left.gif (848 bytes) main.gif (882 bytes)
News The Earnhardt Connection
Text links are located at the bottom of the page.

Earnhardt on second-half rampage
'99 News
Marty Smith, NOL

Martinsville, Va. (Oct. 4, 1999)
Jeff Gordon had to be honest. There was no denying that, during the waning laps of Sunday's NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway, his mind kept replaying what had happened to Terry Labonte a month ago at Bristol.

For those few nervous minutes, the wrath of Dale Earnhardt haunted him.

The scenario was eerily similar. Gordon held the lead with five laps to go and Earnhardt was charging through the field on fresher tires as if possessed. However, Bobby Labonte's crippled Interstate Batteries Pontiac and some lapped traffic prevented his surge to the front, much to Gordon's relief.

"In the closing laps, I felt him coming and he was coming hard," said Gordon, who picked up his first victory in the post-Ray Evernham era Sunday, his series-leading sixth of the season. "I knew it was going to come right down to the wire. Going into the last corner, I've got to be honest with you. All I could think about was Terry Labonte.

"I was, 'Man, I hope he doesn't get to my bumper.' I knew I would be feeling a little bit of a nudge. You just expect that in short-track racing, especially with a hard racer like Dale."

By finishing second, Earnhardt earned his sixth top-5 of the season despite suffering from flu-like symptoms nearly the entire weekend. Finishing up front helps, but it's far from a cure.

"I might have overdrove it trying to catch him," said Earnhardt, who ranks seventh in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings, 119 behind sixth-place Gordon. "I settled down there and the car came in. (Gordon) played his cards right. The traffic, and the 18 car (Bobby Labonte) was missing or something, and that gave him the edge to get away from us. Then I had to run him back down and time ran out on us. I got to him too late.

"I'm feeling pretty bad. I've got the flu bug. I thought we could run him back down, but we ran out of time. I had to get by the 18 and a couple more. I maybe ran in too hard trying to catch him, and then I started taking it easy and started catching him more. If I'd caught him with three or four to go, we'd have made a race out of it. The 18 and 58 (Hut Stricklin) held me up bad. If they hadn't held me up, I think I could have beat (Gordon). He rolled the dice and won."

Although the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team came up just short of Victory Lane, Lady Luck was still in their corner Sunday. Earnhardt took the green flag in 38th position, and with the inevitable attrition rate at Martinsville, that is almost certain doom. Of the seven drivers who needed provisional starting positions -- Tony Stewart, Earnhardt, Chad Little, Johnny Benson, Elliott Sadler, Jerry Nadeau and Dave Marcis -- Earnhardt was the only one who finished in the top-20. Sadler was the next best with a 25th place finish.

Still, in the eyes of Earnhardt and car owner Richard Childress, second doesn't get the job done.

"We got a lap down with the 3 car, but I was happy with both cars," said Childress, who also owns the No. 31 Lowe's Chevy driven by Mike Skinner. "It was a hell of a good race. Second really stinks though. Nobody will remember who finished second today."

Well, it is safe to say that at least one person will remember who was the race's runner-up. Gordon may never forget who was in his mirror when he took the checkers.