glad to survive an eventful weekend
Brooklyn, Michigan (June 15, 1998)
After the week Dale Earnhardt had, just getting on that golf
cart late Sunday afternoon with wife Teresa and rolling off into the sunset to a waiting
private plane seemed a victory lap.
"It weren't a win," the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champ said after
finishing 15th in the Miller Lite 400. "But it was survival."
Early last week, with Earnhardt slumping badly since winning February's Daytona
500, team owner Richard Childress pulled a crew-chief exchange.
Larry McReynolds, with Earnhardt since the start of last season, moved to the
Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Mike Skinner. Teaming with Earnhardt beginning Sunday was
Kevin Hamlin, who began as crew chief last year for Skinner, who finished 29th Sunday.
The crew-chief swap came with McReynolds being quoted as questioning Earnhardt's
"We just made some moves," Childress said. "And it is news, and you
guys have to write about it. But we just knew we were going to take it and do our best
Friday, Earnhardt qualified 25th, his best qualifying effort since second at
Talladega, Ala., in April (he finished 36th). Then late Saturday afternoon, during the
final Winston Cup practice, Rusty Wallace's car pushed Earnhardt's into the wall.
Earnhardt angrily confronted Wallace in the garage area, grabbing Wallace by the
shirt collar before he calmed down. The considerable damage forced Earnhardt to go to his
backup car -- one designed for short tracks, not the two-mile banked oval at Michigan.
Though forced to start from the rear of the 43-car field, Earnhardt came out
fighting. He was up to 37th after one lap, and to 18th after 22, then basically stayed in
that neighborhood until race's end.
"We had good stops, good communications," Earnhardt said.
"Everything, I thought, was pretty smooth. We ran real good. Just that after that
first good run, the car was a little too loose, and we kept adjusting on it. Pretty good
at the end, but we just lost too much ground there."
Changing the car for speedway racing meant much informal alteration, evidence of
which was black electrical tape near the rear spoiler.
And because Earnhardt couldn't use Saturday's practice for scuffing new tires, each
run after the first (on his broken-in qualifying set) meant going to sticker (brand-new)
Was it a good week just to put behind Earnhardt? "No, I'd have liked to end it
the way we started it -- running well," he said. "I feel like the car would have
been a top-10 car, but we'll get 'em next time. The main thing is all the guys, all the
team, did a good job."