Earnhardt And Dega Mesh
October 6, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The late Dale Earnhardt won three Winston Cup points races at Daytona International Speedway and 10 at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won at Daytona during his young Winston Cup career and two at Talladega, including the last two events at the mammoth 2.66-mile facility.
But unlike the former seven-time Winston Cup champion, his son actually LIKES restrictor-plate racing. That’s just one of the things that makes him a threat to win every time he comes to Talladega.
Junior will be one of the favorites in Sunday’s EA Sports 500, scheduled to get under way shortly after 1 p.m. ET.
The younger Earnhardt, like his father before him, has become very adept at restrictor-plate racing, and he’s done it in a short period of time. He’ll be going for his third victory at Talladega in only six races.
Despite his record at Daytona and Talladega, the elder Earnhardt consistently professed his disdain for restrictor-plate racing. He suffered one of the worst accidents of his Winston Cup career, at Talladega, a few years ago.
Junior and his No. 8 Budweiser Chevy team, however, always look forward to coming to Talladega.
“I like it, because it gives everybody an opportunity to be competitive even if your car is just a little bit down on horsepower or your car doesn’t quite draft as well as others,” said Junior, who passed Bobby Labonte on the final lap of last year’s fall event at Talladega to win. “You can still be in the middle of the race and have some fun, no matter whether you’re racing for first or 25th; you can still race and pass people and feel like you’re doing something.
“A lot of race tracks, if you’re not competitive, it can make for a long day and you really don't feel like you accomplished anything. I enjoy it, had a lot of success at it and I look forward to those races. It’s intriguing to wonder what it would be like without them and how that would work out.
“The only way I would like to do that is if they just completely unrestricted the cars, motors and aero package...that would be fun to race and have to lift and stuff like that and get your cars to handle to go around the corner and things like that. I think that if they just took the plates off and then tried to slow the cars down with the bodies – I don’t know if that would be as much fun as what we’ve got now.”
Taking off the plates is just what Dale Earnhardt Sr. would like to have seen – but would like to have kept up the speeds.
Just coming to Talladega always makes some drivers apprehensive, especially the ones still involved in the championship chase. That’s something Junior doesn’t have to concern himself with, which gives him even more of an incentive to go out there and lay it all on the line.
In other words, if the “big wreck” does happen, then so be it.
"I’m not in the points race, so I’m not quite as nervous about it,” Junior said. “So, I can go up there and take some more chances. I won’t be as patient about it; I can just go right to the front if my car will go there. I don’t know. I just like running in races, and even if you do get crashed out in a big mess, that’s just what happens.
“You can’t do nothing about them big wrecks. You can’t really avoid them. If I was in the points race and got up in there and got crashed out and got a 35th-place finish out of the deal I’d be pretty upset about it, but I would still look forward to the next plate race. As competitive as our cars are, who wouldn’t, driving them cars?
“Our cars just go right to the front, me and Michael’s (Waltrip). We’ve got to work on Steve’s a little bit and get his more competitive. When you've got cars as good as that, that can do things our cars can do, you just love to go to them race tracks.”
An Earnhardt has won the last two fall events at Talladega, both resulting in a $1 million bonus from the Winston No Bull 5 program. Earnhardt Jr., along with four other drivers and five race fans, are once again eligible for the $1 million prize on Sunday.
“That would really be cool,” Junior said of the No Bull 5 million. “Man, I can’t believe it’s already eight attempts (to win the bonus). It’s a lot of fun to get a chance to win a million dollars, especially for the fan.
“It puts a little bit more pressure on the driver, I guess, but it gives that guy a chance. I think, going into Talladega, one of the tracks we do really well at, we got a pretty good shot at it. We’re really going to have everything prepared the best we can.”