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News The Earnhardt Connection
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Earnhardt enjoys Daytona 500 champ role
(Jan. 22, 1999)

DAYTONA BEACH -- Even testing at Daytona International Speedway feels different to Dale Earnhardt these days.

The seven-time Winston Cup champion finally broke through for a victory last year in the Daytona 500, the one big NASCAR race he had never won. It took him 20 tries, including a half-dozen close calls.

"It sure feels good to come back here with a Daytona 500 victory," Earnhardt said Tuesday after his Chevrolet Monte Carlo turned a fast lap of 190.130 mph on the 2-mile oval during a test session for General Motors cars. "It took us a lot of years to win it and it was a tremendous time for us down here last year. We want to repeat. It's just like the first race you win. Then you want to win another one."

The Chevy he drove to victory lane last February has been on display ever since at Daytona USA, just outside the main gate of the speedway. It went to the stock car amusement center with everything just as Earnhardt left it when he slid out of the car, including a lucky coin glued to the dash.

"They're going to give us the car back from the museum sometime this weekend," Earnhardt said. "As soon as they give it back, I'm going to pry that coin off the dash and put it in our new car."

The 500 was the only race Earnhardt won last year, and the 47-year-old North Carolina native is heading into the 1999 season determined to win more and go for a record eighth title.

"The team is coming together very well, plus we're working on the 1999 Monte Carlo," he said, referring to the new GM car that is scheduled to race for the first time in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We've got a lot of things going on that we're prepared for right now. We're working well and running smooth.

"We've been preparing for that (new Monte Carlo) for a year now. We've been tuning with that car and testing and working in the wind tunnel. We should be in great shape."