Feb. 12, 1999 Earnhardt's Daytona 500 victory completed his
resume, but bigger job remains
By JIM UTTER
The Charlotte Observer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt says it's time to bug someone else. Until his win in
last season's Daytona 500, Earnhardt had been plagued with questions about his inability
to win Winston Cup's biggest race. He had come close many times, even finishing second in
consecutive seasons (1995 and 1996).
And although he struggled much of the 1998 season, never winning a pole or another race,
having won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt removed the one missing piece from
Earnhardt's stellar career.
``It feels great to come down here and not be asked if you think you can win it this year
and talk about all the things that have gone wrong the last several years,'' said
Earnhardt, who is preparing for Sunday's Daytona 500, the 1999 season opener. ``All that's
behind us, but now they want to know how it feels not to have that question asked.
``You can go along and bug Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace and some of these other guys
now. We felt good all year long about winning it last year. It was an exciting memory, but
it doesn't help you win it again this year.''
And that is one of many objectives for Earnhardt and his team this year.
Earnhardt said he spent time with team owner Richard Childress in the off-season talking
about ways to make his team stronger. He has no plans to retire and still believes he is
capable of winning a record eighth Winston Cup title.
``I think (this team) is still very able to win championships and win races. We'll go out
and work hard to prove that again,'' he said. ``It seems like it's just been a couple of
years that we've had some turn of events that hasn't allowed us to be in the top five
``Richard and I really worked hard on our strategies to make the team as good as we can.
You've got to be in that top five racing and finishing and winning races to race for a
championship. You can't do that in 10th or 15th position.''
Earnhardt says his team needs improvement in aerodynamics. He says the additional
resources Richard Childress Racing has poured into that area in the off-season should pay
dividends this season.
``We've spent more money, Richard and myself and Andy Petree,'' Earnhardt said. ``In
aerodynamics, (the other teams) were beating us in places. We didn't really realize what
we had in some places.
``To understand it better and to develop it better, we put a program in place and hired
some people and spent the money for some wind tunnel testing. We're starting to understand
the aerodynamics even better. Before, you go to the race track and test and change a
fender and you change this or that. Now, when we get to the track, we can adjust aero as
much as chassis.''
Earnhardt said he's also developing a better relationship with crew chief Kevin Hamlin as
each day passes. Childress replaced Larry McReynolds with Hamlin -- then crew chief for
Earnhardt's teammate, Mike Skinner -- last June.
``Larry and I and the team just didn't seem to really pull together close,'' Earnhardt
said. ``We all were working our heads off. Kevin and I just sort of had a better
relationship or thought process. We ended up talking about the same things. I think just
as much of Larry as I always have, and I'm comfortable with him.''
Earnhardt said there would be no better way to start the 1999 season and prove his desire
to maintain a top-quality team than to win at Daytona.
``To start the season off on a winning note and get this team back into the feel of racing
in the top five and racing for the championship is what I want to do,'' said Earnhardt,
who finished eighth in points last season. ``Over the years I've raced with Richard, we've
raced for the championship a lot of years.
``There weren't many years we were out of the running for it. We've got to get this turned
around and get back in the running for it. Winning the race would be great.''
NASCAR Winston Cup Series
Feb. 14, 1999