Senior showing he still has it
July 22, 1999
By Bill Weber, Special to ESPN.com
Dale Earnhardt can sum up the 1999 Winston Cup season in three simple sentences:
"Well, the Daytona 500 was great."
"Then we crashed at Rockingham and crashed at Atlanta."
"It's been interesting from then on just being competitive."
Of course, that doesn't touch on the win at Talladega, or the second-place finish in the
Pepsi 400 on the Fourth of July weekend. He also doesn't mention he has four straight
top-10 finishes, or the fact he's currently seventh in the point standings -- just 126 out
The second-place finish in the Daytona 500 was a great way to start the season, but since
then Earnhardt's lack of consistency has bothered the seven-time Winston Cup champion.
His battle with Jeff Gordon in the Daytona 500 gave Dale Earnhardt reason to be optimistic
about the 1999 season.
Earnhardt was 42st at "The Rock" and 40th in Atlanta. Those two forgettable
races were sandwiched around a seventh-place run at Las Vegas. So, in the first four races
of '99, Earnhardt had two top 10s and two finishes of 40th or worse.
That's consistently inconsistent.
But Earnhardt arrives at Pocono Raceway -- where he's only won twice in his career -- for
this week's Pennsylvania 500 with the knowledge that he finished seventh at Pocono just
five weeks ago. He believes he can win Sunday. And believing is a big part of Earnhardt's
approach to success on the race track.
Earnhardt believes it. The numbers show it. And while all three of his top-five finishes
have come on restrictor-plate tracks where Earnhardt always excels, he takes the same
attitude to every track, every week.
"You win. (Or) you run second every race, that's the goal," Earnhardt said.
"I've got to win every race. I've got to. I've got to go to every race and be a
contender to win -- and win -- to win that championship, or to move up in those
Beginning with his win at Talladega, Earnhardt has seven top-ten finishes in ten races.
Only once has he finished outside of the top-12, and his worst finish in the ten races was
16th at Michigan. He has climbed from 20th in the points after Darlington, to seventh
heading back to Pocono.
How has he done it?
"It's a never ending battle of making your cars better and also trying to be better
yourself," Earnhardt said. "It's just really hard to work and get better,
building and planning for the future with the new Monte Carlo and keeping the race team
intact and keeping them healthy.
"We sort of left ourselves open for a big let down with that Monte Carlo situation,
hoping to have a brand new Monte Carlo in Charlotte. Then NASCAR and Chevrolet couldn't
get together. We didn't really focus on our '98 cars and we started out the season with
some lesser equipment than what we should've had.
"After the NASCAR wind tunnel test following the Atlanta race, we realized from the
numbers how much we were behind. So, we started working from there, and by Charlotte we
had some good race cars. It showed in qualifying. We raced pretty good in California
before that, so we started tuning on things and we've seen progress since then."
Still, some critics have questioned Earnhardt's direction in recent years; starting his
own team, expanding, hiring his son to run the Winston Cup series with a huge sponsorship
package from Budweiser.
Question it all you want, because Earnhardt has the answers.
"If I can win races and win championships, I feel like my future is going to be
OK," Earnhardt said. "I've got to prove myself as a car owner with the (No. 1)
car for Steve Park and the (No. 8) car for Dale, Jr. We've not proven ourselves, yet.
We're working on that, though. But, that '3' car is my focus."
Earnhardt still talks about winning a record eighth championship. That is mathematically
possible in 1999, but not too realistic. Still, the goal, and the belief remain the same.
Win more races.
"I better win more races. I've got to," Earnhardt said. "To win more
championships and stay alive in this sport, it's very, very, hard and it's hard to
understand how it works.
"I'm winning races, I'm competitive. I'm seventh in points, and they talk about (me)
being over-the-hill. And I'm looking around saying, 'What about Rusty Wallace and Terry
Labonte and all these guys that are behind me? Are they not over-the-hill? If I'm
over-the-hill, they're over-the-hill.'
"I'm racing for the wins and racing up front and finishing in the top 10. It's
puzzling to me how you can judge a driver on that."
So Earnhardt walks into the garage each Friday with the sole purpose of winning. His
attitude rubs off on his crew and the goal becomes a common one among the whole team.
The Goodwrench team has seen the progress, and so has its driver. "I see it on pit
road when we make better pit stops and that comes from harder work back at the shop,
practicing, testing, trying to get better.
"I think the team is spreading (confidence) through itself. I saw that team get
turned around and get fired-up toward Charlotte (in May). And once they put that car
together, (one) that would do the job, and they saw the car do the job, race good and
qualify good -- then they got more fired up."
Earnhardt knows the clock is ticking, a lot of laps have gone by. But he believes there
are some good laps, good races and good wins still ahead.
"If I was 30th in points and not making races and not being competitive in races, I
could understand them saying I'm over-the-hill or I'm ready to quit or whatever,"
Earnhardt said. "But to win races and to race up front and to still want to do it
like I do ... I think their scorecards are wrong."
What will the scorecard say at the end of this season? Can Earnhardt claw his way closer
to the top?
"You want to be in the top-five, racing for the lead. I still believe we can get
there," Earnhardt said. "I got to where I'm at in the first half, so there's no
reason why we couldn't turn it around and get to where the other guys are in the second
half. We can definitely improve. That's what we want to do, try to improve on our position
in the points."
You've got to believe he will. Earnhardt certainly does.
Blk3GM's Dale Earnhardt Site was born on
July 26, 1998 and is owned and maintained by Gary Harris. This site is a
tribute to "NASCAR's Greatest Driver" and his up and coming son. We are
not affiliated with any official Team, Sponsors, Media Group or NASCAR. This site is
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