Dale Earnhardt proudly hoists his trophy from winning
round two of IROC on Saturday.
Dale Earnhardt's team and fans were buoyed by their
driver's victory last Sunday in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, but it's premature to say
the seven-time champion is on his way back as a contender.
Earnhardt, who turns 48 Thursday, has won only two of his
last 101 races. Both of those came on the circuit's biggest tracks, where carburetor
restrictor plates are used to keep speeds down.
Richard Childress Racing has an excellent restrictor plate
engine program that has benefited both Earnhardt and teammate Mike Skinner. Unfortunately
for them, only four races a year are run with restrictor plates (two at Daytona and two at
It's hard to believe that Earnhardt's last victory in a race
without restrictor plates came more than three years ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Heading into Sunday's California 500, Earnhardt is ninth in the standings with just two
Is Earnhardt at the end of his career, or is it the No. 3
Chevy team that has been struggling? No one can say definitively. The educated guess is
that it's a combination of factors.
Said Earnhardt, ``If the driver is off five one-hundredths of
a second, and the chassis is off five one-hundredths, and the engine is off five
one-hundredths, that puts you 15 one-hundredths behind the next guy.''
-- The DieHard 500 win was the first in Winston Cup for crew
chief Kevin Hamlin, who started working with Earnhardt with 20 races remaining last year.
Hamlin had been with Skinner and the No. 31 team before Childress swapped the crew chiefs
on his two cars last June, sending Larry McReynolds to Skinner's team.
``When it first came about, I was like, `Richard, this is not
what I want to do,''' Hamlin related this week. ``I'd just as soon have stayed with the
low-profile thing, being with Mike Skinner and working our way up. But, really, working
with Dale has been great.''
Earnhardt and McReynolds won the Daytona 500 together in
1998, but they struggled after that. One difference made public after the swap was that
McReynolds had wanted Earnhardt to spend more time at the race shop in Welcome, N.C.
Earnhardt, who keeps an extremely busy schedule because of his many business interests,
didn't think it was necessary.
Hamlin says Earnhardt comes into the shop now only about once
a month, but nobody complains.
``To me, that's no big deal,'' Hamlin said. ``Larry likes to
do things a little different, and that's fine. And it works pretty good for him. With
Skinner, when we were the No. 31 shop, Mike was close enough to where he liked to come to
the shop maybe once a week if needed. But even his schedule is getting busier.''
-- Who's the best driver in Winston Cup? Well, Jeff Gordon
has won three of the last four championships, but he doesn't get Mark Martin's vote.
Martin gives the nod to his 31-year-old Roush Racing teammate, current points leader Jeff
``His car knowledge makes him the best driver on the
circuit,'' Martin asserted. ``If you took a bucket of parts and threw it out in the garage
for all the drivers to put together, he'd put together a winning race car before most.
When you can do that, you hold your future in your hands.''
-- For the graduating senior who has everything, how about a
genuine Mark Martin race car? Neiman-Marcus is offering an actually raced No. 6 Valvoline
Ford in its new ``Oh Boys, Toys!'' catalog. Of course, the car isn't street legal. It
comes with a Roush Racing 352 cubic-inch V-8 engine and VIP credentials to a NASCAR race.
-- Veteran driver Mike Chase of the Irving-based Green Light
Racing team leads the Winston West point standings heading into Saturday's California 200
at California Speedway.
Chase, who is from Redding, Calif., and lives in North
Carolina, won the Winston West championship in 1994. He has competed in 11 Winston Cup
events, including the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 as A.J. Foyt's driver.
Green Light Racing is owned by Gene Christensen, who runs a
driving school at California Speedway and has residences in California and Garland. The
race shop is in Irving, and four full-time team members live in the Dallas area. They are
team manager Andy Woods, engine specialist Rick Johnson, crewman Kevin Simpson and
marketing director Mark McGowan.
The team has been operating without major financial support
and is seeking sponsors.
Chase has three top-10 finishes in three races and leads
Brandon Ash in the standings by seven points. Winston West winners so far this year are
Mike Wallace, Bobby Hamilton and Austin Cameron.