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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

Earnhardt and team are on a roll
May 28, 1999 - By Mark Schlabach, Cox News Service

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Things are starting to look up at the biggest race shop in North Carolina.

Dale Earnhardt Inc., housed at the "Garage Mahal" in Mooresville, seems poised to turn its disappointing season around, beginning with Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Steve Park, DEI's second-year driver in the No. 1 Chevy, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 24-year-old son of the seven-time Winston Cup champion, will start fifth and eighth, respectively in Sunday's race. Earnhardt will start 15th in a car owned by Richard Childress Racing.

"I see a lot of improvement on our team," Earnhardt said. "It's really showing a lot of promise. I really feel good about what I see. I see us running better, and the program's coming around."

Earnhardt, who ended a 101-race winless streak earlier this year with a victory at Talladega Superspeedway, finished 12th or better in five of the last six races. And that doesn't include his fourth-place outing in last week's The Winston all-star race.

Earnhardt, who was 20th in points after the fifth race at Darlington Raceway, climbed to ninth in the last six events, trailing leader Dale Jarrett by 341.

"I think our program with Richard Childress is on track," Earnhardt said. "We're ninth in points. We need to do better than that. Top-10s and top-fives and wins are the only things that will do that. The Atlanta race was a disaster for us. Give us that race back and we should be fifth or sixth in the points."

Earnhardt wrecked early at Atlanta and finished 40th.

Park, 31, was hand-picked by Earnhardt to drive the No. 1 Chevy, DEI's only Winston Cup entry last year. But Park, from East Northport, N.Y., suffered multiple injuries in a nasty crash at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 1998 and missed half of his rookie season. This year, Park didn't finish higher than 12th in the first 11 races and finished 32nd or worse in five events.

Philippe Lopez, Park's crew chief, was dismissed last week, and Earnhardt hired Paul Andrews, formerly the crew chief for Jeremy Mayfield and the No. 12 Ford. With Andrews on board, Park finished fifth in the Winston Open and then qualified fifth for Sunday's race, his second-best position in 33 career starts.

"I think one of the main things that has really turned around is my confidence," Park said. "The addition of Steve Hmiel (technical director of DEI) and Paul Andrews, that's really boosted my confidence. It's given the driver a real lift. It's given the team a big lift. It's contagious, I can tell you that. I'm feeling good."

Park also should benefit from the addition of Earnhardt Jr., the 1998 Busch Grand National champion who will start five Cup races this year. Earnhardt Jr. will move to Winston Cup full-time in 2000.

"The kid's got a lot of pressure on him," Park said. "He's a great race-car driver, and he's a good friend of mine. All the guys working on that team were my (Busch) guys. We all have a very close relationship.

"I'm just excited for him," Park said. "I know he's under a lot of pressure, but he performed under it. I feel like we have a great one in Dale Jr. Both teams are really looking forward to working together and doing what we did this weekend, and that's putting both cars in the top 10 week in and week out."

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