Earnhardt Jr. takes Busch Series Championship By Dave Rodman
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 15, 1998) Dale Earnhardt Jr. was disappointed to be one of the first drivers to fall out of Sunday's Jiffy Lube Miami 300 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division finale at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex -- but his disappointment was eased by the fact that he had clinched the series championship when he took the green flag in his No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"We definitely had a shot at winning and we were excited about the way the car performed today," the 24-year-old Earnhardt said of his run from 15th starting position to the lead by lap 56. "We're pretty excited about coming back to Homestead next year knowing we've got a good-handling race car.
"It's just a shame. Ron Hutter built us some excellent race motors this year and it's tough that we had to go out like that. We're real excited to have him back next year and he's a real key to this team and to the championship."
In the face of some tough teams that were announced this weekend in Homestead, it's a little bit daunting to the competition to know that, in addition to running five NASCAR Winston Cup races in 1999 with Budweiser sponsorship on his Chevrolet, Earnhardt Jr. will be back to compete for his second straight championship and to improve on his record of seven wins in 1998.
"I got to win this championship with a lot of special people," Earnhardt Jr. said I praise. "My dad; Tony Eury, my crew chief; and Tony (Eury) Jr.
The championship victory, which came on the strength of seven wins, 16 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes in 31 races, was all family for "Little E."
"My cousin, Tony Jr., and I grew up together," Earnhardt Jr. said of his 'car chief.' "And Tony was basically like a second dad to me at times - when he was away - as well as many people on the team . . . too many to name. We're really excited about our next season as well.
"I had no idea what to expect or how to run for a championship or how to beat the system. So everybody tried to point me in the right direction. When I'd get out of line, they'd knock me around and send me back on my way. We had to learn how to be consistent. We had a lot of things that were good and a lot of things that were bad. But everything was an experience that made me a little bit better person and a little bit better race car driver."
"We did blow a motor today, but that does not represent the kind of work that Hutter does," Earnhardt Jr. said, almost contritely. "We had a little trouble, but we don't go out like that. We go out in style and have a good time."
"Earnhardt said the race-oriented town of Mooresville, N.C., might not have seen the party the likes of which he planned to initiate on his brief return, before he departs to compete in his first race in a NASCAR Winston Cup car, next weekend's NASCAR Thunder Special Motegi at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
"We're going to have a good time when we get back to Mooresville," Earnhardt Jr. said, warming up. "I actually wanted to get out of the car on the first lap and kick back and let somebody else drive the rest of the race. I wanted to kick back with my guys. They're standing there in the pits as happy as they could be about winning this championship. It's a shame that we had trouble because we were having a pretty good race.
"Tony Eury and the team could have made it difficult for me this year and put a lot of pressure on me. But instead, they allowed me to rebound from mistakes and learn from them. Any time I tore up a race car or made a wrong move, they didn't get too upset and I was able to learn and it made it easier. We just relaxed and kept out eyes on the prize and here we are."
And that's what should give Earnhardt's competition cause to pause.
"You really don't realize about the type of people I'm working with here," he said, bubbling over with pride and respect. "Tony Eury and the guys are already thinking about next year. They're already thinking about Japan and what we need in preparation for that race.
"We're going to go over there and have a good time. It's a long plane ride so we're just going to kick back. We're going to ride around there and see what we can do, and see if we can be competitive. If we can, we're going to race for it and if we can't, we'll just enjoy the time we have there."
Source: NASCAR Online