Gordon Excited for Earnhardt - Daytona John Crowley - NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 1998) Sidelined by a terminal engine problem that snuffed his bid for a second straight Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon settled for the next best...
Gordon Excited for Earnhardt - Daytona
John Crowley - NASCAR Online
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 1998)
Sidelined by a terminal engine problem that snuffed his bid for a second straight Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon settled for the next best thing - cheering for first-time race-winner Dale Earnhardt.
Gordon was third in a 16-car train with two laps to go when he slowed suddenly, dropping to the rear of the lead lap. He ended up in 16th. Afterward he said it was a dropped cylinder, serious enough that the engine siezed, forcing him to walk back to the garage.
But not before joining a capacity crowd at Daytona International Speedway in paying homage to Earnhardt.
"I'm excited for him," Gordon said of the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion who had tried and failed 19 previous time to win the "Great American Race."
It was more than a token gesture. The relationship between the two drivers is strong now, and it has always been cordial. But the tag of "Wonderboy," one Gordon has been glad to shed, was penned by Earnhardt several years ago.
Their rivalry today is one based on mutual respect and accomplishment, a bond no doubt strengthened by Earnhardt's historic victory.
"We all want to win the Daytona 500, but as many times as he's been so, so close, he deserves it and he's earned it," Gordon said. "I tried to run him down and congratulate him there at the end but I just didn't have any motor left ."
Until his mechanical mishap, Gordon showed all the aggression and skill that delivered him to Victory Lane a year ago. He started 29th, but worked his way through the field, and after the first round of pit stops, he was sixth.
He led laps 59--106, and then again from 115-122. But the 199th and 200th belonged to Earnhardt.
"Nobody was going to help me win the race," he said. "But that doesn't mean we couldn't have done it. When the cars started shuffling around there, that's when things opened up for an opportunity to get up there and race with them.
"I had some good runs on some guys there a couple of times. But they slammed the door on me. I was just trying to get the thing back here in one piece, and luckily, we did."
Courtesy of NASCAR Online