Earnhardt registers a top-25 finish in Southern
Dale Earnhardt's latest push to victory at Bristol did nothing to affect his
popularity with NASCAR fans at the Southern 500.
The Intimidator spun out Terry Labonte on the final lap at the Goody's 500 last week to
steal the victory. But the move brought a shower of boos from the Bristol crowd and cries
from drivers who would rather not race Earnhardt-style.
On Sunday, the Darlington Raceway fans were ready to yell for or at Earnhardt. They
booed his crew chief Kevin Hamlin as he won an award for last week's win. They screamed as
Earnhardt climbed over the track wall. And they let "Old Ironhead" -- waving and
smiling the whole way -- have it as he strolled across the stage during driver
But for every person in the stands pointing "thumbs down" at Earnhardt, an
infield motor home or tent flew his No. 3 flag or wore a cap or T-shirt with his sinister
The applause was just as loud for Labonte, who graciously waved to the grandstand.
Before introductions, Labonte and Earnhardt talked briefly like the friends they have
always been, the incident, while probably not forgotten, at least forgiven.
Labonte said so Friday. He said he had put the spin out behind him and was not looking
The two Chevrolets shared a garage this week and ran door-to-door for a while at
Saturday's final practice.
The fans seemed more fired up than the drivers. One walking through the garage spotted
one of Labonte's crew members and reminded him of Earnhardt's move, saying, "You owe
him one." Early in the race, Labonte cruised past Earnhardt for 23rd place without
contact, prompting a roar from fans.
When rain stopped the race
on lap 244, Earnhardt's black Monte Carlo stopped right behind Labonte's multi-colored
machine. Grandstand fans hollered for a face-off and Earnhardt play-acted a confrontation
as Labonte smiled.
Earnhardt also said last week's incident was over. His mind was on a Darlington win,
which would have been his record-tying 10th at NASCAR's oldest superspeedway.
"We're just having fun," Earnhardt said.
By mid-race, though, Earnhardt had fallen off the pace, losing a lap after missing the
pit entrance. Tire problems also cost him some positioning. He finished 22nd, two laps
Labonte, who started 37th, worked his way as high as 11th and ended 17th.
Hurricane Dale still churns the atmosphere
This week, a Baptist preacher in North Carolina resisted temptation, but
most every place else you went somebody was talking about the end of last Saturday night's
race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt qualifies 25th at Darlington
Earnhardt just barely got a top-25 today in qualifying. The
"Intimidator" was in threat of being bumped back to 26th by the last car to
qualify, Dale Jarrett. But Jarrett spun before he got a fast lap in, assuring Earnhardt
the 25th starting position. Starting 25th, Earnhardt will be given a pit stall on the
Pepsi Southern 500 Sept. 2
Is he back or isn't he? It looked like he sure was at
Michigan where it was nothing but vintage Intimidator until his car couldn't perform and
he slipped back to a fifth-place finish. Then came that gnarly half-mile they call Bristol
Motor Speedway, a place where you have to knock a hole in the pack and shove your way
through. He did just that -- some called it a cheap shot -- to turn Terry Labonte around
and take the checkered flag. With Darlington up next, we think he is going to hang tough
no matter what the critics say. But we're thinking the Intimidator is going to be on his
best behavior in the Pepsi Southern 500 so we are not looking for him to go for broke