PAIN, NO GAIN FOR EARNHARDT IN LAST YEAR'S BRICKYARD 400 INDIANAPOLIS, July 25, 1997 -- Injuries sustained in a racing accident at Talladega Superspeedway last July prevented Dale Earnhardt from successfully defending his 1995 Brickyard 400...
PAIN, NO GAIN FOR EARNHARDT IN LAST YEAR'S BRICKYARD 400
INDIANAPOLIS, July 25, 1997 -- Injuries sustained in a racing accident at Talladega Superspeedway last July prevented Dale Earnhardt from successfully defending his 1995 Brickyard 400 title and winning a record eighth NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1996.
Currently riding the longest winless streak of his career, Earnhardt would like nothing better than to park his No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo in victory circle after 160 laps in the 1997 edition of the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 2 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt qualified 12th for last season's race and completed five laps before stopping at the first caution. Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's current Richard Childress Racing teammate, came on in relief for the injured driver and finished 15th in the 40-car field.
Terry Labonte took over the points lead from Earnhardt after that race, and the seven-time champion never led again in 1996. Earnhardt came back the next week to win the pole and finish sixth in the road race at Watkins Glen, but 46-year old, Kannapolis, N.C., native admitted he may have hindered his recovery by returning too soon after the accident last season.
"Climbing out of that car at Indy last year was the hardest thing I've ever done," Earnhardt said. "My job is to drive that race car, and I wanted to drive it but I just couldn't. Then I try to play the hero the next week and go out and win the pole and lead a bunch of laps at Watkins Glen. If I had been healthy, I really think I could have won that race."
Crew chief Larry McReynolds took over for the No. 3 GM Goodwrench team in '97 after working on Robert Yates' Fords for several seasons. The transition took longer than McReynolds expected, but the team is expecting strong runs in the second half of the season. Only 214 points behind leader Labonte with 15 races remaining, Earnhardt could still challenge for the 1997 championship.
"Dale hasn't forgot how to win, and I can tell you he's just as hungry and trying just as hard as he ever did," McReynolds said. "We had a good three-day test at the Brickyard, and I think we're going to be ready to give 'em a run for their money."
Childress recalled the days leading up to last year's race after the mishap at Talladega, and he doesn't have many fond memories of those hours.
We put Dale in the car to see if he needed a flak jacket or whatever when we first got to Indy, and I could see something in his eyes," Childress said. "I knew if his body would let him, we'd have to pry him out of the car in that race. He was just hurting too much, and Mike Skinner did a good job. We were real fortunate to have someone like Mike standing by to step in the car. I know he felt some pressure, but we tried to make it as easy on both of them as we could."
The Brickyard 400 is presented by Chevrolet, Miller Lite, Monsoon and Pennzoil. All reserved seats for the 1997 race are sold out, and general admission tickets are not available on race day. General admission tickets are available on practice ($5 per person over 5 years of age) and qualifying days ($10 per person over 5 years). A $25 three-day (Wednesday-Friday) practice and qualifying pass allows daily in-and-out privileges and is available through the IMS ticket office. For information on Brickyard 400 practice and qualifying tickets, weekend parking and camping information, or the three-day pre-race pass, call IMS Ticket Operations at 317/484-6700.