Earnhardt News
2000 Season

Earnhardt family had a special day
Rea McLeroy

(May 22, 2000)
Make no doubt about it, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has no problem living in his father’s shadow. Some days, he prefers things that way.

“It’s kind of funny for me to stand there on that podium and hear people cheering ‘Earnhardt, Earnhardt, Earnhardt’ when I’m the only Earnhardt standing up there,” Earnhardt Jr. said after winning The Winston Saturday night. “That was kind of weird. I made sure the big Earnhardt hurried up and got up there so I didn’t feel so weird anymore. He’s the Earnhardt in the family.”

The “big Earnhardt” joined him quickly on Saturday, clapping his son -- and employee -- on the back and smiling broadly. It had been quite a night for the pair.

Earnhardt Jr. managed to turn NASCAR’s Winston Cup all-star race into an epic event on Saturday. He struggled to overcome lost positions after almost losing a wheel, battled his own car after brushing the wall and surged past his father in a late-race showdown.

“I looked in my mirror and here this thing comes,” Earnhardt said of his son’s charge. “He hit the wall back there, and it looked like it got it running better.”

Earnhardt Jr. scraped the wall late in the second 30-lap segment of the race. He never slowed, barreling through the fourth turn to keep chasing the leaders. It was one of many gutsy moves he made to beat the veterans.

He etched his name alongside his father’s as a winner of The Winston. But he did it as a rookie. And he did it by edging past his father late in the final race of the three-segment event.

“This is a really special night for me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’ll never forget [Saturday night], and I’ll never forget how proud I am of the team and ourselves as a team. You get up there on stage with your dad, and a lot of realizations come into play and come into mind. A lot of flashbacks of old times.”

He remembers a lot of things about growing up but said he is closer to his dad now than he’s ever been. He is closer to his older brother, Kerry, as well. After winning the $500,000 share for first place, Earnhardt Jr. said he didn’t want the money. He suggested pouring it back into the well-funded team or putting it in the bank.

Or maybe it can be used to help Kerry. Saturday afternoon, he finished second in the ARCA race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. After his own win, Earnhardt Jr.’s thoughts turned to that event.

“[Kerry] has been through really tough times and had

a lot of people lose confidence in him, not our family or anybody in our organization, just people we had hired or put in position to work with him,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Nobody wanted to work with him, and he was under a lot of pressure.”

Earnhardt Jr. could sympathize, but he really didn’t know his brother that well. Not then.

“I didn’t ever even meet the guy until I was 13 years old, so he had to be 17 or 18,” he said. “It was kind of like a little family quarrel going on there between my dad and Kerry’s mama, so for the longest time he wasn’t part of the family.”

But that has all changed.

“Everything he’s learned he had to learn the hard way by backing cars into the wall, tearing wheels off of cars at Hickory [Speedway] when he was running late model cars,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He’s come a long way.”

After finishing second, Kerry Earnhardt said he hoped his dad would consider putting him in a Busch Grand National car in the future. Earnhardt Jr. hopes it goes even further.

“I never thought up until [Saturday] that I’d be able to race my brother in the Winston Cup series like the Burtons do, but after today, I think it’s a great possibility that we’ll see Kerry in a Winston Cup car in two or three years,” he said. “I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. Just like me and dad getting closer as I’ve started running Winston Cup, me and Kerry will start to get closer. It’ll be a good opportunity for both of us.”



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