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Blk3GM's NASCAR Winston Cup News

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 every race.

``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.''

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Feb. 14, 1999

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