Junior rolling into
August 5, 1999 - By Marty Smith, NASCAR Online
CLERMONT, Ind. - With his victory last
weekend, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is once again peering down on his nemeses from the top of the
NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division mountain.
However, this week offers no time to rest on
his laurels. Friday, he has to climb yet another treacherous hill if he wants to retain
the top slot in the series points race -- the $568,403 Kroger 200 Presented By Fifth Third
Bank at Indianapolis Raceway Park, a .626-mile bullring in the cornfields of southern
The one-day show will open with practice at 1 p.m. ET. Bud Pole Qualifying, set for 4:30
p.m., will set the full 43-car field, while the event will get the green flag at 8:30 p.m.
The race will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast on MRN Radio beginning at 8:15 p.m.
"I can't say that it's going to be an easy day," said Earnhardt, driver of the
No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet. "I liked racing at IRP last year and the Busch race is where
my focus will be this weekend. We are in this to win a championship. I am just going to
take each situation as it comes."
That's certainly a safe and intelligent strategy. Junior's miniscule 11-point advantage
over friend and rival Matt Kenseth could vanish in seconds. Just ask Kenseth, who saw
Earnhardt swipe the points lead from him last week in St. Louis. In that race, Kenseth
battled back to post a sixth-place finish after getting caught-up in an early-race
skirmish with Jeff Fuller and Todd Bodine.
"If we don't run better than this we don't deserve to be in the lead," said
Kenseth, who pilots the No. 17 DeWalt Tools Chevrolet. "We know we have to win races
and lead laps to win this championship. "We have to start doing that each week or we
are going to get pretty far behind. You can't run sixth or seventh each week to win
championships. It's not that easy anymore. You have to win races and run in the top-five
to be in contention."
One driver that is adamant that he'll be in contention this weekend is two-time series
champion Randy LaJoie. LaJoie, driver of the No. 1 Bob Evans Restaurants Chevrolet,
finished as runner-up to Earnhardt, last weekend after starting a dismal 27th. Following
the race, he was confident that he'd "school 'em" this weekend.
"We're heading back to one of my favorite tracks on the NASCAR Busch Series circuit
Friday," LaJoie said. "We tested there several weeks ago and it went really
well. We're also taking the same car we finished second with last weekend. That car has
been awesome since we debuted it at Milwaukee."
A major factor in LaJoie's march through the field last week at Gateway was the
proficiency of his pit crew. Friday, that will once again play a major role in any
driver's chance to visit Victory Lane.
"I am going to do my best to go there, sit on the pole and win the Kroger 200,"
LaJoie said. "I've won there before and with the way the last few races have gone, I
don't see why we couldn't put the Bob Evans Restaurants Chevrolet in Victory Lane. Good
pit stops and track position will be the key to victory."
For now, however, it looks like Earnhardt, may just be the man to beat this weekend. Not
only did he win last weekend, he also topped the $2 million plateau in just his 60th
series race, making him the quickest NASCAR Busch Series driver to ever do so. Now, the
No. 3 team has the points lead back in its grasp, and doesn't have plans of surrendering
it anytime soon.
"We got the points lead back again last weekend," said Tony Eury Sr., the team's
crew chief. "And now with only 11 races left, it's ours to lose."
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