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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

Feb. 12, 1999
Dale Earnhardt takes aim at reclaiming glory
By JOHN STURBIN - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the remainder of this week, Dale Earnhardt is remembering what it's like to walk through the NASCAR Winston Cup garage area as the man to beat.
Earnhardt has gotten to know the feeling well during a career that has produced 71 Winston Cup victories and a record-tying seven points championships. But it wasn't until last Feb. 15 that the ``The Intimidator'' broke a career-long 0-for-20 winless streak in NASCAR's premier event, the Daytona 500.

Nearly one year later, Earnhardt remembers that emotional day, complete with an impromptu receiving line of rival teams along pit road.

``It's always drove me to win races -- to be the guy to beat,'' said Earnhardt, who snapped a career-worst 59-race winless streak on Daytona's daunting, 31-degree high banks. ``When that 3 car pulled into the track, I mean, people looked around and wondered what we were doing. And how to beat us.

``But it didn't satisfy my appetite for winning. I want to win more races. I want to win that eighth championship. We've got to get back to there. We are starving for that position again. You definitely want to be the guy to beat when you roll into the racetrack.''

Earnhardt knows that three-time and reigning Cup champion Jeff Gordon is the guy to beat during the 34-race 1999 season scheduled to begin Sunday. Last year, Gordon rode a single-season, record-tying 13 victories to his third title in four years. And at 27, Gordon -- who won the pole position for Sunday's Daytona 500 -- is 20 years younger than Earnhardt, who turns 48 in April.

But Earnhardt and Richard Childress, owner of the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet Monte Carlo, are convinced they can contend for a points championship they won most recently in 1994.

``I can still win championships and still win races at a lot of places,'' said Earnhardt, whose eighth-place points finish last year marked his lowest since running 12th in 1992.

``There's always a mark to beat,'' he continued. ``Somebody always breaks that mark and sets a new mark. I think Jeff and Hendrick (Motorsports) has done that. They've got a lot of resources, a lot of development. And Jeff's a great race-car driver, too. I had my day in that circle. I still think we can have that day again.

``I want to beat everybody. It just kills you to see a kid like Gordon go out there and be as dominant as he was (in 1998). We've got to race him. We've got to beat him, and all the rest of the guys. And be the one to beat.''

The gap between Earnhardt and Gordon was considerable in 1998, and it went beyond Gordon's 13-1 advantage in victories. Gordon bagged a series-leading seven poles last year; Earnhardt did not win one. Gordon had 26 top-five finishes in 33 starts; Earnhardt had five. Gordon had 28 top-10 results; Earnhardt had 13. Gordon earned 170 bonus points for leading laps; Earnhardt had 75.

``We had a tough year last year,'' said Childress, the former driver who has been with Earnhardt for the past six of his seven championships. ``Winning the Daytona 500 and being in the top 10 in points, a lot of people would liked to have had that season. But that's not up to the standards of Dale Earnhardt. We've both made the commitment this year to have a better season.''

Childress started the wheels of change when he initiated a switch of crew chiefs near mid-season last year. Childress moved high-profile Larry McReynolds from the No. 3 car to the No. 31 Lowe's Chevy driven by Mike Skinner. Kevin Hamlin replaced McReynolds as Earnhardt's sounding-board.

Since the end of the 1998 season, Childress also has entered into an aerodynamic testing alliance with Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Andy Petree Racing.

``We're developing a new aero program; we've developed a new chassis. We're not backing off,'' said Earnhardt, who will start fifth in Thursday's second Twin 125-mile qualifying race. ``It's a lot of hard work and responsibility on Richard's part to keep things going for us, to put that race car out there that will win the Daytona 500.

``There's a lot of things going on behind the scenes that people don't realize.''

Earnhardt, whose contract with Childress expires after the 2000 season, is so pumped about 1999 that he has begun campaigning for a contract extension.

``All I got to worry about is driving that 3 car,'' Earnhardt said. ``That's what's got me here, and that's what's going to get me further.''

Dale Earnhardt Home

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NASCAR
Winston Cup Series

Next Race:
Daytona 500
Feb. 14, 1999

Daytona International Speedway

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