BUSCH: Atlanta Championship Report

Earnhardt removes the suspense By Shawn A. Akers HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 7, 1998) So much for any suspense next Sunday at Homestead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took care of that on Saturday afternoon when he finished second to Mark Martin in the NASCAR...

Earnhardt removes the suspense By Shawn A. Akers

HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 7, 1998) So much for any suspense next Sunday at Homestead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took care of that on Saturday afternoon when he finished second to Mark Martin in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Stihl Outdoor Power Tools 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The effort pushed his lead in the series standings to 166 points over Matt Kenseth with only the Jiffy Lube Miami 300 at Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex remaining on the schedule.

All the 24-year-old driver of the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet has to do at Homestead is take the green flag, and the NASCAR Busch Series championship is his.

"I'll climb in that car next week if all my legs and all my bones are broken, I don't care," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We'll get in there somehow or another. We've been blessed by the man upstairs. My father (car owner Dale Earnhardt) gave me an opportunity to drive, and I want to thank him and all my sponsors..

"This team has worked hard all year, and we've developed into a championship-caliber team. I'm not taking anything away from Matt Kenseth and his bunch. They've done a great job this year. He ran every step of the way there with us, but I think we just had a little bit more luck on our side."

Kenseth finished a respectable fourth Saturday behind Martin, Earnhardt and Tony Stewart. He battled from a lap down after being caught in the pits when a caution flag came out. A top-five finish, however, couldn't keep him from losing ground in the championship battle.

"Well, all he (Earnhardt Jr.) Has to do is start it and that's it," said a dejected Kenseth. "Nothing much we could do about that today. But it was a good run for us today; it was decent. We weren't quite right all day.

"It's been the best year of my career and it's been a great building year for us. With three wins, a pole and I think outside poles four or five times, we can't complain about that. Hopefully, we'll get a little bit better next year."

Earnhardt led a huge majority of the 195-lap event on Saturday. He led four times for a total of 126 laps, but gave up the lead to Martin on lap 172. Martin never gave it up after that, and beat "Little E" to the line by .309-second.

"I'm glad we had a competitive run because this is a tough track," said Earnhardt, who just missed his eighth victory of the season, his first full year in the NASCAR Busch Series. "I hate we couldn't win the race, but Mark had a good, strong car. A caution helped us out cooling our tires down. We were able to make a run at Mark. We needed about five more laps to make it closer, but I don't think I could have gotten by him."

Earnhardt has made his famous father proud of him all year long, but his achievement this weekend is the crowning moment of a glorious season.

"I want to thank my dad for everything he's done for me, supporting me through my life, putting me through school, giving me a good education and helping me get an opportunity to drive race cars," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He's helped me fulfill my dream as a race car driver and soon to be championship. I guess it will sink in once I see the look in my daddy's eyes next week. That'll help it sink in when we officially win it."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Mark Martin