Earnhardt charges to front, defends
Winston 500 win!_10/15
The legend grows.
Dale Earnhardt, seemingly out of contention for victory with
less than a dozen laps left in Sunday's Winston 500, came roaring through traffic and
scored an absolutely remarkable victory in an absolutely remarkable race.
It is impossible to adequately describe either the racing
action that marked Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway or the comeback that Earnhardt
fashioned to win for the 76th time in his career.
He earned a $1 million bonus from Winston for winning the No
Bull 5 event - and earned every penny. He also won a $1 million prize for a race fan from
Maryland in the process.
The big wreck that everybody expected didn't come until after
the checkered flag flew. Cars racing behind Earnhardt, runner-up Kenny Wallace and
third-place Joe Nemechek and the remainder of the lead pack crashed as they came across
the finish line four- and possibly five-wide. Nobody was hurt.
Earnhardt was 15th on the final restart on Lap 174. He was
18th with 11 laps to go. He was still 15th on Lap 180.
It didn't matter.
With drafting help from Kenny Wallace, including a few raps on the bumper, Earnhardt
fought his way through the pack. Suddenly, with two laps remaining, he popped out through
the middle of a three-wide race off Turn 4 and was suddenly right back in the hunt.
Up front, Skinner and Andretti were battling for the lead
when Earnhardt started bearing down on them. As the cars came to the white flag, Earnhardt
had the lead. He pulled ahead of the pack with only Wallace and Joe Nemechek in tow, and
held on for the victory for the final lap around the 2.66-mile track.
"I was very lucky," Earnhardt said. "I kept
working the outside and it didn't work. I started working the middle and finally it
started moving. Kenny helped me get up there. It worked out."
As the cars came off Turn 4 on Lap 168, Jeff Gordon headed
toward pit road for his final pit stop. Mark Martin slowed behind him to follow him, but
slowed quicker than Bobby Hamilton expected. Hamilton and Martin made contact, with
Hamilton spinning into the inside pit wall and Martin spinning across the trioval grass.
Gordon was already on pit road when the caution came out,
so he got his final load of fuel and got back on the track before everybody else came in.
Ricky Rudd took fuel only on his stop, too, and came back on the track second behind
Gordon, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr, Skinner and Bobby Labonte, who all got two tires on
The restart came on Lap 174, leaving 15 laps to settle the
outcome and 27 cars in the lead lap. Earnhardt Jr. took the lead around the high side in
Turn 1 a lap after the restart, with Labonte coming to second behind him. Skinner managed
to pass Tony Stewart's lapped car for third on Lap 180 with Rudd and John Andretti moving
into the top five.
It looked like the winner would come from that group, but
that was before Earnhardt hooked up in the draft with Wallace and Nemechek and came to the
front and to the victory, the 10th of his career here and the third in the past four
It was typical Talladega right from the green flag.
Joe Nemechek started on the pole, but got freight-trained
back to 16th on the first lap. Dave Marcis, who started ninth, led the second lap. But the
time the cars completed Lap 3, he was back to 11th.
Jeff Gordon, who damaged his Chevrolet in Saturday's final
practice, had to start the race from the back of the field in his back-up car. On Lap 13,
he lead a line of cars on the outside lane to the front of the pack and moved all the way
to the lead.
As quickly as the outside lane started to work, however, it
started to fade. The lead continued to shuffle around through the first round of
green-flag pit stops, with Bill Elliott getting the top spot on Lap 42 and resuming it
after the round of stops.
Elliott led 33 straight laps until a three-wide race for
the lead developed on Lap 85. Hamilton and Gordon then took their turns out front and
before long it was right back to the pattern that had shown itself early on.
The race remained clean and green until Lap 104, just as
the second round of pit stops were being completed, Marcis' Chevrolet lost power and
coasted to a stop off Turn 4 just before the entrance to pit road. That brought out the
day's first yellow flag.
The second came shortly thereafter, on Lap 116, when Ward
Burton cut a tire on the backstretch and limped back toward pit road. The leaders made pit
stops on this yellow, with Mike Bliss and Rusty Wallace taking fuel and no tires to come
Wallace had the lead when the green flew, but in short
order it was rookies Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth came to the front. On Lap 123,
Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte took over first place, becoming the 19th different
leader to that point in the race.
The action didn't slow down. Terry Labonte led. Ken
Schrader led. Who didn't lead? Tony Stewart, for one, who had led earlier but needed an
unscheduled pit stop for loose lug nuts and lost a lap. Two-wide races for the lead were
commonplace, three-wide battles were frequent. Drivers picked and changed drafting
partners the way 13-year-olds swap sweethearts.
Ward Burton, whose flat tire had brought out the second
caution, was back up to second and challenging for the lead on Lap 144.
Finally, Earnhardt Jr. got the lead and managed to stay
there for a while as the final round of pit stops for everyone on in the field. That's
when the wreck at the entrance of pit road brought out the final yellow and set up the
Other 'Day After The Win' Articles:
» Chemistry has
Childress, Earnhardt going strong
» Earnhardt feels like $1
» The Intimidation Factor
» That Old Black Magic
And A Million
Other Winning Articles:
» 3-mendous at Talladega!
» No Bull win makes one fan
» Earnhardt Pulls of
» Earnhardt takes
another Talladega checkered flag
overcomes rules and traffic to win Winston 500
20th in qualifying at Talladega_10/13
With a lap of 186.801 mph in qualifying, Dale Earnhardt
will start 20th in Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega. Earnhardt, with three victories, is the only active driver to have won the
Winston 500 more than twice. He also has nine victories overall at Talladega, five more
than any other driver.
Two cars needed extensive Bondo work after Friday morning inspection. Richard Childress'
No. 3, as usual, got a going-over. Jack Roush's No. 17 also needed work at the front of
Does the air show? It
seems to for seven-time champion
make for intriguing weekend
Earnhardt looks for Talladega boost
maybe 'slingshot' moves on tap