Earnhardt going for three
Sept 30, 1999 - By Brett Borden - NASCAR Online
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Whether it was in Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway or in his three heart-stopping IROC wins this year, somewhere along the line we have witnessed the transformation of an old Dale Earnhardt to the Dale Earnhardt of old. If the fans cheering his last-lap passes in the IROC series didn't signify that change, the throng who booed his controversial pass of Terry Labonte at Bristol certainly did.
Earnhardt's numbers this year aren't gaudy, by any means. But they do show improvement. And that is something for the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion to hang his GM Goodwrench Service Plus helmet on.
Earnhardt sits poised to stop what has become a yearly regression in the standings since 1994, the year of his seventh championship. Since then, he has dropped to second in points (1995), fourth ('96), fifth ('97) and eighth ('98). With seven races to go on this year's schedule, he has a stout 322-point lead on Rusty Wallace for sixth place. And he trails fifth-place Jeff Gordon by only 114 points. Considering the turmoil in that camp, it's not inconceivable that Earnhardt could pick off another spot before the year is out.
Another victory before the year is out -- No. 3 for No. 3 -- would certainly help in that endeavor. This Sunday's NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway could provide an excellent opportunity for that third win, considering that the Intimidator has won at the .526-mile paper clip-shaped track five times in his illustrious career.
Earnhardt's runner-up finish at Martinsville was his best effort of 1997, and his fourth-place finish there in 1998 was his third-best run last year. This spring he had to rely on a provisional to start 39th in the Goody's Body Pain 500, but he maneuvered his way up to 19th by race's end.
"This is a finesse track," Earnhardt said. "You have to calculate your moves. You can't go into the turns hard and expect to make time by scrubbing the tires. You have to accelerate, brake, turn and be smooth on the steering wheel for 500 laps and at the same time avoid trouble while running on a half-mile track."
To hear the Intimidator talk about finesse may make a few of his competitors chuckle, but Earnhardt finessed his way to three tightly-contested IROC victories this year, so he knows how to have the last laugh.
Notes: Fans of the Earnhardt and the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet will notice a cosmetic change on the car once again. The trunk deck will change from black to white with the new Good Time Savings promotion, starting at Martinsville.
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