Earnhardt Has Visions Of Victory
October 11, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
What do you think? Will the new aero rules in place at Talladega this week make restrictor-plate racing more exciting? Let us know in this week's RacingOne.com SoundOff.
When it comes to racing and winning at Daytona and Talladega, there is no better driver than seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. When drivers in NASCAR's top circuit do battle at those two tracks two times each year, more often than not the crowd sees something magical happen with Earnhardt in his famous black No. 3 Chevrolet.
"He can see air, that's what they say," said Earnhardt's crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, in trying to explain his driver's ability to work the aerodynamic draft at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where restrictor plates are required to keep speeds under the 200 mph barrier.
On nine different occasions in Winston Cup competition at Talladega, Earnhardt has been victorious. With the circuit heading to the 2.66-mile Alabama track for this Sunday's Winston 500, it's highly likely "The Intimidator" will be battling for a 10th win at NASCAR's biggest venue.
And this time around, he'll have a million extra reasons to take the victory, considering he and four other drivers are eligible for Winston "No Bull 5" million dollar bonus. That's no extra added pressure for Earnhardt, however. He takes it as a personal challenge.
"Everybody talks about me seeing the air," Earnhardt said. "I'm really not proposed to say I can see the air. But I do understand the draft and I do understand what the cars are doing with the air. Talladega is really the kind of race track I enjoy and the kind of racing I really enjoy doing."
That's a statement Hamlin said he can't help but agree with 100 percent.
"I think he just has the sense to work the cars, how the car comes off the other cars, and what it does to his car," Hamlin explained. "He just has a good sense about where and how to pull out and pass, it still amazes me. I watched him for a number of years when I wasn't working with him and wondered, 'How does he do that?'
"Now that I'm working with him, I'm still like, 'How does he do it?' Last year at Talladega, he started in the back and was blasting up through the middle of the pack and we're sitting there saying, 'He can't do that.' Then, sure enough, he would. He amazes all of us."
But at Talladega this weekend, for the first time, NASCAR officials have implemented a new aerodynamic rules package. That came as a response to boring races with little or no passing earlier in the year at Talladega and Daytona.
"NASCAR has made some changes on the rules in the spoilers and restrictor plates for Talladega, so everybody probably has a new little twist on things not knowing how everything is going to come down," said Earnhardt, the defending champion of the Winston 500. "At the end of the race with the drafting, people are wondering if it's better to be in front or second, third or whatever. It will probably be better to be out front while trying to hold everybody off."
The 2000 season has been one of a rebirth of sorts for Earnhardt's team, who continues to stay in contention for a record-breaking eighth Winston Cup title. But for that to happen, Earnhardt and second place Jeff Burton are going to need two bad races on the part of points leader Bobby Labonte with only five race remaining. Burton is second, 252 points behind, with Earnhardt a mere six points back in third.
"Talladega has been a good race track for me, I've been able to win there with and without the restrictor plates," Earnhardt said. "And I look forward to going there and maybe gaining some points on Bobby Labonte, that keeps coming up and that's a big factor right now. He's gotta have some luck change, he's had some awfully good luck. We were running good Sunday (at Charlotte) and then had some bad luck. But Talladega is the place to turn it all around."
While it has been a good year for Earnhardt and his legions of fans, one thing that bothers Earnhardt is the fact he hasn't won since his lone victory this year at Atlanta in March, when he beat Labonte in a photo finish.
"This has been a good year," Earnhardt said. "We've had a good year. The thing that has made the difference is the confidence level that this team has - myself, Kevin Hamlin and all the guys on the team together. We've got a good group of guys that do a good job, and I feel good when I get in the car with the confidence level I have we're going to get it right.
"Charlotte is really a great example, we were really out to lunch qualifying - we just missed it. But, we kept working through things in practice and the car came up to the front and we raced them until we had something go wrong with a spring. Still, to have the confidence to be able to have a bad week and turn it around on race day is just tremendous. That's what has been happening to us. We've not qualified well and had some problems.
"But we've still run well and finished well. I'd like to have won more races this year, that has been a little bit of a disappointment to us this year, because we've been close a lot of times. But we just didn't capitalize. We were running well at Watkins Glen and I spun the car out and got in the wall. A lot of things, bad things, have happened this year and we feel like we should have won more races."
Even though he enters this weekend's activities at Talladega with a sense of unknowns with the new rules, Earnhardt says he thinks the racing will be much improved from this year's first three restrictor-plate races at Talladega and Daytona.
"We'll have more throttle response, and we'll be able to draft up and beside each other and create closer racing," Earnhardt said. "I think the changes they've made are going to make a difference and I think you will see a better race. Hopefully everybody will mind their manners and not get into each other and cause wrecks for no reason. The wrecks that have happened at Talladega could have been avoided."
Hamlin said NASCAR has now accomplished the one simple goal that has been asked for years from drivers and teams surrounding NASCAR's two largest tracks.
"I think it's going to put a lot of the racing back into it," Hamlin said.