Earnhardt's trademark is consistency

October 23, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- If Rusty Wallace were to overcome Dale Earnhardt's 321-point lead in the Winston Cup championship race with three races to go, no one would be more surprised than Wallace or more delighted than former cup champion Darrell Waltrip.

"They're just so durable," said Wallace, who is 50 points from elimination.

"Dale and his team deserve their six championships, and they'll deserve this one, too," said Waltrip, who won the championship three times. "No one concentrates on winning the championship more than Dale's team. But our champion should be the guy who wins the most races and earns the most money.

"Our point system, the way it is now, rewards consistency. No one is more consistent than Dale. But this is 1994, not 1974."

XTC Waltrip says that 20 years ago, when the current points system was created, there had to be some reward for consistency, just to encourage a team to show up every week.

"Now, we're all here every week," said Waltrip. "Now you should be rewarding the drivers who win."

Going into today's AC Delco 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway, Wallace won't argue the point.

He has won eight times this season in his Miller Genuine Draft Ford, good enough to be in second place.

Earnhardt, who needs to stretch his lead by 50 points to wrap up his seventh title and tie Richard Petty for the most championships in Winston Cup history, has only three wins.

The last one came in the Winston Select 500 at Talladega, Ala., May 1. Since then, Earnhardt and his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet have put together 12 top three finishes and been in the top 10 four other times.

Earnhardt, who has always insisted that he drive every lap like the last lap, yesterday would not talk about the championship race and his attempt to win title No. 7.

"And so the drama builds," said Wallace, sitting in his team's trailer, parked beside Earnhardt's.

"I'm running as hard as I can -- and as long as I have a mathematical chance, I'll be driving my guts out," he said. "I've been doing that from the beginning. I'm running great. I'm leading races. I'm winning races. But every time I look in my mirror, he's there. He's always on the score board second."

Over the years, the Winston Cup points system has done exactly what it was designed to do: keep the points race in doubt to the wire.

If Earnhardt clinches the title today, it will be the second time in 17 years that anyone has clinched it with more than one race left.

It was Earnhardt in 1987 who matched Cale Yarborough's 1977 feat. Both clinched at Rockingham.

Wallace, who starts 14th today, six places ahead of Earnhardt, acknowledges Earnhardt's talent and is candid about the GM Goodwrench team's ability.

"They're not breaking down," said Wallace, who won the title in 1989 and was runner-up last season, 80 points behind Earnhardt.

"And when one of their motors blows up, that team goes crazy," Wallace said. "It's like someone stole one of their children or something. They're all over that engine. They don't stop until they know exactly what went wrong."

Wallace says the team's thoroughness and Earnhardt's talent, combined with an inordinate amount of luck this season, has set Earnhardt apart.

"How many guys can do two 360-degree spins at Martinsville and have 20 cars behind him all not hit him?" he asked. "And then, he goes to Wilkesboro and drives right into the wall in one corner and then drives into the wall at the other corner, knocks the wheels in and still gets out of that thing unhurt [with a seventh-place finish]; and then he goes to Charlotte where he drives through a wreck and gets his whole front end torn off, but is still able to keep going while the cars behind him get strewn all over the race track.

"Not many others could have done one of those things, let alone all of them. He was lucky each time, but he also helps create his luck."

The odds are against Wallace's out-dueling Earnhardt this season, but today the man in second thinks his chances here are pretty good.

"I'd say the odds are terrible for him to get 50 points on me in this race," said Wallace, who has won the past three races here. "The only way he's going to do that is if I crash or the car breaks, and the car feels wonderful."

The bad news for Wallace is that if he wins today and again at Phoenix and Atlanta, Earnhardt could still win the title by finishing no better than 28th in each race.

* Mark Martin, driving the Winn-Dixie Ford, averaged 110 mph and won the AC-Delco 200 Busch Grand National race yesterday, beating Michael Waltrip by five car lengths.

David Green finished 12th but clinched the series title, his first.

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