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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

It's Junior's time to shine
May 25, 1999 - By Marty Smith - NASCAR Online
CONCORD, N.C.


At age 14, Dale Earnhardt Jr. roamed through the NASCAR Winston Cup Series garage, nachos in one hand and pizza in the other, begging his father's cohorts to let him wax their cars to a gleaming shine.
Now, a decade later, he is set to compete against many of those same drivers, only now the aspirations of one day becoming a famous racer and waxing his own car have quickly transformed from fantasy into reality. This weekend, it is his time to shine.

After six months of hype, the "E-Day" is finally upon us. Earnhardt Jr. will make his highly-anticipated NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"We're just really excited and a lot has been going on with this whole deal," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've been competing in the (NASCAR) Busch Series all year and doing our best there. Now, we're a day away from qualifying and really anxious to get it going."

Everyone got a quick glimpse of just how anxious the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet team is three weeks ago during a test at LMS, where Junior turned the fastest lap of the 27 teams present at the event.

"That gives you confidence knowing that you can run competitively in a one-lap run with those guys," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You also never can know if everyone was really showing their hand. We had a little left. We didn't have a qualifying motor in, so I feel pretty good going in."

Despite his cool, calm demeanor, Earnhardt Jr., 24, is terrified of failure. All he has ever know is success at every level, and he doesn't want to stop now.

"Yeah, I think everybody probably has that feeling in the back of their mind when they 're about to do something of big importance that they really care about," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Without a small amount of fear of failure, there'd have to be something wrong with you. I try not to focus on all of (the pressure).

"If something happens this weekend, we'll just have to face the music. That's exactly why we're running these five races - to find out what we need to do to prepare for next season when we're running a full schedule."

Aside from the Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt Jr. will also participate in races at Michigan, New Hampshire, Richmond and the season finale at Atlanta. Right now, all that's on his mind is what he faces ahead this weekend.

"I'll be just as nervous for those other ones, I'm sure about that," he said, carefully choosing his words. "But this is Charlotte, this is right next to the house, and having your family and friends there with you. This one is special."

While the Coca-Cola 600 is a unique event for all involved in NASCAR, it has added appeal for the Earnhardts this weekend. Not only is "Little E" cranking the No. 8 Chevrolet for the first time in competition, he'll also be trading paint with his father for the first time as well.

"It's pretty special to Dad I'm sure," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It's as important to him as it is to me. He makes it a lot easier to handle the pressure and all the build up. We've always had a really special relationship, and he'll be there going into one of the most important days of my life."

This is not to say that son obeys father's every word. While they may not always be correct, Junior has his own opinions on racing, hairstyles and certainly music. In the long run, Junior would enjoy creating his own identity, but he'll never forget where his father has gotten him.

"That's just natural, nearly all father-son relationships are like that," he said. "You never get to a point where your Dad tells you you're right. Your whole life you think you know more that your parents, but I'd be a fool to think I knew more than he did. We'll go to the track and I'll think the car feels good with this spring and he don't think it'll work at all. He's done so much for the sport, if there's one person who's respect I need to earn, it's his.

"I think it's possible (to create my own identity) if you're successful. If you're not, it's not possible. You take every day one at a time and it'll just happen by itself. It doesn't really matter; I'll always be an Earnhardt. I do want people to know that even as much as I love him, we do have differences. I like Nirvana and Pearl Jam; I'm a big Elvis Pressley fan. Dad just listens to country. I think he needs to shake up a little bit."

Earnhardt Jr. is always one to take his own advice -- he'll shake it up with the best of them. Some of his best friends have collaborated to form an aspiring, and according to Junior a very talented, grunge band.

"I saw them at a gig one night and I was like, 'Man, these guys are awesome,'" he said. "Then we were running at Las Vegas and they called me up and said they were in Vegas too. We started hanging out and we've become really good friends.

"I've helped them out a lot getting studio time and stuff. I don't want to get in the way of their future though, because I think they have a very bright one."

Just like Earnhardt. Come Sunday, we'll see for sure just how bright his future is. It is his time to shine.

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