Earnhardt second again at Daytona July 3
Days before the Pepsi 400, there were two buzzwords that kept
surfacing in the garage area.
Those words? Dale Earnhardt.
The seven-time NASCAR Winston
Cup Series champion has had a long-lasting love affair with the 2.5-mile high banked
speedway, and after his 1998 Daytona 500 victory, anything else was icing on the cake.
Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet started the day 10th on the grid, and after
some fierce early battles with Rusty Wallace, took the lead just 38 laps into the 160-lap
event. Though he complained about his car being tight, his team made an air pressure
adjustment and he wound up leading for 18 laps.
Earnhardt stayed in the top-5 throughout most of the day. On
lap 144 the leaders made their final pit stops of the night. Jarrett and most other race
leaders elected to stop for fuel only, while Earnhardt and Jeff Burton chose right-side
After the pit stop, Earnhardt, followed by Burton, raced from 7th to 2nd. Then, with just three
laps remaining, came the race's third caution.
After Jeremy Mayfield and Jimmy Spencer crashed to cause the yellow flag, there was no
time left for Earnhardt to pass Dale Jarrett for the win. Jarrett went on to win the event
over Earnhardt under the caution.
Earnhardt knew that he needed those two fresh tires
during the final pit stop to at least move himself back into contention.
"We wouldn't have finished second
(without new tires), that's all there is to it," Earnhardt said. "We were in
pretty good shape with tires. I told the crew if they didn't put tires on we were going to
be in the wall. It worked out in our favor. I think with just a few more laps we would
have gotten by Jarrett. He might have run out of gas because he was close on gas. The
caution really helped him. It helped me when we needed to catch up to everyone else. Then
it played in Jarrett's favor at the end. This is Daytona. We finished second again."
Earnhardt was in position to challenge but was cut short by the caution. At the time,
he didn't realize how close he really came to victory.
"I wasn't aware of Jarrett's problem, if he was going to run out of gas or be
close," Earnhardt said. "I think if it had stayed green, we could've got
Jarrett. It was a key to get those right side tires on the last stop. We just ran out of
time. I think we could have run him down if we hadn't run out of time."
Jeff Burton started the event from 37th position, then used the draft -- and a very
strong race car -- to work his way toward the front. Burton felt one car was the key to
his good fortune and he was going to follow him through, no matter what.
"I was committed to Earnhardt," Burton said. "We both had two tires. The
88 (Jarrett) did not put on tires, so I was committed to go with the 3 car. The other
thing was the 31 (Mike Skinner) was behind me and I really thought with as much press
that's been going on with the 3 and 31 not working together on the speedway that, wherever
the 3 would go the 31 would go. I would have driven straight off a cliff if that's where
the 3 car would have gone. I was committed to going with him and that's what I would have
Wallace led 75 laps but finished 11th at the end. He simply got shuffled out in the
"I was sitting there running second and had a run on the leader and I looked up
and I thought Dale (Earnhardt) would go with me and stayed up high and hung me out to
dry," Wallace said. "I couldn't believe it. I thought of all the guys he'd help
me. Then I went from second back to 11th because of that, but hey, that's racing."
Finishing fourth was Skinner, followed by Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Ward Burton,
Bobby Hamilton, Ernie Irvan and Terry Labonte.
Earnhardt will start 10th
under the lights July 1
Dale Earnhardt didn't have the smoothest
trip around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, but the results were there.
Earnhardt, who last won a Bud Pole at Daytona in 1996, didn't
grab the top spot, but managed to place the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet
tenth on the grid for Saturday night's Pepsi 400 on a track that raced more like a
supermarket parking lot, complete with speed bumps on Thursday night.
Earnhardt cranked his first lap on the high-banked tri-oval
in 46.871 seconds at an average speed of 192.016 mph, but bettered it in his second trip,
posting a lap in 46.606 seconds at 193.108 mph.
Joe Nemechek captured his third career Bud Pole with a lap in
46.187 seconds at a speed of 194.860 mph. Ricky Rudd was second in the Tide Ford, followed
by Mark Martin, Chad Little and Rusty Wallace, who round out the top-five.
Earnhardt was optimistic about his chances for Saturday night
even before taking the track.
"I think it's a good race car," Earnhardt said.
"It's the car I won at Talladega with.
"The car is gonna race good," he continued.
"It raced good at Talladega and it's set up just like the one we had here in
Earnhardt finished second at this year's Daytona 500.
Earnhardt poised for win,
record in Pepsi 400 June 17
When Dale Earnhardt returns to Daytona
International Speedway for the Pepsi 400 on July 3, he will be looking for the win that so
narrowly escaped him in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500. He also
will be poised to break a long-held record by Cale Yarborough as the all-time Pepsi 400
lap leader. Full Story.