At times Dale Jr. had chafed under the expectations and hype leading up to the 600. He was so relieved after qualifying at midweek that he flopped down on a couch at his house near the Earnhardt garage—the so-called Garage Mahal—in Mooresville, N.C., and hollered, "Man, thank god that's over!" The next few nights he spent most of his time playing the video game Knockout King with friends and then on Friday sat in on drums for one number with the alternative rock band Bridge during a concert in Charlotte. Earnhardt wrote the lyrics to the song Eyes to See on Bridge's latest CD. "You can just tell Dale loves being onstage," says band member Terrill Hinson. "He likes the lights shining right on him."
That's good, because it looks as if the hype may get even worse between now and his next Winston Cup race. The blond-haired kid is seen as one of the young drivers who can bridge the gap between the sport's down-home roots and its corporate future. Before the 600, Earnhardt was nearly mobbed by fans as he made his way to the garage. Four hours and 600 miles later, he made a beeline for his father's hauler. Big E had finished sixth and was waiting for Little E.
"He told me I did a good job, that I stayed clean and I stayed out of trouble," said Dale Jr. "So I guess you could say after everything that went on, my debut got the ultimate stamp of approval."
Stewart Does Indy, Charlotte
His face drained of color from dehydration and his legs too exhausted for him to stand, Tony Stewart stretched out on the black leather couch in the back of the Joe Gibbs Racing hauler and laughed about the only thing missing from his 13-hour Indy Car-Winston Cup driving adventure: a large pizza with every-thing. On Sunday, Stewart, a 27-year-old NASCAR rookie and former IRL points champion, became the first driver to complete the Indianapolis 500, which started at 11 a.m. EDT, and the Coca-Cola 600, which began seven hours and 15 minutes later, on the same day. (Five years ago John Andretti finished 10th in the 500 but didn't complete the 600 because of engine failure.) Stewart placed ninth at Indy and fourth at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Because he had eaten only two minibagels all day, Stewart was so hungry around Lap 115 of the Coca-Cola 600 that he tried to drive with one hand while stuffing a chocolate nutrition bar under his helmet and into his mouth. He took two bites before chucking the bar out the window and onto the infield grass out of frustration.
"It's great to know that I have left a little mark in the record books for finishing both races," said Stewart, who is fifth in the Winston Cup point standings and on track to become the first rookie since 1980 to finish in the top 10. "We proved 1,100 miles can be done, but you better have a good day at both tracks."
In the end Stewart's blistered hands had steered two cars for 596 laps and through 2,384 left-hand turns in less than 12 hours. Over the past month he made seven round trips between Indianapolis and Charlotte. It's a feat he isn't eager to repeat. "One time was enough," said Stewart, yawning. "Right now I just want to go to sleep—and I'm not sure when I'll wake up."
CART Motorola 300
Bittersweet Win For Andretti
"Nice" was as strong a word as Michael Andretti could muster after winning the Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis last Saturday. The celebration on the podium with his father, Mario, also "was nice," Michael said. But at the bottom of his heart was the gnawing knowledge that "it could have been Indy. "Another Memorial Day weekend would pass in Michael's life, a fourth consecutive Indianapolis 500 would be missed because of CART's ongoing boycott of Indy. "Disappointing," Andretti said, with sadness in his voice. He's 36. He hasn't won the race that means the most to his family. Time is running out.