Earnhardt's aggressive style makes the finish an exciting ride
By Terry Foster / The Detroit News
Brooklyn, MI (Aug. 22, 1999)
The jam-packed grandstands rumbled and shook
with more than 100,000 strong pumping the fist of victory at ol' 3 Black as he thundered
into the lead with under 50 laps to go.
The throng refused to turn away from the two-mile oval at
Michigan Speedway because it knew anything could happen when Dale Earnhardt in the black
Goodwrench Chevrolet entered the fray.
As Earnhardt moved into the hunt with his usual growl, an
already great race turned into a battle royal. For when Earnhardt waves that old black
magic, races turn more physical. Muscle beats speed. And the driver with the whitest
knuckles and bravest heart wins.
Ol' 3 Black did not win the Pepsi 400. He faded at the end
and finished fifth after a heroic dash from 38th to first.
First place went to Bobby Labonte, who was catapulted into
the lead from a hurricane-like disturbance from the dirty air of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart
and Earnhardt. A sheet of loose-leaf paper often separated the three drivers.
The Pepsi 400 was a race fans dream about. There were 23 lead
changes involving 11 drivers and a duel to the finish.
During the final 50 laps, we saw racers dash into the corners
three abreast. We saw the diamond formation, on which two cars dug for the lead with the
other two tearing down their backsides. Back and forth they went -- as four drivers
exchanged leads -- until Labonte got the break he needed and broke away from the pack with
34 miles to go.
One more thing. They all raced on blistering tires, which
made them slide all over the track like pucks on bumpy ice.
Nope. That is just racing.
"I wish spectators had the seat I did," said
Stewart, who finished third. "I had the best seat in the house for 10 or 15
At the beginning, Earnhardt had one of the worst seats in the
house. He began 38th with a provisional start.
For the better part of two days, crew members tried to hammer
miracles into his rebuilt car.
Almost immediately, the hard work was rewarded. Earnhardt and
Stewart, another provisional starter, began picking off the field.
Both led at some point. But the biggest cheers came for 3
Black when he passed Mark Martin for the lead on lap 158. He led until lap 181 as he held
off the hard charges of Gordon and Labonte.
When it was over, this race resembled a Red WingsAvalanche
game. There was black and blue all over the place. Gordon's rear bumper was marked in
black from all the bumps. Stewart's car was dented on the rear quarter panel after a bump
with Jeff Burton near the finish.
And, of course, Earnhardt had his usual damage up front as he
bullied from way back to the front.
It's amazing how great the Dominator was on a losing day. He
turned small early as he wiggled and snaked through the smallest cracks. And he turned big
near the end, blocking the way of faster cars when his tires tightened the car.
When Labonte made his winning move in turn four of lap 183,
he could not help but take a few quick peeks in his rearview mirror.
"It looked pretty wild back there," Labonte said.
The tornado he left behind was wild and dangerous as
screaming engines and determined men fought over every inch of track.
How dicey was it? Just listen to Stewart.
"You could catch your breath during the caution
laps," he said. "And you could catch it for perhaps the first two or three laps
of the restart. Other than that, you were holding your breath on every lap."
My kind of race.