Earnhardts Unwinnable Win

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt has won 76 races at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series level, but none compare to his victory on Sunday afternoon in the Winston 500 before a frenzied crowd of 140,000 at Talladega Superspeedway.

At this Alabama track, Earnhardt is considered a God. He has 10 wins, the all-time record.

When Earnhardt came to the press box after Sunday’s race, he was met outside it by a rock-star-like crowd of a couple thousand Intimidator fans who had just witnessed one of the most amazing victories of his career.

After climbing from the van that carried him from victory lane, the seven-time Winston Cup champion climbed on its roof and jumped up and down while his fans chanted, “Earnhardt, Earnhardt, Earnhardt ...”

With five laps to go in Sunday’s race, Earnhardt was running 18th and it looked like the last place he was going to end up was in victory lane. But somehow, someway, it was the black No. 3 taking the lead as the field took the white flag. He never relinquishing the top spot.

“To think anybody could start from back in the field like that with 15 laps to go and win this race is beyond me,” Earnhardt explained of his ninth restrictor-plate win. “You guys saw it. I just couldn’t believe it. We were fortunate.”

And very good.

It’s not often you hear drivers throwing a lot of credit to a competitor that just beat them, but Jerry Nadeau said it was the best race he’s ever been a part of.

“I tell you what, if they were selling tickets here for $1,000 I would have paid it because I would have loved to sat in the stands and watched this race,” said Nadeau, who finished 13th after being shuffled out of the lead trio of cars at the end. “That was a race. It was so nerve-wracking. The last three laps were the most hair-raising laps I’ve ever run in my life.

“Earnhardt planned it right. He was at the back of the pack and he weaved his way up on the last lap and held everybody off.”

Earnhardt’s victory - combined with a 12th-place finish for points leader Bobby Labonte - moves him to second in the championship race. He now faces a 210-point deficit with four races remaining on the 2000 schedule.

“We’ve got to gain every race like that, and if we can gain 50 or so points every race down to the last race it could make for a heck of a show at Atlanta,” said Earnhardt, who trimmed Labonte’s points lead by 48. “Charlotte was a good race for us, but we should have finished better than what we did. Dover was a good race for us, we should have finished better there but we didn’t. We’ve got to start having good finishes like we did today to beat Bobby.

“Hopefully, Bobby finishes farther back than we do. If it gets down to two or three races left to go and he’s still got 100 or 150 points on us, it’s going to be tough to beat him. We’ve got a good shot at putting the pressure on. Anything can happen.”

Just before leaving the press box following his postrace interview with the media, Earnhardt just couldn’t help but taking one last jab at NASCAR’s restrictor-plate program.

"I still don’t like restrictor-plate racing, I’m not that good at it," Earnhardt joked.

When he gets to liking it a little better, that’s going to be some bad news for his fellow competitors.

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