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Earnhardt finding groove again
'99 News
By Angelique S. Chengelis / The Detroit News

Dale Earnhardt leads the pack heading into turn four at Michigan Speedway, but he wound up in fifth place.

Brooklyn, MI (Aug. 22, 1999)
While Dale Earnhardt was leading late in the Pepsi 400, his team owner, Richard Childress, couldn't help but think he would be making a trip to Victory Lane.

"I was getting cold chills," Childress said.

Earnhardt led twice for 26 laps in Sunday's race at Michigan Speedway, but on lap 181, he lost the lead to Jeff Gordon and eventually fell back to fifth, where he finished. It was another statement race for Earnhardt, 48, winner of seven NASCAR Winston Cup titles, and he has been making plenty of them the last two months.

His finish Sunday was even more impressive considering he started 38th. It was his sixth top-10 finish in the last eight races. He won earlier this season at Talladega and has finished second twice in both races at Daytona. He remains seventh in the standings.

"He can do it," Childress said. "He is as good as ever; we just have to get the car where it can turn for him, and we've struggled with that. I ain't never going to give up on him, and if anybody does, they're losing their money, because we're going to be up there for that championship if we keep getting runs like this and keep the momentum."

Earnhardt looked strong in the lead, which he took for the second time on lap 158. After losing the lead to Gordon, Earnhardt stayed in the mix, racing for a top-five position on the final laps.

He was ecstatic when he climbed out of his Goodwrench Chevrolet.

"That's the kind of racing Dale Earnhardt wants to do," Earnhardt said, beaming.

It was the first time all weekend he looked happy. The team brought a new car to Michigan, and he found it to be handling poorly during practice and qualifying. He failed to qualify for the race and had to take a provisional to make the starting field.

The tire Goodyear introduced for the race was to his liking, however. Earnhardt's crew made adjustments to the car each pit stop, but he found the car developed an understeer or push as the tires wore. That prevented him from making a run for the victory in the final laps.

"I wish we could have had a caution with about 15 (laps) to go," said Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion who has not won since the 1998 season-opening Daytona 500. "We could have got some (new tires) on and wore their butts out. I was having a good time, but my time ran out. My tires tightened up. I'd like to have been there at the end.

"It was close out there (racing with Bobby Labonte and Gordon), but it was just good racing. That's what I was enjoying. That's what they've been doing and I haven't been getting any of it. This time I got some of fit. We just needed a better finish."

It was Earnhardt's best finish at Michigan since placing seventh in June 1997. He has not won here since 1990.