Earnhardt's race to remain on top pays off at Dover

June 07, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

DOVER, Del. -- The Man in Black, the one everyone in Winston Cup racing knows as The Intimidator, is back.

Back on top and back in victory lane.

"It is comfortable," he said. "In your career, you can ask [seven-time champion Richard] Petty or anybody that's went through racing and won races for the span of years we've won races and championships, it does get comfortable and it is the kind of feeling you want to have all the time.

Yesterday, after rallying from a lap down twice to win the Budweiser 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt admitted he almost expects to be on top, though he said he never takes winning for granted.

"And I'm enjoying winning and being on top more and more. I don't know if it's age or because last year showed that a few years down the road it might not be happening for us."

A year ago, he was suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career -- one win all year and a 12th-place finish in the points race.

But now he's winning again. Earnhardt, 42, says his team has a new energy and commitment. Yesterday's victory over Dale Jarrett by .22 second came on the heels of his victory in the Coca Cola 600 last week. He had to rally from a lap down twice in that one, too.

"If going down a lap means I win," Earnhardt said, smiling, "then let me start the race down a lap."

He was unstoppable yesterday as a record crowd of 86,000 witnessed an event-record 14 caution flags that slowed the average race speed to 105.597 mph and stretched the race over 4 hours, 44 minutes, 6 seconds.

"He deserved to win," said Jarrett. "I was closing in but I had the feeling if I got too close, he'd just drive away from me like he had everyone else all day."

Said Davey Allison, who finished third: "No one could touch him. Old Dale was too tough."

In 1980, Earnhardt won his first Cup title by beating Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

Thirteen years later, Yarborough, Parsons and Petty are retired. Only Waltrip is still chasing checkered flags, and as the driver for his own team he is 419 points behind Earnhardt in 13th place.

"I don't know where all those guys went," Earnhardt said. "I'm hungry for another title. I still get so excited when I buckle myself into my car. It's always the same. Always like the first time. I've got this tremendous urge to win and this funny little feeling in my stomach."

The urge fueled his car's muscle yesterday. He had a cut tire from debris on the track twice, forcing unscheduled pit stops. Each time Earnhardt responded the same way.

"I just settle deeper into my seat, tighten the belts and go harder for it," he said. "You don't give up, you keep going after it. You fight to get it back, every inch of it."

At different times yesterday, Earnhardt answered challenges from 11 drivers, including Kyle Petty, who finished 29th after his car suffered handling problems after getting caught in a wreck on lap 114, Allison and Rusty Wallace.

Wallace mounted the longest and hardest challenge. But with 74 miles to go, while running second, he was forced into the wall by Mark Martin, whose car got loose coming out of turn four.

Wallace, who is second in Winston Cup points and still recovering from bruised ribs and a broken wrist suffered in a crash at Talladega last month, was shaken but uninjured.

Earnhardt knows his team has the momentum. With yesterday's victory he has a 209-point lead over Wallace going into Sunday's race at Pocono, Pa.

"We're not counting our chickens yet," he said. "But we're trying to fill the hen house."

1. (8) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 500 laps, $68,030, 105.597 mph. 2. (29) Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet Lumina, 500, $42,435. 3. (3) Davey Allison, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $38,240. 4. (9) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $28,100. 5. (12) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Lumina, 500, $25,330. 6. (23) Rick Mast, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $20,700. 7. (13) Harry Gant, Chevrolet Lumina, 499, $21,650. 8. (20) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 499, 499, $18,050. 9. (16) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $17,300. 10. (33) Bobby Hamilton, Ford Thunderbird, 495, ,, $13,200.

11. (5) Rick Wilson, Pontiac Grand Prix, 495, $13,050. 12. (32) Wally Dallenbach Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 491, $15,450. 13. (35) Kenny Wallace, Pontiac Grand Prix, 490, $12,950. 14. (25) Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 488, $14,350. 15. (37) Hut Stricklin, Ford Thunderbird, 486, $14,200. 16. (2) Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 459, $14,150. 17. (24) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 448, $18,950. 18. (21) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Lumina, 440, $11,485. 19. (19) Bobby Labonte, Ford Thunderbird, 439, $10,300. 20. (26) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina, 429, $13,550.

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