Dale Earnhardt used a late draft to notch another superspeedway win at Talladge
When witnessing a classic NASCAR restrictor-plate craps game such as Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway—where there was more passing and sparks flying in one lap than Formula One has in a year—you have a good idea how it's going to turn out. The final dice roll most likely will come up 3, with Dale Earnhardt wearing that mischievous smirk of his and going on about how he just can't believe he wound up in front of the scramble. Indeed, as Earnhardt took the checkered flag on Sunday, holding off Dale Jarrett by a .114-second margin, he keyed his radio microphone and told his crew, "I can't believe this s—."
It was Earnhardt's ninth victory at Talladega, five more than any other driver has at NASCAR's fastest track. He also won the DieHard 500 there in April, nipping Jarrett that time too. "It's not as bad when you lose to the guy who's probably the best at this type of racing," said Jarrett, who with his runner-up finish upped his Winston Cup points lead to a comfortable 246 over Bobby Labonte with four races to go.
At Talladega and Daytona, where carburetor restrictor plates are required to hold speeds below 200 mph, using the draft is crucial. Garage-area legend has it that Earnhardt can see the air as it swirls and roils in waves stirred by the heaviest cars (3,400 pounds) in motor sports.
With four laps to go and Earnhardt running second, he felt an enormous aerodynamic push from behind, looked in his mirror and saw teammate Mike Skinner. Together, he and Skinner drafted past Jarrett with three laps left, and though Skinner fell back in the shuffle, Earnhardt held the lead to the finish.
"The point where Mike helped was what won the race for me," said Earnhardt. "I really thought Jarrett would make a run and get back by me, but he couldn't."
Dodge Returns to NASCAR
Big Spender May Drive Up Costs
DaimlerChrysler put on its best American face last week in announcing that Dodge will return to Winston Cup racing in 2001, ending a 20-year absence, and that Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon's former crew chief, will spearhead the effort. But owners and drivers of existing NASCAR teams shuddered at the thought of the financial and technological might of German-based DaimlerChrysler and its renowned Mercedes-Benz operation and predicted that the cost of racing is about to escalate, if not skyrocket. If the latter happens, NASCAR's ability to attract a large number of competitors by keeping costs relatively low could be a thing of the past.
"[ DaimlerChrysler] has the potential to totally change the face of Winston Cup racing as we know it," said Kyle Petty, whose family-owned team is pondering whether to join Dodge or extend its 18-year association with Pontiac. Petty envisions a thinning of the NASCAR herd, resulting in fewer teams with bigger budgets. In that scenario, Ford and General Motors would be forced to beef up support of their top teams to meet the DaimlerChrysler challenge.
Neither Evernham nor Lou Patane, the Dodge division's vice president for motor sports, would comment on a newspaper report that DaimlerChrysler is prepared to give annual factory support of $10 million per car, approximately five times what the top Ford and GM teams currently receive. "Make no mistake, though," says Patane. "We will apply whatever resources necessary to make sure that we're competitive."