|Race: Pocono 500
|Date: June 21, 1998
|Track: Pocono Raceway
|Laps Completed: 200 of 200
|Points Position Before Race/After
|Points Earned: 147
|Money Earned: $34,625
An emotional week for Dale Earnhardt ended in the Pocono 500 with his first top-10
finish in the past five starts.
Earnhardt began the week by addressing the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and
ended it with a eighth-place run that was his best since a ninth-place finish in the
California 500. In the process, the seven-time series champion moved from 12th to
10th in the series point standings.
"Eight place really tickles me," said Earnhardt, who started 11th.
"We were just a little bit off. We'll keep tuning and we'll get better.
I feel real good about it right now."
Since car owner Richard Childress switched crew chiefs with his two teams two weeks
ago, Earnhardt has finished 15th and eighth.
"We've just got to keep working on it, but we're making gains," Childress
said. "Hopefully we'll go to Sears Point now and run good. That's the
plan, but that's always the plan."
Earnhardt has managed to put everything in perspective in the two weeks since
Childress shook up the teams. Mike Skinner qualified 20th at Pocono with Earnhardt's
former crew chief, Larry McReynolds, calling the shots. Relying on a basic setup,
crew chief Kevin Hamlin guided Earnhardt's famous black No. 3 Chevy to its best starting
spot since the April 26 Talladega race.
"It felt good to qualify decent for a change," Earnhardt said.
"We're just doing basic stuff. We've got a basic race car here. We're
doing simple things, not trying to go too far over the edge."
Questions have popped up concerning Earnhardt's relationship with former crew chief
McReynolds. Earnhardt addressed those questions June 20 at Pocono.
"You go through a lot of things in your career, but I haven't ever worked with
a crew chief that I didn't get along with or work good with, Larry McReynolds
included," he said. "We've had some good races together and won the
Daytona 500 together. Whether the communication wasn't just perfect or what was
going on there, just like we couldn't really get set on our setups and we were searching
around a lot.
"All of a sudden, we got a basic thing here with the setups now. We just
stepped back and took a look at it. I don't think there was any one person to blame
in the way we've been running. I don't think there's any one person to congratulate
in the way we're running this week. I think it's the whole team effort."
Earnhardt, who led one lap in the race, is now 486 points behind series leader and
Pocono race-winner Jeremy Mayfield. Despite the team's decline since winning the
Daytona 500, the veteran remains confident in his driving style.
"I know myself I can still drive a race car," Earnhardt said.
"That ain't a question to me. A lot of other people might be questioning
that. I can't help it if they are. That's their business and their opinion and
everybody's got opinions."
Earnhardt took time out on Tuesday earlier in the week for a meeting with 150
members of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
"It was a heck of an honor to be invited up there," Earnhardt said.
"Basically, it was just a big press conference, but I was impressed by the whole
thing. I might even join. All you've got to do is pay your dues."
Earnhardt has certainly paid his dues on the NASCAR circuit. And despite
experiencing growing pains on a veteran team, starting over in midseason shouldn't be a
problem for Earnhardt and his Richard Childress Racing team.
"To say I've lost my focus of lost what's at hand here, there's nothing no more
important than the No. 3 car," he said. "That No. 3 car is what's gotten
me where I am today and what's gotten me everything I have. It's not anything about
focus, about 'well he's got other businesses or he's got other race teams and he's got
this and he's got that.' That ain't a problem."
© 1998 The Earnhardt