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California 500

California 500

Race: California 500
Date: May 3, 1998
Track: California Speedway
Qualified: 43rd
Finished: 9th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 205 of 334
Points Earned: 58
Money Earned: $55,700

Ever since suffering second-degree burns in the April 26 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Dale Earnhardt has faced one obstacle after another.

First it was the pain from the burns on the left side of his face and neck.

Second, it was having to take the past champion's provisional, the last starting spot in the 43-car field, for the California 500.

Then, it was a multicar accident on lap 86 of the 250-lap race on the two-mile California 500.

Each time Earnhardt fought back, and following the accident that also involved Mike Dillon, Kyle Petty, and Bill Elliott, his team made repairs to the rear of his Chevrolet without losing a lap during the second caution period.

By the end of the sixth yellow flag, on lap 235, the tenacity of Earnhardt and Co. had paid off.

On the race's restart, Earnhardt sat eighth.   A lap later, he actually found himself racing his own car owner - with Darrell Waltrip driving - for seventh.  Waltrip came out ahead, and then Earnhardt became embroiled in a side-by-side duel with Jeff Gordon.  Earnhardt initially won the battle, but as the race progressed, Gordon became stronger and advanced to fourth while Earnhardt had to settle for ninth.

Still, the seven-time Winston Cup champion was happy with his forth top-10 finish this season and his move from ninth to seventh in the Winston Cup point standings.

"Our guys worked hard today, and the team did a great job getting us back out there to get a ninth-place finish," said Earnhardt, who wore a protective cover over his burns.

"We never gave up and that's the way you've got to be.  I guess finishing ninth after starting 43rd isn't too bad.   We didn't have any luck, but you've got to make your own luck.  These guys just keep digging.

"We'll just keep working hard and take a few days off before going to Charlotte.  We'll be ready when it's time to race again."

On lap 86, it appeared that Earnhardt's misfortune of a week earlier at Talladega was continuing.  The engine in Dale Jarrett's Ford blew and dumped oil in turn one.  Elliott's Ford hit the wall head-on.   The impact was so hard that Elliott's Ford teetered on two wheels before coming to a rest in the middle of the track with fire billowing from the car's engine compartment.   While Elliott and Petty were crashing, Earnhardt's car hit the fluid and slid sideways, with the rear of his Chevrolet clipping the left front quarter panel of teammate Dillon's car.  Dillon was filling in for an aching Mike Skinner in the Lowe's No. 31 Chevrolet.

The race was stopped for 26 minutes and 33 seconds while the track was cleared.  It was the fourth time in the last four races NASCAR has had to red-flag a race for an accident.

Elliott was flown by helicopter to Loma Linda Medical Center for X-rays.  He was later released with a minor fracture in his left hand and one in his left foot.  A week earlier, the Georgia driver suffered a bruised sternum in a horrendous 20-car crash at Talladega, which also involved Earnhardt.

"I hated to see Elliott have his problems today," said Earnhardt.  "I know he didn't need that."

1998 Unimount Enterprises