Friendly rivals finish two-three By Shawn A. Akers
CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 3, 1998) It appeared as if it would come down to a shootout between two hot rivals, two drivers who have become the best of friends. What Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth weren't counting on, however, was Mike McLaughlin and his No. 34 Goulds Pump Chevrolet team taking a huge gamble on fuel mileage, then holding on to win the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday. Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth had the dominant cars throughout the 200-lap event. Earnhardt led three times for 93 laps, while Kenseth led four times for 53 laps. McLaughlin led only twice for 26 laps, but held the top spot when it counted the most -- at the checkered flag. Figuring that he would not run out of fuel in the final 94 laps, McLaughlin led the final 22 circuits around the 1.5-mile tri-oval and won by a whopping 24-second margin. Both Earnhardt and Kenseth were forced to pit for fuel and tires with between 25 and 30 laps remaining in the race.
"After that last caution (from laps 106 to 109), my crew chief (Robbie Reiser) told me that we couldn't go the distance and we would have to pit with 25 laps to go," said Kenseth, who finished second. "We came in with 30 to go and got some tires. My guys beat Dale's guys out of the pits by a good bit. "We were a lap and a half down, and we made up three-quarters of it. We just ran out of time. The guys gave me a good enough car to win. I knew we couldn't go as far as the 34 (McLaughlin) car on fuel." Earnhardt appeared to be cruising to his seventh victory of the season, but he had a tire rub near the race's midpoint and was forced to pit on lap 176. The No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet led laps 128 to 175 before diving into the pits.
"I knew Mike had stopped at the particular time to know that he had enough fuel to make it," Earnhardt, who placed third, said. "We talked about taking two tires, but they saw that tire was rubbing and decided to hurry up and change four. I talked with my daddy (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) in the Cup garage. He said they beat the fender in putting the tire up."
The two young guns who have taken the NASCAR Busch Series by storm this season quickly became friends early in the year, and hang out together when they're not at the race track.
Earnhardt said there's nobody he'd rather race with than Kenseth. "It's a lot of fun (racing with Kenseth), really," Earnhardt said. "I've got to know him and hang out with him on the weekends. We go out and shoot the crap. I've got to know him personally and he's fun to race with. He does so much with so much less. We're pretty good pals. There's always going to be competitiveness. If we can't win it, I'm pulling for him to win it. "Racing each other on the track is fun because he always races me clean and I always race him clean. We respect each other a lot as far as our racing abilities go, and we don't try anything dirty on the track when we're racing together. That's what it's all about." Even though Kenseth finished one position ahead of Earnhardt on Saturday, the driver of the No. 17 LYCOS.com Chevrolet wasn't able to make up any ground in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings. Since Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps, he gained five more bonus points than Kenseth, leaving the margin atop the standings at 97 points with just four races left.
Source: NASCAR Online