Earnhardt Jr. on equal ground in the
July 21, 1999 -By Marty Smith, NASCAR Online
FOUNTAIN, Colo. - The Myrtle Beach sand was
supposed to bring relief to injured NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division point
leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. last weekend, but after a disappointing 25th-place run in the
Myrtle Beach 250, he was anything but relaxed. Now, he seeks refuge in a completely
different climate -- namely the Rocky Mountains that surround Pikes Peak International
Raceway, site of Saturday's NAPA AutoCare 250, the 20th race in the 32-event season.
Saturday, the 43-car field will make a second attempt at conquering PPIR in the NAPA
AutoCare 250. "Lil' E" fared well at the one-mile oval in 1998, qualifying fifth
and posting a 10th-place finish after leading a large portion of the race.
After the subpar outing at Myrtle Beach Speedway, his point lead over Matt Kenseth slipped
to a mere 62 points -- about half of what it was heading into round 19. Thus, a good run
Saturday is essential.
"We are putting last year behind us and are really looking forward to this
race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I messed up qualifying and then we had trouble
during the race but the good thing is we are coming in here with a clean slate.
"The cool thing about Pikes Peak is that no one has any more experience here than I
do. We're all on equal ground."
Prior to the breakdown at Myrtle Beach, Earnhardt Jr. had been simply phenomenal. He
posted back-to-back runner-up finishes at Nazareth and Charlotte, then won three straight
races at Dover, South Boston and Watkins Glen. Even the broken shoulder he suffered at
Milwaukee in practice couldn't slow him down -- he drove to a third-place finish there.
Despite his recent success, this weekend's event at Pikes Peak presents an intriguing
obstacle. The No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet team must adjust to the unique climate -- the
increased elevation makes breathing difficult, and alters the car's setup as well.
"The oxygen level is different here than at most tracks where we race at and you are
a lot closer to the sun," said Tony Eury, Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief. "We
definitely change our way of tuning the car to accommodate those climatic
When asked about his injured shoulder last weekend at Myrtle Beach, Earnhardt, Jr.
performed a full-motion chicken wing movement, saying, "I'm 100 percent. It don't
hurt a bit."
Pain or no pain, the shoulder couldn't hurt as bad as another 25th-place finish.
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