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Pocono 500

Pocono 500

Race: Pocono 500
Date: June 21, 1998
Track: Pocono Raceway
Qualified: 11th
Finished: 8th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 200 of 200
Points Position Before Race/After Race: 12/10
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 Connection