Competitors not surprised by Little E's big win By Brett Borden FORT WORTH, Texas (April 3, 2000) It only took 12 starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to find Victory Lane in his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career, a popular victory in front of 223,000...
Competitors not surprised by Little E's big win
By Brett Borden
FORT WORTH, Texas (April 3, 2000) It only took 12 starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to find Victory Lane in his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career, a popular victory in front of 223,000 fans at Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday's DirecTV 500. One would expect that such instant success would elicit amazement around the garage area. One would be wrong.
"It didn't surprise me any," said Bobby Labonte, current points leader and third place finisher to Earnhardt Jr. on Sunday.
"I thought it would have been before this," added Labonte's teammate at Joe Gibbs Motorsports - Tony Stewart. Stewart set the standard for Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidates last year with three victories. "I think he is right on schedule right now and I don't think that is the only one he'll get this year."
Earnhardt Jr.'s win so soon out of the gate is an amazing accomplishment, but not unprecedented. Ron Bouchard won in only his 11th start in 1981. Earnhardt's seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion father won in his 16th career start 21 years earlier at Bristol Motor Speedway. Stewart. Meanwhile, didn't win until his 25th start last year.
"Well, I'm happy for him," said Rusty Wallace, who had just gotten his 50th victory the week before at Bristol and finished fourth on Sunday. "That's seven different winners now this year (in seven races). That's a cool deal you know. We're competing on the track for the beer brands, but I'm not really competing against him, he's a good kid and he drove his heart out."
And the kid had a heart-to-heart talk with his father afterward.
"He just told me he loved me and he wanted to make sure I took the time to enjoy this and relax a little bit with what we accomplished today," said Earnhardt Jr. "You can get so swept up with what's going on around you that you really don't enjoy it yourself personally, so he just wanted me to take a minute and do this and celebrate how I wanted to celebrate. He was pretty happy - he's the car owner and so he's proud of the team and his 'product.' He's proud as a father - but this is his team, so no matter who's driving he's happy about that."
As for the Intimidator, he was reduced to using words more often heard from another multi-champion. "That was awesome, wasn't it?," said Earnhardt. "Unbelievable. He (Dale Jr.) had a great race car. This is where he won his first Busch Grand National race. He got the first Winston Cup win for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., today, and Steve Park got our first Winston Cup pole last week at Bristol, so things are looking up."
As for Earnhardt Jr.'s teammate, he was pretty happy, too.
"He's obviously a talented racecar driver," said Park. "He's won two Busch championships. We're excited about him winning. That puts a smile on my face. We feel good about that with him being a part of the two-car team. We're all going to benefit from that."
By starting fourth, Earnhardt Jr. improved his average starting position to 6.6, tops of all NASCAR Winston Cup drivers this year. He's the only driver with six top-10 starts in the first seven races. If that trend continues, Stewart could be right - it won't take long for Little E to get his second big win this year.