Earnhardt can't shake bad luck
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas, Texas (May 28, 1998)
For 19 years, the Daytona 500 was the only race
Dale Earnhardt couldn't win. Now he hasn't won any other.
In the past, the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion had programmed himself to quickly
put the Daytona season opener behind him. Goofy incidents and close finishes normally made
it a sure lowlight of the year.
But Earnhardt is clinging to Daytona this year. His win there in February is absolutely
the best bit of fortune he's had in more then two seasons.
Earnhardt's body has been battered and broken in horrific accidents. He has mysteriously
fallen asleep at the wheel minutes before a race. His championship team has been
reorganized and remanned. He has gone through three crew chiefs in three years.
And, boy, has he been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sure, there have been glimpses of the gritty, hard-driving style that made Earnhardt
NASCAR's greatest. But lately it's been real hard to watch the champion get wrecked out of
races and struggle to make the field during first-round qualifying.
Earnhardt started the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet 28th in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at
Charlotte Motor Speedway, marking the ninth time this season he hasn't started from among
the top 25.
When he tangled with Randy LaJoie and smashed into the Turn 4 wall, it was the fourth
consecutive race (counting The Winston non-points race) where Earnhardt has crashed. Three
times already this season he has raced with a burned face, broken bones or bruised ribs.
And Earnhardt was so frustrated Sunday that he climbed out of his Chevy and walked over to
LaJoie's crunched car. He ripped the passenger-side plastic window right off the car and
leaned in to share some ``words of wisdom'' with LaJoie.
It's easy to understand why Earnhardt is left holding his sore bones and shaking his head.
Much of what has hampered his chase for an unprecedented eighth Winston Cup title has been
beyond his control. It's not a matter of him being able to out-drive his competitors.
Earnhardt dropped from the early-season points lead to 10th place entering Sunday's race
at Dover Downs, Del., 321 points behind the new leader, that pesky two-time champion,
26-year-old Jeff Gordon.
At 47, Earnhardt is one of the oldest drivers on the circuit, which seems hard to believe.
And a reporter recently dared to ask Earnhardt if age had slowed his reaction time.
``The last wrecks I've been in were because somebody hit me from the rear end and turned
me around in the wall,'' said Earnhardt. ``I don't see how my reaction had something to do
with some other (driver) running beside you.''
The good thing is, this is Earnhardt. How could you ever count him out of a championship
battle or assume he won't be competitive in a race?
Dale Earnhardt is still the one driver that competitors would least like to see in their
rearview mirror with one lap to go.