Earnhardt stares down pressure at Darlington
August 31, 1999 - By Marty Smith, NASCAR Online
DARLINGTON, S.C. - Dale Earnhardt's oldest son has experienced minimal racing success in his lifetime. Unlike his father - and his younger brother -- he's recorded few victories and has never been close to a championship.
Friday, none of that will matter. All Kerry Earnhardt wants to do is qualify the Team Marines Chevrolet for the Dura-Lube 200 presented by Trak Auto at Darlington Raceway, something he failed to do in last week's planned NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division debut for the team in the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Even so, Team Marines President and financial backer Rick Rathbun remains optimistic heading to Darlington.
"We've only lost one battle, but our goal is to win the war," Rathbun said. "Kerry's misfortune at Bristol has only made everyone more determined. We have a lot of confidence in Kerry's ability as a driver, and in Whitaker Racing's ability to put good equipment underneath him. We're headed to Darlington to first qualify for the race and then run competitively. It should provide us with the momentum we need to develop the foundation for a full season of competition in 2000."
Earnhardt, son of Dale and half-brother of defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., started the 1999 season with high hopes in the No. 40 Channellock Chevrolet, but was released by the team owners after just six races.
Now, Earnhardt has been given a chance to resurrect his career by Rathbun and car owner Ed Whitaker, and has all intentions of making the most of the opportunity. The pressure is on however, as Kerry slapped the wall at Darlington in the spring and failed to qualify for the Diamond Hill Plywood 200.
"The team worked extremely hard at Bristol and gave me everything I needed to make the race," Earnhardt said. "I just let the car get away from me coming off the second turn during my qualifying lap. I am grateful for the confidence Ed Whitaker and Team Marines Racing have in me, and I plan to reward them by getting the job done at Darlington first, and then at the other races later this year."
According to Rathbun, the team was well received at Bristol, and will run at least four more races in 1999, starting this weekend at Darlington. Speaking of the track "Too Tough To Tame," he doesn't plan to miss the race this time.
"The attention we received in Bristol was absolutely sensational," said Rathbun, a former U.S. Marine. "The only thing we failed to give the United States Marines and the race fans who supported us was a race car in the Food City 250. That is expected to change at Darlington."
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