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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

'Little E' has big qualifying debut
May 27, 1999 - By Brett Borden - NASCAR Online

One can forgive Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he feels a bit overwhelmed by now. Thrust into the limelight during his breakout season last year, the media circus that resulted is in many ways more difficult for a young man to handle than anything thrown at him on the track. But the brighter the spotlight becomes, the bigger the man they call "Little E" seems to come through.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets strapped into his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet before Bud Pole Qualifying on Wednesday

Championship pressure? No problem. Earnhardt finished off a terrific season in 1998 with grand style, winning seven races and easily outdistancing his friend and rival, Matt Kenseth, for the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division title.

Racing against his father? Please. The "Rising Son" finished ahead of his seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion sire in their first time on the track together, the exhibition race at Twin Ring Motegi last November in Japan.

Bud Pole Qualifying for his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series start? Well, he handled that pressure cooker with amazing grace for a 24-year-old.

Earnhardt Jr. put his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet 8th on the grid for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Wednesday with a speed of 184.407 mph. He deflected the praise afterwards as deftly as he has deflected the pressure.

"I've got to give a lot of the credit to (crew chief) Tony Sr. and Tony Jr., my father and everybody who has worked on this race car because it's a lot better than I am," Earnhardt Jr. said "We've had some real good luck and some real good Busch cars. They rolled it right over to this Cup car. We built a good car and we worked with some of the set-ups off the Busch car. They told us it wouldn't work, but we worked as hard as we could."

It's the world's oldest success formula, and it keeps on working for the young heir to the throne of a kingdom of NASCAR fans. Little E may be taking his first steps toward changing series, but he refuses to let the pressure of that tough transition change him.

"It's been a tough time for us to get through and keep our sanity about us, but Budweiser has been very comforting and very supportive and I just can't ask for a better deal," he said. "The lap was very good. I got in a little hot in Turn 1 and was a little loose getting off there. Turns 3 and 4 were excellent. The car felt really good. I've got a lot of confidence in Tony Eury and Tony Jr. All those hours paid off here tonight."

They paid off handsomely, as now Earnhardt Jr. can concentrate on his NASCAR Busch Series efforts instead of Bud Second-Round Qualifying on Thursday.

"We're happy we did it on the first round," he said. "We can work on our race setup because we didn't work on that too much when we were here testing. It's a big, big relief. I'm glad everything seems to be going along as planned. We've still got three quarters of the weekend left so right now things look real good for us."

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