Intimidator's ready for a title run
Earnhardt thinks the pieces are in
place for 8th championship
(Dec. 16, 1999)
Through the inconsistency of his past few
seasons, Dale Earnhardt has maintained confidence in himself. He is sure he can win
another championship in 2000.
Earnhardt, who'll be 48 when he begins the new season at the
Daytona 500 in February, won the last of his record-tying seven Winston Cup titles in
1994. Since going winless in 1997, he hasn't come close.
But three victories in 1999 -- the most for The Intimidator
since he had five in 1995 -- a maturing relationship with his crew chief and some setup
changes have Earnhardt believing he has at least one more championship run in him.
"Our team really came together as `99 went on,"
said Earnhardt, seventh in points last season. "Kevin Hamlin and I got real
comfortable working together, and our team just kept looking better and better and better.
"I've had confidence in myself all along. It was just a
matter of getting the pieces back in place.'' I think we've made a lot of changes that
needed to be made. If we didn't make those changes, we weren't going to win.''
Those changes include new personnel and modifications to his
"Richard Childress and myself have made some important
innovations on our cars,'' Earnhardt said. ``You've got to be closer to the edge than ever
to win. That means sometimes you go over the edge, and I don't mean driving, either.''
Childress, Earnhardt's team owner for 16 seasons and six of
his seven championships, is just as confident that his driver and team can again be in the
"Our people have been working together for a while, and
they have built some real good chemistry,'' he said. ``Add to that the fact that I believe
Dale Earnhardt can still win week in and week out, and you have a chance at that eighth
The 1999 showing by Earnhardt was inconsistent, not the way
to win championships in NASCAR's top division.
In 34 races, Earnhardt's average starting position was just
"I'll tell you the biggest thing we have to change,''
Childress said. ``It's our qualifying. As competitive as the teams are now, making it
handle to come from the rear every week is just too hard.''
It wasn't always that way. A bad starting position once was
fairly easy to overcome. But with Dale Jarrett and the rest of NASCAR's top drivers
running up front virtually every week, it isn't so easy anymore.
"We can race with them every week, but even if you can
get to the front, you have to use up the car and the tires to do it,'' Childress
He is looking for more on qualifying day next year.
"Nobody can hit it every week,'' he said. "We just
want to improve to 75 percent. That's what can make us a contender.''
One problem for Earnhardt, who also owns a team, is the
possible distraction of his son, Dale Jr., moving up to Winston Cup next season.
Little E has caused tremendous excitement by winning two
consecutive Busch series championships to earn his shot at the big time with Dale
Earnhardt Inc. But the elder Earnhardt knows he can't let the youngster's trial by fire
detract from what he's trying to accomplish in the waning years of his career.
"He's not going to be a distraction to me unless he's
competing against me for a win,'' Big E said. "I pay the bills for DEI, and those
guys over there do their jobs. My job is to drive that black No. 3."