Earnhardt seeks historic Daytona double DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 15, 1998) After 20 long years of near misses, anxious moments and endless frustrations, earlier this year Dale Earnhardt finally reached his dream of driving to Victory Lane ...
Earnhardt seeks historic Daytona double
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 15, 1998) After 20 long years of near misses, anxious moments and endless frustrations, earlier this year Dale Earnhardt finally reached his dream of driving to Victory Lane following a Daytona 500.
But, can he do it again on Saturday night in Daytona International Speedway's second NASCAR Winston Cup Series event of the year, the postponed Pepsi 400 -- thereby sweeping both events at the "World Center of Racing" in one year?
Glenn "Fireball" Roberts did it in 1962, followed by Cale Yarborough in 1968 and LeeRoy Yarbrough in 1969. Most recently, Bobby Allison did it in 1982, but no one has since.
If Earnhardt is victorious on Saturday, he will join this elite group as one of only five drivers in Daytona's 40-year history to turn the "Daytona Double," winning the Daytona 500 and the Pepsi 400 in the same year.
Earnhardt's name is already mentioned among the greatest of all time, but adding his name to this short list would mark another significant achievement attained during his storied career.
As speedways go, Earnhardt has "owned" Daytona. The seven-time series champion holds the record for all-time victories here with 31. Along with his historic 1998 Daytona 500 triumph, his victories include two Pepsi 400s (1990, '93), seven NAPA Auto Parts 300s (1982, '86, 1990-94), 11 Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Races (1983, '86, 1990-98), six Bud Shootouts At Daytona (1980, '86, '88, '91, '93, '95) and four Daytona True Value IROC titles (1992, 1994-96).
As a result of that record, in February, Earnhardt was the first driver to take full speed laps around the speedway at night, when the light system was not at full capacity. Earnhardt drove his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet for 20 laps, representing every year that he has competed on the NASCAR circuit. He was chosen to be the first driver on the track under the lights because he holds the record at the speedway with more wins than any other driver in history.
Even though Earnhardt did not have a great result in last weekend's restrictor plate race -- the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway -- Earnhardt knows he had a strong car.
"Having two restrictor plate races back-to-back isn't the best situation, but everybody is in the same boat," Earnhardt's crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, said. "We've know it for three months and I believe we're all prepared. We did some damage to our car in Talladega, but that's not the car we planned on bring to Daytona. We tested this car last week and had it as a back-up at Talladega. I think everyone did the same thing and had two good cars ready going into these two races."
Of course, Earnhardt wishes he still had the car he used to win the Daytona 500. That car sits on display just outside the speedway's Turn 4 in the DAYTONA USA family attraction. The attraction will have the No. 3 Chevrolet until the 1999 Daytona 500. It will be returned to Childress Racing when DAYTONA USA takes possession of the 1999 winner's car.
Although the significance of winning motorsports' biggest event and being mentioned as a former Daytona 500 champion is not lost on Earnhardt, he realizes a victory at Daytona in February doesn't guarantee anything in October. And he also realizes the historical importance of putting his name into the record the books as the first driver to win Daytona's inaugural nighttime running of the Pepsi 400.
"I'm looking forward to running Daytona under the lights," Earnhardt said. "It was a massive undertaking to light such a big area and it looks as if they've done a good job. The real test will be Thursday with all of the cars on the race track. The fans are going to be thrilled when they see this race under the lights.
"It's unfortunate that we couldn't do it as scheduled in July, but the right decision was made and hopefully everybody was able to rearrange their plans and get back here this weekend. The one problem the speedway is going to face is that the fans will see how nice the weather is in Florida in October and want to have it at this time every year."
Of course, the wildfires that ravaged Florida through the middle of the summer caused the event to be postponed until the schedule's first open weekend. That doesn't change Earnhardt's anticipation.
"Leave it to the France and NASCAR family to do something bigger and better," Earnhardt said. "They're always doing something exciting or figuring how to do something more exciting.
"Adding lights to Daytona is a pretty exciting venture. Racing under the lights is where I started. When I came to Daytona for the first time in 1976, I never imagined I would be racing here much less racing under the lights. I never even dreamed of it. It's going to be great for the fans and is going to be a great event."
The green flag will fall on Earnhardt and the rest of the Pepsi 400 competitors at 8 p.m. Saturday. All Pepsi 400 reserved seating has been sold. However, the inaugural nighttime running of the Pepsi 400 will be preceded by two nights of practice and qualifying. For ticket information to these events, call (904) 253-7223.
Source: NASCAR Online