinct in a racers body to express itself in some
wild and crazy racing.
On the first of the 10 laps, with Darrell Waltrip coming
out of the third turn, Earnhardt went under a car and Waltrip went above it. Car sandwich.
Gordon watched and said to himself, "No way are they
gonna get out of the fourth turn without wrecking."
Earnhardt rarely if ever complains if someone wrecks him.
And when he wrecks somebody, he admits it.
"I just got loose and lost it and got into
Darrell," he said.
A thought occurred to some of us as the cars rolled toward
those last 10 laps with Gordon looking at Earnhardt in his rear view mirror.
Tough night or not, Earnhardt is still the best, still
running out front the way he has for years. But he can see the future. It is Jeff Gordon,
and its coming on fast.
Some of the other drivers call Gordon, The Kid.
If The Kid keeps going the way he has the past couple of
years, theyll soon be calling him The Man.
Click on an image for a larger version.
Heading for Turn 1.
Checkers or wreckers?
Earnhardt pits for tires.
Qualifying for the Winston is unique in that drivers are required to make a pit stop.
More on-track racin'.
Copyright © 2001 The Earnhardt Connection
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