"If they're not cheering, they better be booing" - Dale Earnhardt
WOW! What a weekend!
What more could you ask for. There was all the excitement of short track racin' that you can get at a half-mile concrete track surrounded by 140,000 race fans and we were right in the middle of it.
We arrived Friday afternoon during Winston Cup practice.
Earnhardt was a little unhappy with the rear-end gears and asked Hamlin to change them. The crew went to work on it and Earnhardt came back out on the track to move up to eighth fastest during this practice session.
Earnhardt did not do so well in qualifying as he only qualified 26th out of 43 on the starting grid. The bad part about that is there are on 21 pit stalls on the front stretch at Bristol. Positions 22 through 43 have to pit on the backstretch. The backstretch pits at Bristol are almost certainly the kiss of death for a victory at Bristol.
Until Saturday, August 28, 1999 there was only one driver in the history of Bristol racing that had won from the backstretch pits. That was Davey Allison and on April 8, 1990.
April 8, 1990 - BRISTOL, TN - Davey Allison overcame a crash with Rob Moroso, a decided disadvantage of having to pit on the backstretch, and held off Mark Martin in a stirring finish to capture the Valleydale Meats 500 at Bristol International Raceway.
It was Allison's first win since July 1, 1989 when he won at Daytona, and the seventh of his career.
Allison qualified 19th in the field of 32, which forced his Robert Yates team to set up pits on the back chute. Ironically, that played a major role in the victory for the Hueytown, Ala. driver.
Considering track position more important than fresh tires after the 13th and final caution of the day, Allison took the lead for the first time with 109 laps remaining. We decided against pitting because we had gotten tires about 30 laps earlier, and we knew our car ran just as fast after 50 laps as on new tires. And pitting on the back would have put us at the tail end of the line."
Allison held several challengers at bay during the final 60-mile run. Darrell Waltrip challenged Allison for 40 laps before a flat tire ruined his bid with 25 laps left. Martin began reeling Allison in and made a move to the inside off turn four of the final lap. The cars crossed the finish line door-to-door - and official declaration of the winner was not announced until NASCAR officials studied the television replay. Official margin of victory - according to the naked eye - was eight inches.
Ricky Rudd wound up third after knocking Sterling Marlin to a spin in the final lap. Terry Labonte wound up fourth and Rick Wilson came from 25th to finish fifth.
Marlin and Rudd were running directly behind Allison and Martin as the quartet of cars whipped off the second turn on lap 500. Rudd tapped Marlin's Oldsmobile, which went spinning into the inside retaining barrier. The mishap knocked Marlin down to seventh place.
After the checkered flag dropped, Marlin waited on Rudd to come around. Rudd stopped his car and the two drivers played a game of cat and mouse before both came around to the front pits.
Marlin took his complaints directly to the Rudd truck. One of Marlin's crewmen, Tony Shoemaker, waved a sledgehammer during the scuffle. NASCAR later suspended him for three weeks for "conduct detrimental to racing".
After cooler heads prevailed, Marlin said, "All I know is that he (Rudd) spun me out. It's really frustrating for something like this to happen, especially on the last lap."
Rudd said that the "94 car was holding me up all day. I'm sorry things turned out the way they did, but that was the last lap and I wasn't holding back." (FOOTNOTE: See Rudd's Aug 28, 1999 post race comments about Earnhardt below)
The Marlin-Rudd bashing was simply the final rubdown in a day filled with incidents.
August 28, 1999 - BRISTOL, TN - Dale Earnhardt overcame numerous on track encounters, including his teammate Mike Skinner who seems intent on wrecking Earnhardt, and a final lap bout with Terry Labonte in a stirring (and what some say, "a controversial") finish to capture the Goody's Headache Powder 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It's was Earnhardt's second win since his historical win, February 15, 1998 when he won the Daytona 500, and his 73rd of his Winston Cup career.
The Charge to the front
Starting 26th and pitting on the backstretch, Earnhardt had the deck stacked against him for notching another win his belt. However, true to form for the Dale Earnhardt we know and love, he began his charge forward from the drop of the green flag. With his car hooked up right to hold to the bottom of the track, every few laps he moved up a position in the field. He was like a snake winding his way through an obstacle course.
He looked like the "Intimidator"!
