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News The Earnhardt Connection

Earnhardt aims to get back to victory lane
Shawn A. Akers, NASCAR Online - '99 News

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 18, 1999)
North Carolina Speedway can't be counted among Dale Earnhardt's more successful race tracks as far as his career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories go.

But then, with the seven-time series champion, that's a bit of a misconception, and he feels like he has a pretty good chance of finding Victory Lane in Sunday's Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 at Rockingham.

Three of his 71 career wins have come at "The Rock," and he more than knows his way around the 1.017-mile oval. He's been racing there in for over 20 years.

Earnhardt has won nine times at Darlington, eight times at Bristol, eight times at Atlanta, seven times at Talladega, six times at Martinsville, five times at Charlotte and five times at Richmond. He's put his No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet in Victory Lane at Rockingham in 1987, '94 and '96. The 1994 win clinched Earnhardt's seventh series crown.

Earnhardt and the Richard Childress Racing team are riding a major wave of success heading into this Sunday's event. Not only did Earnhardt leave Daytona International Speedway last week with two victories (in his Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Race and in the True Value International Race of Champions event), he also blistered his way to a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 last Sunday, finishing just behind Jeff Gordon.

"It was disappointing to come as close as we did and not win," said Earnhardt, who was looking for his second straight Daytona 500 triumph. "We had a good week and hope to bring this momentum to Rockingham."

"Coming from a half lap down to second place is tremendous," said Kevin Hamlin, crew chief of the No. 3 Chevrolet, of last Sunday's run. "We knew there was a problem and Dale had to switch to the back-up ignition. On the restart, he took off and drove one of the best races I've ever witnessed. We didn't win, but I know we had the best driver out there and if he couldn't get by, nobody else was either."

One of the biggest concerns of the No. 3 team coming into this season was mediocre to poor qualifying efforts in 1998. Earnhardt finished 17th in last year's February event at "The Rock," but started from the 37th position after being forced to take a provisional.

Last October's ACDelco 400 at North Carolina Speedway wasn't much better. He wound up finishing ninth, but had to work his way back from a 29th starting position.

"Qualifying hasn't been our strong point, but we hope to change that this year," Earnhardt said. "Starting in the back like we did got us in trouble more than once last year. We need to get a good time on Friday to secure a pit on the frontstretch."

Once again, Gordon will be the man to beat on Sunday. Not only is he coming off the victory at Daytona, he has won three of the last four races held at North Carolina Speedway, including both events last year.