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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

Feb. 17, 1999
Earnhardt takes momentum to Rockingham
from IRACE
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- As far as Dale Earnhardt is concerned, North Carolina Speedway is the second step towards that elusive eighth championship.

The track is the site of Sunday's Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400, the second race of the 34-event Winston Cup Series schedule. Earnhardt has won at "The Rock" three times, in 1987, 1994 and 1996. His win in the fall race in 1994 clinched his seventh Winston Cup title -- and he has spent the past four years trying to claim an eighth.

Certainly, his second-place finish in the Daytona 500 Sunday put him on solid ground for the 1999 title -- but a bad finish at Rockingham could put a major dent in those hopes.

"Coming from half a lap down (at Daytona) to second place is tremendous," said crew chief Kevin Hamlin. "We knew there was a problem and had Dale switch to the back-up ignition. On the restart he took off and drove one of the best races I've ever witnessed."

Earnhardt chased Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag in a frantic finish at Daytona.

"We didn't win, but I know we had the best driver out there and if he couldn't get by, nobody else was going to either," said Hamlin.

Earnhardt's performaces at Rockingham in 1998 were atypical, to say the least. In the first race there last year, he struggled to a 37th-place qualifying spot before finishing 17th. He then started the fall race 29th, charged ahead to lead seven laps, and ended up ninth.

"Qualifying hasn't been our strong point, but we hope to change that this year," said Earnhardt. "Starting in the back like we did got us in trouble more than once last year. We need to get a good time in on Friday and secure a pit on the frontstretch."

Qualifying well is vital at Rockingham. In 64 Winston Cup race that have been run there, only 18 drivers have won after starting worse than seventh.

Gordon has won three out of the last four races at Rockingham, including both events in 1998.

The 1999 season is the 30th for Richard Childress Racing. Childress started his career as a driver in 1969, and achieved great success as a team owner in the 1980s. Earnhardt first drove for him in 1981, then returned to the team in 1984. Even though Earnhardt has since established his own Winston Cup team, he has stated his intention to finish his own driving career with Childress.

Childress' cars have won six Winston Cup championships and one Craftsman Truck Series championship. In 30 years, RCR has gone to victory lane 64 times in Winston Cup, with Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd scoring the victories.

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