Earnhardt Receives Honor

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NEW YORK – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he can’t, and never will take the place of his late father in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

All he can do, he said Friday morning at the Waldorf-Astoria, is to try and carry on “The Intimidator’s” legacy the best way he can.

During the 42nd annual Myers Brothers Breakfast, sponsored by the National Motorsports Press Association, Junior accepted the Myers Brothers Award on behalf of the late Earnhardt, who was killed in a tragic accident in February on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

The award is given annually to an individual or group who has made outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing.

“Accepting this award for my father is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve been faced with some pretty tough circumstances this year,” Junior said. “I’m up here doing this, but I would never be able to say anything as good as he would say it. He looked forward to this breakfast every year, and I know he would have been proud to have won this award. I’m just really proud to accept it on his behalf.”

Earnhardt won seven Winston Cup championships and was arguably the greatest driver the Winston Cup Series has ever seen. He certainly was its most popular, judging from the souvenir memorabilia worn by his fans, adorning his famous No. 3.

Speaking of the Most Popular Driver Award, given annually by the NMPA, it was announced by organization president David Poole that the award will be named for Bill Elliott as soon as Elliott retires from the sport.

Elliott is a 15-time recipient of the Most Popular Driver Award, but chose to remove his name from the balloting this year in honor of Earnhardt. The actual award will be given out Friday night at the 2001 Winston Cup Awards Ceremony at the Waldorf.

Several other awards, and checks were given out at the Myers Brothers Breakfast Friday morning. Champion Jeff Gordon had three awards bestowed on him, including the year’s Bud Pole Award, which garnered him $100,000. Gordon won six poles during the 2001 regular season.

He also took home $76,000 for winning the Union 76 Gasoline Champion’s Award, and an additional $75,000 for winning the Gatorade Front Runner Award.

“This Bud Pole Award means a lot to us because it’s tough to get up front every week and stay there,” Gordon said. “A big part of our success is due to the hard work of Rick Wetzel, Randy Dorton and our engine department. Rick’s nickname is champ, and I don’t know how he got that, but he certainly is a champ now. We owe a lot of this championship to him.”

Speaking of Wetzel, he received a check for $77,000 for being named the Clevite Engine Builder of the Year.

The Plasti-Kote Finish Award of $55,000 was given to Robbie Loomis, crew chief of Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevy. The championship is Loomis’ first as a crew chief.

“This was a total team effort, and what a driver we’ve got,” Loomis said of Gordon.

“I’m so excited to see Robbie get this award and to get his first championship,” Gordon said. “It indeed is a total team effort. Our whole organization beats around one heart, and that’s (team owner) Rick Hendrick’s. What he gives us to go out there and run for a championship is second to none. We just hope this isn’t the last one.”

Gordon was reminded of his first Winston Cup championship, in 1995, and how things have evolved during the Winston Cup Awards Ceremony week in the past six years.

“Things have really changed, even over the past couple of years,” Gordon said. “NASCAR, RJ Reynolds (Winston) – they really take care of the champion and his team during this week. We’re really grateful to them for all they’ve done. This has been such an unforgettable week for us, a fantastic week. We’ve had more fun than you can imagine.”

Gordon did his annual photo shoot in Times Square on Thursday afternoon, and was a guest on The Late Show With David Letterman Thursday night.

The NASCAR Motor Oil Award went to Sterling Marlin, who received a check for $76,000 on Friday morning. He too paid tribute to Earnhardt.

“There’s always another character up here named Dale Earnhardt that receives this award, so this is truly an honor,” Marlin said.

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