Earnhardt Daytona legacy expanded even more

Earnhardt Daytona legacy expanded even more

By Phil Pash

The legacy of the late Dale Earnhardt grew even more last week.

The NASCAR Winston Cup team he started—or spinoffs from that team—won just about everything there was to win during boring Daytona 500 Speed Weeks.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) entries won the Daytona 500 (Michael Waltrip), the Busch race (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), a 500 qualifying race (Junior and Waltrip were 1-2) and the Budweiser Shootout (Junior).

The team had no entries in the ARCA, IROC or Craftsman Truck Series races, and Junior just missed the 500 pole, being bumped off by Jeff Green in a Richard Childress car. You could count that in the Earnhardt column since Dale Sr. was driving for Childress when he was killed at Daytona in 2001.

In pole qualifying last week, it was Childress (RCR), DEI, RCR and DEI in the top four spots.

A disclaimer is needed for the Busch car since it is owned by Junior and Theresa Earnhardt, Dale Sr.’s widow in a spinoff team from DEI.

But it was Earnhardt and his knowledge of restrictor-plate racing that presided over Daytona and helped his cars weather the storm—so to speak. Dale Sr. won a record 34 races of all types at Daytona during his career, including the 1998 500.

The 500 was shortened to 109 laps, instead of 200, because of rain. Waltrip won for the second time in three years, and amazingly, all the wins in his 535-start career have come at Daytona. He also won the 2002 Pepsi 400, in addition to 500 wins in 2001 and now in 2003. He needs to win some place else, lest he become known as a one-track master.

Of course, if you’re going to win at only one track, Daytona is the place to do it.

Junior, the heavy favorite after winning three preliminary races in eight days, led for 22 laps and still was out front when he started having electrical problems. He fell two laps behind while having a dead battery replaced, but came back and ran strong enough to help Waltrip draft past Jimmie Johnson for the last lead of the race. Junior wound up 36th, completing 108 laps.

Kurt Busch was second, Johnson third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Mark Martin fifth. Jack Sprague was the highest-finishing rookie at 14th. Thirty-three cars were on the lead lap at the end.

Busch’s sponsor is Rubbermaid of Newell Rubbermaid, still headquartered in Freeport, and Johnson’s crew chief is Rockford native Chad Knaus.

Junior and Matt Kenseth of Cambridge, Wis., who used to battle in the Busch series before both moved up to full-time Winston Cup in 2000, got it on again in Saturday’s Busch event. Junior won, with Kenseth second, Harvick third, Mike Wallace fourth and Jamie McMurray fifth.

Travis Kvapil of Janesville, Wis., was second in the truck race, narrowly losing to Rick Crawford in a close finish that also involved Robert Pressley, who was third. The winning margin was .027 of a second. Bobby Hamilton was fourth and Andy Houston fifth. Crawford’s last win was 120 races ago.

Martin won the opening round of the IROC series over Busch by .123 of a second. It was Martin’s 11th IROC victory, tying him with Al Unser Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the most wins. Martin and Earnhardt are tied with four series titles each. Next race will be April 5 at Talladega.

The Cup and Busch cars will be at Rockingham this weekend while the trucks won’t race again until March 14 at Darlington.

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