ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA PHOENIX — PHOENIX -- Dale Earnhardt earned the nickname "The Intimidator" on the racetrack. But his dominating presence also invades the minds of his competitors.
When it comes to crunch time in the Winston Cup championship, as it has going into today's Pyroil 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt looms large in the consciousness of the drivers chasing him in the battle for the series title.
"Dale is having one of his worst years from the standpoint of consistency, and he still has a great chance to win another championship," said Ricky Rudd, closest to Earnhardt in the point chase.
"I guess we're just trying to get second place because Earnhardt isn't going to give away anything," said Davey Allison, who is third in the standings.
Harry Gant, in fourth place and the hottest driver on the NASCAR circuit since the beginning of September, said: "I think Dale's got it won. He's had it won pretty much the whole second half of the season. But second or third place are still possibilities for us."
Earnhardt goes into the 500-lap race on the one-mile oval holding 157-point lead over Rudd. He is 203 points ahead of Allison and 263 ahead of Gant.
The four-time and defending champion can wrap up the $1 million championship today by coming out of the race with a 186-point lead over the runner-up.
"Nobody on my team knows the words 'give up,' but it seems the only way we can beat Dale is if he beats himself," Rudd said. "It's happened before, but you've got to face reality. The most important thing right now is to be sure not to lose second place. That would be a disaster to be first or second all year and wind up worse than second."
The last race of the season is a week from today at Atlanta's Motor Speedway.
Australian Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna said earlier that he had a tough time getting up-- for today's race because he already had clinched his third world drivers' championship.
Having said that, Senna set a record qualifying time Friday and then beat it in yesterday's final qualifying session to win the pole for a record 60th time.