By lap 40 Earnhardt was in the top-twenty. By lap 50 he was up to fourteenth. By lap 55 he was up to twelfth. By laps 65 he was up to ninth. In just 32-1/2 miles Earnhardt had moved up 17 positions on the track.
When the first caution flew on about lap 75, Earnhardt, running 8th and faster than the leaders, pitted and came out 12th losing four spots on the field and he was hot. He radioed Childress about the pace car. "We lost four positions on that stop! They (NASCAR) told us this morning (in the drivers meeting) that once the front stretch cars pitted they'd pick up the pace" (so the backstretch pits would have more of an equal opportunity on yellow flag pit stops).
NASCAR and the Pace Car
This was a continual argument on every caution flag pit stop throughout the whole race. It got so frustrating for Earnhardt that he radioed Childress to go talk to the pace car driver. Childress did and left the pits near turn three and headed off to turn one where the pace car was parked. After a few minutes Childress radioed Earnhardt, "The pace car says they are only doing what NASCAR tells them." Earnhardt returned with, "There's a telephone number up there (to the NASCAR Officials in the tower), call 'em." Childress replied, "They'll probably fine me but I'm calling." Later Childress informed Earnhardt, "They not gonna do anything."
Earnhardt first took the lead with 121
laps to go.
He stayed up front until the caution came out on Lap 410 for Dave Marcis, whose car was stopped high against the Turn 2 wall.
Earnhardt literally put his front bumper under the pace car in an effort to encourage the driver to pick up the pace. "All we need is 500 RPM's," said Earnhardt on the radio to Childress about the speed of the pace car. Childress understood but there was nothing that could be done. NASCAR was not living up to what they said they would do in the drivers meeting earlier that day.
Contrary to what NASCAR and spectators thought Earnhardt was not happy with the caution caused by Marcis. He radioed Childress in disgust, "Our buddy Marcis caused that one." Childress said, "I know we didn't need this. Come on guys, let's get in here and make it a good one" referring to the pit stop.
lost two positions under the caution because of the disadvantage of pitting on the
backstretch and came out third behind Labonte and Gordon as the race restarted. Stewart
made up some ground in the pits, too, and came out fourth.
Although Labonte regained the lead with about 60 laps remaining, Earnhardt wanted the race to run green the rest of the way. Childress and Earnhardt both felt they stood a better chance with everybody's tires worn. Earnhardt began closing the gap on Labonte and Childress radioed Earnhardt, "His (Labonte's) tires are fading."
Earnhardt pressed the throttle a little harder, like a hunter after the scent of his prey.
The other Labonte
The other Labonte, Bobby, blew something with about 13 laps remaining but no caution came out even though Labonte's car was leaving a trail of smoke. The Officials attempted to black-flag him but he refused to come off the track.
With ten-to-go Jeremy Mayfield lost control, apparently due whatever Bobby Labonte was leaving on the track.
Caution was out
Terry Labonte slowed to avoid the wreck. Darrell Waltrip, running 15th and just a lap down, was attempting to get a lap back and tried to pass Terry and tagged him in the rear bumper causing Terry to spin.
Terry Labonte was steaming with anger as he regained control of his car and sped off towards pit road for four new tires.
Earnhardt, Gordon and Stewart chose to stay on the track. In addition to Labonte, Martin and Spencer pitted for tires but only took on two right side tires.
At this point Earnhardt wanted two things from Childress. "Who pitted behind me?" No answer. "Who pitted behind me?" A long pause "I'm not sure," Childress finally replied.
"Richard, I've gotta know who of the leaders pitted!" yelled Earnhardt into the radio.
Then, giving up on that, Earnhardt radioed again, "Richard, I've got to have tires."
"Dale, we just can't you've got to stay out," said Childress. "We'll never make it if they took on tires," Earnhardt replied.
Childress: "Dale, you can do it. You're the Champ. You've won more races than I have ever thought of winning. You can do it. Win the race."
Earnhardt: Dead silence .
Earnhardt's spotter: "One to go."
Childress: "Five to go when you get the green."
Earnhardt's spotter: "Green, Green, Green"
Five laps to go
Earnhardt got a great jump on the rest of the field and in one lap was leading by 6 car lengths.
Everybody remain in the same position on lap 495.
With four to go Labonte pushed his way by Mark Martin. Jeff Gordon, Labonte's teammate, moved high and out of the way, not resisting Labonte's charge.
