Earnhardt Jr. to debut at Charlotte By Shawn A. Akers MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 1999) Recently-crowned NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in the No. 8 ...
Earnhardt Jr. to debut at Charlotte By Shawn A. Akers
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 1999) Recently-crowned NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was announced Tuesday evening.
As part of the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by UAW-GM Motorsports the announcement was made at the Dale Earnhardt Inc. race shop, also home of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet driven by Steve Park. The announcement that Earnhardt Jr. would drive in five races for Budweiser in 1999 and a full schedule with Budweiser as his sponsor was made late last year.
Earnhardt Jr. will also run the Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 11; the Pepsi 400 at Michigan Speedway on Aug. 22; the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 17; and the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Nov. 21.
The five-race schedule for 1999 was designed to help preserve Earnhardt Jr.'s rookie status for the year 2000. His contract with Budweiser is extended through the year 2004.
"Hopefully we'll be able to be competitive and be able to race with some of these guys and not just be out there riding around gaining experience," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I want to be racing and I want to be competitive and that'll be our first chance to see if we could have that result."
The number eight holds major significance for the Earnhardt family. Earnhardt Jr.'s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, raced with that number. The elder Earnhardt is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, as well as being named one of the top-50 drivers in NASCAR history last year.
The number was also on seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt's car when he began his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career at Charlotte in 1975.
But besides the family connection, Earnhardt said there was another factor in deciding when Earnhardt Jr. would make his big debut.
"It didn't make good sense with us introducing a new '99 car, to have to build brand-new speedway cars and then have to rebuild them for later," he said. "We tried to gear back and be ready. We can be more prepared, better prepared, in May or after."
"Budweiser has given me a great opportunity and I couldn't have asked for a better situation to make my Winston Cup debut," the 24-year-old phenom said.
"I'll be racing at the track near my home town (Kannapolis, N.C.) in a car owned by my dad, competing against the best drivers in the world on the same track where he began his Winston Cup career. Best of all, I'll have my grandadad's number eight. It'll be a special day for the entire Earnhardt family."
The number is especially meaningful for Earnhardt.
"To see him drive in a car that's sponsored by Budweiser," he said, "and that's got my dad's old number on it ... I was really fortunate to get that number from NASCAR, the Stavola Brothers, it's pretty exciting."
In recent years, the number eight has been used by the Stavola Brothers in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The Stavolas, however, announced that they would not compete in 1999 due to a lack of sponsorship and financial constraints to the team.
It will also mark only the second time Earnhardt Jr. will have raced against his famous father. The first time was in November in the NASCAR exhibition race in Motegi, Japan, where both raced with Coca-Cola emblazoned on their cars.
Earnhardt Jr. will return to the seat of the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet, owned by Dale Sr., next season to defend his NASCAR Busch Series crown, as well.
"Hopefully we'll be able to accomplish what we did in '98 and maybe a few more things," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've looked at our team this past winter, during the offseason, and seen a few weak spots that we patched up and worked on. I think with those things mended and a few additions to the team as far as personnel and resources go, we'll be even stronger.
"You always want to be better. That's what I think is the sign of a great team is somebody who's never satisfied and is striving to become better.
And there's still plenty to improve upon, according to Earnhardt Jr.
"There's so much experience to be gained in the Busch Series," he said. "ACDelco has elected to stay on board the car for another year to help me gain that experience, and I'm in no position myself as a driver to move into Winston Cup. I'm excited at the opportunity to gain more experience at the Busch level.
"I've only run the Busch Series one full year and I feel that I need some time and there's a lot more experiences and situations that I need to be exposed to before I advance to Winston Cup racing."
Earnhardt's father knows that another season in the NASCAR Busch Series will do nothing but help his son.
"I'm pulling the reins hard. I think he understands what he needed to do," the proud father said. "I think he understands the focus that he needs to put into racing, whether it be Busch Grand National or Winston Cup. He's seen things grow here, from the Busch Series to the Truck Series to the Cup Series, he was around watching this happen. He understands the time, he understands what it takes to make a team good. He feels strong with Tony and Tony Jr. and that team, and he knows they need time to build and grow. He's willing to work with them and grow with him. I think he's patient. I think he's very poised in that sense. He's excited about getting started."
Source: NASCAR Online