BUSCH: Earnhardt Jr. Running Wide Open

Dale Jr. running wide eyed and wide open by Brett Borden BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 11, 1998) It seems that when he's not being compared to his father, he's being compared to his father's chief rival. And why not? Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares more than...

Dale Jr. running wide eyed and wide open by Brett Borden

BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 11, 1998) It seems that when he's not being compared to his father, he's being compared to his father's chief rival. And why not? Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares more than just the same name as a certain seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, and his dominance of his division at such a young age is currently matched in the racing world only by one Jeff Gordon.

Earnhardt Jr. has come so far so fast this year, winning five races and leading the points as a rookie in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, it's a wonder that he can handle all that's being thrown at him.

"I had no idea that we were going to do this well," he said in an MCI teleconference Tuesday. "A lot of things have come to a realization for me. The time you spend, the value of your time, your team's time. The value of everything and where it stands in the big scheme of things. How to work with the media, how to treat the race fans, even how to treat the race officials. I had to learn all that stuff. I had to become somebody right away."

Not somebody's son. Somebody in his own right. A year ago he was just another racing son who had doors open for him because of his name. Now he's blowing the doors off his rivals.

He's had help, of course. Tony Eury has been with one Earnhardt or another for what seems like an eternity. He now turns the wrenches on Dale Jr.'s No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet.

"Tony's known me since I was in diapers," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He and my dad have known each other since they were 16-17 years old."

The two have taken the NASCAR Busch Series by storm, and the natural assumption is that their current reign in the series will end after this year as they move up to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series next year. Not so fast, says Dale Jr.

"If we win the championship we're going to come back next year," he said. "That's been our plan from the beginning.

"We've drawn some attention to the Busch Series. That's what it needed. I think the Busch is becoming more than a little brother to the Cup series."

Steve Park put up good numbers -- three wins and 20 top-10 finishes in 30 races -- in his one season with the No. 3 ACDelco team owned by Earnhardt's father. But they are starting to pale in comparison to Junior's. In fact, the only driver who's numbers stack up right now drives the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Dale Jr. said he's looking forward to banging fenders with Gordon one day.

"I think I'd be ready for something like that," he said. "He's one of the best, if not the best. I'd like to get in the mix with them and just be competitive. Someone's got to step up and challenge him, and if I can be that man, I'll be glad to do it. I'm flattered just to be in the same sentence with him."

And despite the accomplishments he has under his seatbelt, Dale Jr. is still flattered to be compared to his father. He seems to prefer it that way.

"I race for me and try to do for me," he said. "But I also win races to put smiles on his face. The money, exposure, and fame don't matter. It's all for him."

Winning the NASCAR Busch Series would put a very large smile on his father's face. Junior is getting anxious to seal the deal.

"I'm ready to get it over with and see if we can't win this thing," he said. "It's getting down to nail biting time."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Steve Park