Not enough time, breaks for Earnhardt
Oct. 4, 1999 - By DUSTIN LONG, Staff Writer,
News & Record
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt was coming and Jeff Gordon could do very little.
Earnhardt, who had battled an ill car all weekend and an ill stomach Sunday, chased Gordon the final 10 laps in the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Earnhardt cut Gordon's eight-car length lead to one car length as the leaders began the last of the 500 laps on the .526-mile track. Earnhardt, who had bumped leader Terry Labonte at Bristol in August, never got close enough for his patented short-track nudge.
He almost did, though, gaining on Gordon because he had fresher tires. Earnhardt pitted for four new tires with 25 laps left as Gordon remained on the track. The ploy nearly worked.
"I just couldn't believe it," Gordon said. "I really could not believe I was able to hold him off. With 10 to go, I was giving it everything I had but trying to be smooth. He was coming pretty hard."
Maybe too hard.
"I might have overdrove it trying to catch him," Earnhardt said after the runner-up finish gave him his fifth top-10 run in the last seven races. "I settled down there and the car came in. (Gordon) played his cards right.
"The traffic and (Bobby Labonte's) car was missing or something and that gave (Gordon) the edge to get away from us. Then I had to run him back down and time ran out on us."
Time wasn't on Earnhardt's side all day.
He battled a stomach virus from Saturday night. On most pit stops he asked for extra drinks and told his team once that he wasn't sure he could finish the race.
"I felt bad (Sunday) morning, but I feel worse right now than I did before the race," he said after climbing out of his car.
It was a long weekend for Earnhardt, who struggled in qualifying, failed to qualify on speed in the second round and used a provisional to start 38th.
"We've been fighting it all weekend, to tell you the truth," said Kevin Hamlin, Earnhardt's crew chief. "This car has been pretty ill-handling. We qualified terrible. We ran terrible in practice. We threw a bunch of stuff at it.
"Really, when we finished up (Saturday), we felt pretty good about it, but it was kind of a different setup that we had never run here before, so we didn't know how it would work. It really worked good. The longer we ran, the faster we were."
Earnhardt charged through the field early. He was 17th by lap 60 and 11th by lap 100. Earnhardt lost a lap when he was on pit road as Kenny Irwin spun after being tapped by rookie Tony Stewart on lap 132. It took Earnhardt about 200 laps to get back on the lead lap.
"We kind of messed up when we let him pit a lap early and had to go to the tail of the longest line for the restart, plus being a lap down and he still drove back to the front," Hamlin said. "Then we ended up getting a caution and finally got in front of them guys ... and got our lap back.
"A lot of pretty hard battles. He drove the wheels off that thing for feeling bad."
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