Earnhardt serves up plateful of victory
David Poole, The Charlotte Observer
Ala. (April 25, 1999)
Dale Earnhardt is most definitely not done. At least not
at Winston Cup racing's biggest superspeedways.
Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion whose recent
struggles have caused some fans to question whether he could still be a factor in the
sport, won Sunday's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, holding off Dale Jarrett and
Mark Martin on the final charge to the checkered flag.
``This is my kind of race track, the kind I really like,''
Earnhardt said after his eighth career Winston Cup victory at the 2.66-mile, high-speed
Earnhardt has won just twice since the start of the 1997
season, with the other victory coming in the season-opening race at Daytona in 1998. But
four days shy of his 48th birthday, on Sunday he was The Man once again.
In scoring the 72nd victory of his career, Earnhardt led the
most laps in the 188-lap event. But he had to come back from 16th place after his final
pit stop with less than 50 laps to go to score a victory that was very popular with the
massive crowd of nearly 200,000 who gathered to see it.
``What can I say?'' Earnhardt said. ``The guys did a great
job with this car. It was a good day for us.''
It was a typical afternoon of racing at Talladega - a lot of
three-, four- and even five-wide racing at wide-open speeds marred by one big crash that
ruined the chances of several possible challengers.
The wreck came early this time, on Lap 49, when Mike Skinner
and Tony Stewart went down on the grass at the head of the backstretch while racing for
position. Skinner spun back across the track and hit Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet, which in
turn hit Rusty Wallace's Ford.
In all, nine cars were involved. Fortunately, none of the
drivers involved were seriously injured.
As for the racing, it was typically wild.
``It was like who was going to work with who and what was
what,'' Earnhardt said. ``They got to jumping around and I got out front and just stayed
Earnhardt was already up to third when the final yellow flag
came out on Lap 169 for a wreck involving Bobby Hamilton and Robert Pressley in Turn 2.
When the green flew again there were 15 laps to go, Earnhardt moved to second down the
backstretch. On Lap 175, he went high around Jarrett in the same place and took the lead
Jarrett and Martin tried to get together to mount a challenge
over the final laps, with Bobby Labonte and Stewart helping push Martin toward the front.
But cars behind the top three began racing side-by-side, depriving Jarrett and Martin of
the help they needed to threaten Earnhardt for the win.
The victory was the second of the weekend here for Earnhardt.
He also won Saturday's International Race of Champions event here, giving him a total of
12 victories at the track. He has three IROC wins and one Grand National victory to go
with his eight Cup wins.
It also was his ninth restrictor-plate victory and his 35th
top-10 finish in 46 starts since the plates were first employed in 1987.