Dale Earnhardt used a late draft to notch another superspeedway
win at Talladega

When witnessing a classic NASCAR restrictor-plate craps game
such as Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway--where
there was more passing and sparks flying in one lap than Formula
One has in a year--you have a good idea how it's going to turn
out. The final dice roll most likely will come up 3, with Dale
Earnhardt wearing that mischievous smirk of his and going on
about how he just can't believe he wound up in front of the
scramble. Indeed, as Earnhardt took the checkered flag on
Sunday, holding off Dale Jarrett by a .114-second margin, he
keyed his radio microphone and told his crew, "I can't believe
this s---."

It was Earnhardt's ninth victory at Talladega, five more than
any other driver has at NASCAR's fastest track. He also won the
DieHard 500 there in April, nipping Jarrett that time too. "It's
not as bad when you lose to the guy who's probably the best at
this type of racing," said Jarrett, who with his runner-up
finish upped his Winston Cup points lead to a comfortable 246
over Bobby Labonte with four races to go.

At Talladega and Daytona, where carburetor restrictor plates are
required to hold speeds below 200 mph, using the draft is
crucial. Garage-area legend has it that Earnhardt can see the
air as it swirls and roils in waves stirred by the heaviest cars
(3,400 pounds) in motor sports.

With four laps to go and Earnhardt running second, he felt an
enormous aerodynamic push from behind, looked in his mirror and
saw teammate Mike Skinner. Together, he and Skinner drafted past
Jarrett with three laps left, and though Skinner fell back in the
shuffle, Earnhardt held the lead to the finish.

"The point where Mike helped was what won the race for me," said
Earnhardt. "I really thought Jarrett would make a run and get
back by me, but he couldn't."

Dodge Returns to NASCAR

DaimlerChrysler put on its best American face last week in
announcing that Dodge will return to Winston Cup racing in 2001,
ending a 20-year absence, and that Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon's
former crew chief, will spearhead the effort. But owners and
drivers of existing NASCAR teams shuddered at the thought of the
financial and technological might of German-based DaimlerChrysler
and its renowned Mercedes-Benz operation and predicted that the
cost of racing is about to escalate, if not skyrocket. If the
latter happens, NASCAR's ability to attract a large number of
competitors by keeping costs relatively low could be a thing of
the past.

"[DaimlerChrysler] has the potential to totally change the face
of Winston Cup racing as we know it," said Kyle Petty, whose
family-owned team is pondering whether to join Dodge or extend
its 18-year association with Pontiac. Petty envisions a thinning
of the NASCAR herd, resulting in fewer teams with bigger
budgets. In that scenario, Ford and General Motors would be
forced to beef up support of their top teams to meet the
DaimlerChrysler challenge.

Neither Evernham nor Lou Patane, the Dodge division's vice
president for motor sports, would comment on a newspaper report
that DaimlerChrysler is prepared to give annual factory support
of $10 million per car, approximately five times what the top
Ford and GM teams currently receive. "Make no mistake, though,"
says Patane. "We will apply whatever resources necessary to make
sure that we're competitive."

Formula One Controversy

Formula One has been rich this season in sheer circus and soap
opera. Witness last Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix, the
next-to-last event of the season. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher,
out since July with a broken right leg, returned and dominated
the race until he slowed with three laps to go and allowed
teammate Eddie Irvine to go by him and win--thus enabling Irvine
to overtake Mika Hakkinen in the season points race.

However, FIA officials disqualified both Ferraris for illegal
bodywork--the cars' design was said to violate rules governing
aerodynamics and, in turn, the speed of the cars--and declared
Hakkinen, who'd finished third in a McLaren, the winner. That
decision appeared to clinch Hakkinen's second straight world
championship going into the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix on
Oct. 31. But Ferrari, which claimed the same cars had been
deemed legal earlier this season, appealed and was to get a
formal FIA hearing on Oct. 22.

Could Ferrari's disqualification be overturned? The FIA's record
is mixed on such issues, but it would hardly be unprecedented.

COLOR PHOTO: JAY LAPRETE/AP Though he led just 18 of the 188 laps, Earnhardt was ahead in the one that mattered most.