Tony Stewart tried to come down and block Labonte but Terry just had a good run and he moved past Stewart into second to challenge Dale.
On lap 498 coming down the backstretch Earnhardt still held the lead just ahead of Labonte. Labonte tapped him twice in the rear end going down the backstretch.
Dale held his line.
Coming coming throught turns 3 and four with less than a lap and a half to go Labonte cut under Earnhardt.
Still Earnhardt held his line and Labonte bounced off left side of Earnhardt's car twice.
Labonte passed Earnhardt coming down the front stretch to the white flag. Labonte was on the inside, Earnhardt was on the outside. Labonte had to dive deep into turn one. Earnhardt was able to take a more preferred line.
Earnhardt was able to hold the preferred line through turn one and two and when Labonte exited turn two he drifted up high. Earnhardt was able to come low enough on Labonte to tap him and keep him high and loose.
From where we were sitting it appeared Labonte came out of turn two so fast that as he turned down the backstretch he was already loose and beginning to slide sideways.
The tap from Earnhardt finished the job. Labonte spun. Earnhardt ducked low and under him to take the checkered flag, his second win of the season and 73rd win of his career.
As Earnhardt crossed the finish line, Spencer who avoided the wreck, came charging down the front stretch to finish second and then slammed into the left rear of Earnhardt's car after crossing the finish line.
It was a classic Bristol finish and just as the slogan for Bristol Motor Speedway states: racin' the way it ought'a be!
What else are you supposed to do on the last lap of a Saturday night, under the lights race at the Thunder Dome? You go for the win!
Earnhardt did it and what ever you say he did it will style, muscle, finesse and whatever it takes to win.
"He went higher than what he had done to enter the corner. Maybe he got in too deep and checked up or what. I got in deep and meant to get in deep and intended to race him back", said Earnhardt.
Cheers and Jeers
As Earnhardt emerged the winner, a round of cheers went up. Then the boo's and plenty of them.
"I'm sure we'll hear about the race for a while, and we'll just have to take it like it is," said Earnhardt, following the race. "I've got broad shoulders. I have to take what comes and race from here on."
Those broad shoulders served him well Saturday. Following the race, raucous jeers -- not the usual cheers and surprisingly much different from the voices raised in support earlier in the night when Earnhardt had ferociously and cleanly raced to the front -- rained from the 140,000-plus spectators that packed the grandstands.
If they're not cheering they'd better be booing
"That's good," Earnhardt said of the fans' reaction. "If they're not cheering they'd better be booing. Like I said, I've got big shoulders and can take the blame or take the pressure or whatever. It was not an intentional bump, but it happened. There's a lot more race fans than there were then. Like I said, they're great critics. They'll have an opinion and rightfully so, and I'm sure they'll voice it."
It was classic Earnhardt. Not just the tap for the win but the whole night. He masterfully accomplished something no one else in the history of Winston Cup Racing at Bristol has done .come from deep in the field, 26th, pitting that far down the backstretch to victory lane.
Oh and about the boo's: It wasn't long ago that you either loved him or hated him. When the resounding boo's filled Bristol Motor Speedway you could just see a little grin come across the Intimidator's face. I could just hear him say to himself, "Damn this feels good."
To quote journalist, Glen Grissom, " We're not watching a namby-pamby golf game out there. I admire that he still has enough desire to pull out such a punting move on a short track in the first place. He and his family can't spend all the money he's making; he's got seven Cup championships; he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone (except himself); he's surrounded by "new school" drivers that are more corporate spokesman than racer; and yet after 20 years of hammering around on the premier Stock car circuit in the land, he still has the white-hot desire to take no prisoners when the checkers are in front of him."
Bristol is as the Official T-shirt of Bristol Motor Speedway has imprinted on the front of it: "racin' the way it ought'a be"
Our comments on other drivers post race comments:
Note: Well that really shows a lot of maturity, Paul. Your driver is 43 years old and has two championships. According to your above summary he just might be over the hill too. Strange how Earnhardt held his car on the track with worn tires after getting bumped three times by your driver. Yet Labonte couldn't hold his on the track after one little tap from Earnhardt.
Note: My dear Bobby Maybe you can't but, Dale Earnhardt charged from 26th to 8th by 70 laps into the 500-lap race and stayed up front all night, leading 47 laps, including the last one.
Note: Not too bad of a comment.
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