Earnhardt Jr. Gets First Winston Cup Win

Only the caution flags kept Dale Earnhardt Jr. from completely running away from the DirecTV 500 field.

After twice seeing long leads erased by yellow flags, Earnhard temerged from the restart of the record 12th and final caution period at Texas Motor Speedway still in front. With no more stops, the 25-year-old rookie cruised to his first Winston Cup victory by a nearly six-second margin Sunday.

Little E finished directly ahead of veterans Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and Rusty Wallace. His famous father, a fearsome 75-time Winston winner known as The Intimidator, was 19 seconds behind in seventh place.

``I couldn't believe our car was that good, but it was,''Earnhardt said. ``I didn't have to do a whole lot. I'd point and shoot and that thing ran. We didn't really change nothing to our car, but I thought the typical guys who run up front would be a little faster than us.''

Earnhardt became the second-fastest to a Winston Cup win, needing only 12 starts to get into the winner's circle, one more than Ron Bouchard did in 1981.

It took Dale Earnhardt, a proud father and happy team owner Sunday, 16 races before he won behind the wheel. The senior Earnhardt's first victory came on the same weekend 21 years ago.

``I'll tell you, he's something else,'' the father said. ``He was talking about coming to Texas and winning his first Winston Cup race. I knew the kid could do it. This kid has worked hard, had a good car and drove a good race.''

Earnhardt Jr., a two-time Busch Series champion, got the first of his 13 victories on the junior circuit at the same track in 1998. His best previous Winston Cup finish had been 10th.

He dominated the 334-lap event at Texas in his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, leading six times for a race-high total of 106 laps. The $374,675 winner's share was the largest of his life.

Even after the yellow flags made it closer, the younger Earnhardt still broke from the pack to cross the finish line 5.920 seconds - nearly a full straightway - ahead of Jeff Burton.

Burton, the winner of the inaugural Texas race in 1997, passed Labonte for second place with 16 laps left. Labonte, the Winston Cup points leader, was followed by Wallace, Kevin Lepage and Jeremy Mayfield.

Although Junior was dominant in the end, there were 29 lead changes among 17 drivers - both race records. His winning speed was 131.152 mph, slowed because of 62 laps of caution on the 1-1/2 mile oval.

Ten of the 12 caution flags were brought out by crashes, but the only injuries reported were Elliott Sadler's bruised left shoulder and Dale Jarrett's sore right knee.

Earnhardt Jr. said no major adjustments were made to the car during the race. And while many teams were changing just two tires at a time, his crew stuck to their strategy of four-tire changes every stop.

``We didn't want to upset the handling of the car. That was the smartest thing we did all day,'' he said. ``Several times on restarts we were mired back in eighth of 10th spot. I was really freaking out ... I just wanted to get back up there where I felt we belonged. It was kind of exciting to drive up through the field like that.''

Earnhardt's father won his 75th race just three weeks ago in Atlanta. This is the first time a father-son duo has won on the Winston Cup series in the same season since Bobby and Davey Allison in 1988.

Another family finished in the top 10, with pole-sitter and defending champion Terry Labonte coming in eighth, five spots behind his younger brother. The Labonte brothers are the only two drivers to finish in the top 10 of all four Winston Cup races at the Fort Worth track.

``We were off today. Our car was just not fast,'' Terry Labonte said. ``We couldn't get along like we needed to. Earlier in the race I ran some with Dale Jr., but I couldn't ever get close enough to him at the end.''

Nobody could.

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