Professor plate teaches them again By Dave Rodman TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 26, 1999) Dale Earnhardt celebrates his win in the DieHard 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt is the most efficient and effective driver in the ...
Professor plate teaches them again By Dave Rodman
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 26, 1999) Dale Earnhardt celebrates his win in the DieHard 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt is the most efficient and effective driver in the current era of restrictor-plate racing in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and the seven-time series champion added another brick to his legend Sunday in the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The victory, by .137 seconds over 1998 Winston 500 champion Dale Jarrett, was Earnhardt's 9th since the current era of restrictor plates, which began with the 1988 Daytona 500 and include all races at Daytona and Talladega.
Earnhardt has been credited with having an arcane knack for "sniffing the draft" on the tracks where the movement of air over the sleek 3,400-pound cars is absolutely critical. Sometimes it's a lot simpler than that -- like just using the experience garnered in 25 years in NASCAR's elite division.
Earnhardt, who had not led a lap in a series race since the round at North Carolina Speedway last November, led the most laps, 70, on Sunday at the 2.66-mile trioval. Again, it was knowing when he had to lead that was key for Earnhardt, who will turn 48 on Thursday.
"Finally, I got the opportunity to go to the front," Earnhardt said of his pass of Jarrett on lap 175. "Again, I didn't know if it was the right thing to do. I was going to settle in there with Jarrett, but they kept racing behind me and I figured maybe I'd like to be in front and maybe they'd get to racing each other and help me win.
"That's really what happened. Jarrett couldn't mount a charge on me. Everybody was racing behind him, so we just had a great car all day. We were there and had pretty good pit stops all day. We had one problem with the left front. We took a little time to see what that was. It was just distracting. It was a good day for us. We came back to the front a couple of times and led the most laps and won the race.
"That's what it's about, to come down here and win races."
Larry McReynolds was Earnhardt's crew chief for a little more than one season on the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet. In that time he engineered Earnhardt's lone career victory in the Daytona 500, but he otherwise got an eyeful.
"I saw it, I knew it before I started working with him, and I understood what people meant -- the man I think can literally see the air," McReynolds said in wonder a day after the win. "He knows exactly where to put the race car to get the full advantage of the draft. You don't do what he did Saturday (last lap victory in the True Value IROC race) without help unless you are a master of where your car needs to be.
"He did it with no help from anywhere else to make a pass. Then, to stay out front -- that's what Dale Jarrett experienced -- to not be able to get by, even with the help of another driver. Dale understands the effect of the draft and going by someone using it, better, I think, than anyone in the history of the sport."
McReynolds gave Earnhardt even higher praise when he said "I'm not sure anyone will ever be that good. As much as he complains about it -- if they told him they was going to take four races off the schedule and add two more Daytonas and two more Talladegas, I think we'd see that Earnhardt grin come out a little bit."
Jarrett and Mark Martin, his two biggest adversaries at the end of the race, knew what they were facing and joined the crowd just shaking their heads.
"I think that we could have worked to try and get by Earnhardt, but trying to pass Dale Earnhardt at one of these places with a lap or two to go is a pretty tall order," Jarrett said. "He makes the (No.) 3 car pretty wide. In front or behind -- I don't care to have him either place, personally.
"Definitely, he's a hard man to pass. That 3 car, he knows where to put it. He's good at anticipating. As I peddled back to Mark a little bit to try to get me a little bit of a push, he peddled right back with me. He's smart and he knows what to do. We'd have had to have more help than me and Mark to get around him I think."
Martin was even more succinct when he added, "He's sort of the master at restrictor plate racing. He's the best I've ever come up against."
As good as Earnhardt obviously is, he also gave his crew a lot of credit for a stout Chevy Monte Carlo.
"The guys did a great job all day," he said after he won career victory No. 72. "I got shuffled back and I could come back to the front and they couldn't stop me from doing what I wanted to do. We had good stops all day. That last stop, the reason we got so far behind or seemingly so far behind, a lot of guys just took on two tires and some guys just took on gas. We took on four tires and we had a little vibration in the left front they wanted to check. We took a little extra time. Everything looked good, so we came out a little further back than we wanted to, but we had the race car to come back to the front.
"We want to work on the points and racing for the points championship is what it's all about. That's why you're here, racing to win and racing for championships. We've had a real crappy year so far, but I think it's going to turn around for us now."
Sometimes, at the plate races, things get pretty raw and blunt, Earnhardt said, and "friends" and "buddies" and "partners" -- or even teammates -- don't always have a lot to do with it.
"You're driving by the mirror more or less," he said. "Our spotter is telling you he's coming low, low. I knew something was going to happen. The (No.) 88 got a run on the (No.) 43 and he wasn't going to sit there. He wanted to be behind me or in front of me. When he made that move, I countered, and that made the decision that the 88 was going to be the better car. It worked out for us. It was a game of chess, knowing when to move and where to move to, and I can't play chess."
But Earnhardt can drive a race car, and he proved it again Sunday.
Earnhardt, who had not won in 101 races, had all but been written off by many "sages" in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage area, and certainly by many in the grandstands. His car owner said that talk is strictly premature.
"I'm just as happy as I can be," Richard Childress, whose trip to Victory Lane assuaged the pain caused by teammate Mike Skinner's early crash. "I've got to be the luckiest car owner in the world. Dale Earnhardt is the best. If anybody gives up on him, they've just lost their mind."
Childress said he fielded a lot of inquiries about Earnhardt's commitment, or ability. He never wavered, and gave his driver a resounding vote of confidence.
"Thursday or last week or two or three weeks ago, people came up and asked if Dale Earnhardt was too busy to win races," Childress said, shaking his head. "I had a couple of different reporters ask me if I thought Dale was past his prime. I think today should answer a lot of those questions.
"I feel as good for Dale Earnhardt today as I do for myself and this race team. A lot of people questioned him and his ability and the things he's got going on. Wanting to win races, can win races is one thing I think when that time comes, Dale Earnhardt is going to tell us all, but until that, I feel like he can win anywhere, four or five years, however long he wants to do it.
"I've got to say I'm one of the luckiest car owners in the business to have him as a driver."
Source: NASCAR Online