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Don't tell Dale Earnhardt that
he's too old to race

1999 News
By Jim Pedley, Kansas City Star

Kansas City, Mo. (Aug. 16, 1999)
It's the age-old, old-age question: How old is too old?

Not 48. Not if you're a stock-car driver. Not if you're Dale Earnhardt.

That's what Earnhardt insists, and insists vehemently.

So vehemently, in fact, that you risk not reaching old age yourself if you voice an opinion to the contrary in front of Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion.

Forget that the last of Earnhardt's championships came five years ago. Never mind that he's won only four Winston Cup races in the last 31/2 years and has not won at a short track since 1995.

Earnhardt can still outdrive those young whippersnappers, and will be able to do so for years to come.

So says Earnhardt.

``We still feel we can win championships and win races,'' Earnhardt said. ``We feel good about our chances to win races.''

There is probably a lot of merit to those statements. Earnhardt has a win this year at Talladega, Ala., and he's in the top 10 in points.

And, as crew chief Kevin Hamlin said, Earnhardt's team is continually ``sticking our nose in the top 10 (at races). Just the wrong half of the top 10.''

Earnhardt has shown that his driving ability remains strong by winning three of four International Race of Champions events this year. But there are several problems standing between Earnhardt and winning on the Winston Cup circuit.

First, equipment. Hamlin indicated the engines are strong, but not the chassis. Earnhardt's cars are having a tough time cutting through air.

``We're working pretty hard on the aero (aerodynamics) package,'' Hamlin said. ``By no means are we where we need to be.''

Second, luck. Bad luck, that is. Like at the Brickyard 400 where a nice run ended when Earnhardt rammed a tire on pit road.

Third, other teams.

``It's so competitive today,'' Earnhardt said. ``It's tougher to win than it ever has been.''

Fourth, intangibles.

``Look at me,'' he said. ``We were on top for so long. Then we got sidelined and it's taken some time to get back on the game. You can't put your finger on it.''

Fifth, who knows?

``It's hard to say why this guy may never win or why he wins,'' Earnhardt said. ``Rusty Wallace is not winning as regularly as he used to. I'm not winning as regularly as I used to. Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett and these guys are all on the game. Why? It's everything is working for them. The team, engine guy, crew chief, everything is working for them.''

On Sunday at the road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Earnhardt started his 600th consecutive Winston Cup race.

It's a streak that only Terry Labonte, with 623, can match.

It is not a streak that will end anytime soon.

Earnhardt's contract with owner Richard Childress runs through the 2000 season. And Earnhardt said he and Childress are currently working on a three-year extension of that contract.

So he scoffs at those who say 48 is too old.

``One day you're on top of the world and the next day you're not winning and somebody is trying to retire you,'' he said.

But he said nobody will retire him yet.

``I don't feel any older,'' Earnhardt said. ``I'm excited about racing and feel good about racing.''

So Earnhardt will keep on racing.