THE SON RISES
With help in the pit, Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first
Winston Cup win
The question "Whaaasssuppp?" doesn't generally merit an answer,
especially when it's asked by a dozen guys in Budweiser regalia
dousing one another with their favorite beer. But since Dale
Earnhardt Jr.'s crew members were so adamant in asking while
posing for pictures in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway--and
because they'd played such a big role in his Chevy's winning the
DirecTV 500--we'll answer them. Whaaasssuppp, guys, is that
Sunday's Bud shower was likely to have been the first of many
you'll take this season.
The 25-year-old Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup race in his
12th career start, the second shortest time needed to notch a
victory in NASCAR's modern era. (Ron Bouchard won in his 11th
start, in 1981.) More significant was how Junior got the win. He
used none of the sideswiping techniques of his father, who made
the name Earnhardt synonymous with intimidation. On Sunday,
Junior's Chevy and his crew did most of the work. "I didn't have
to do a whole lot," Dale Jr. said. "I'd just point and shoot,
and that thing ran. It was easy as pie to drive."
The victory made the elder Earnhardt about as happy as he's
likely to be after a race that he didn't win. (He finished
seventh.) Not only did he father and raise the driver, but he
assembled the son's team as well. "He was pretty excited," said
Junior. "He's the car owner, too, so I guess he gets a cut of
April 9, 2000
Junior led six times for a race-best 106 of 334 laps, but the
DirecTV 500, like the three previous Winston Cup events at the
Texas Motor Speedway's 1 1/2-mile oval, was full of
cautions--12, extending over 62 laps. Only three times did the
race go more than 29 laps without a yellow, so every time
Earnhardt tried to extend his lead, the field reeled him in. The
last 39 laps were run under green, a stretch during which
Earnhardt built a 5.920-second victory margin over Jeff Burton,
who came from the 37th starting position to finish second.
Earnhardt's team gave him quite a car, one that needed no
adjustments during the race, and his crew performed superbly in
the pits. While other teams tried to steal track position with
two-tire stops, Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Sr., had his
guys change all four. "We stuck with the four-tire plan all day
long, because we didn't want to upset the handling of the car,"
said Earnhardt. "It was the smartest thing we did all day."
As the race wound down and it became apparent that Earnhardt
would prevail, he was surprisingly silent. He finally spoke into
his radio a few beats after crossing the finish line, and the
words were typical Junior. "Holy s---!" he howled before letting
out a Texas-sized whoop. He said it out of disbelief at having
sent a strong message to the rest of the field. Chances are, a
few other drivers were saying the same thing, but for a
A BITTERSWEET DEBUT FOR ADAM
There are bad omens, and then there's the litany of maladies
Adam Petty endured in the first two days of preparation for his
Winston Cup debut, at Texas Motor Speedway. At the start of the
week he missed his flight to Dallas; when he finally arrived his
luggage was nowhere to be found, nor was the Cadillac that was
supposed to meet him. (A cab to the hotel and a 4:30 a.m.
luggage delivery by the airline remedied those difficulties.) "I
was, like, Could this week get any worse?" he says.
He got his answer the next day when he and his father, Kyle,
appeared for an autograph session at a Sprint PCS store near
Fort Worth and had to hunker down in the back room when a pair
of tornadoes blew through the area, killing four people and
doing $450 million in damage. Understandably, the early-week
events had Petty questioning his luck for the weekend. "I was
hoping to come down here and run good," he says. "By then I was
hoping just to qualify."
On Friday he got his wish, qualifying 33rd in the 43-car field.
This time Kyle wasn't so lucky: He ran the 44th fastest lap.
That meant when Adam became the first fourth-generation driver
in NASCAR history, his dad--and best friend--wasn't on the track
with him. "I'm sad for him. It really upsets me," said Adam on
race morning, sounding more like a parent than the 19-year-old
that he is. "I hope he doesn't get down on himself."
But the bad luck continued on Sunday, after Kyle had picked up a
ride in midrace when Elliot Sadler bruised his shoulder in a
wreck. As Kyle was changing into his racing gear, the engine in
Adam's car blew, and the two just missed racing together.
When Adam, who finished 39th, returned home to Trinity, N.C., on
Monday, he moved into his own 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom
house. "It's just far enough from my parents so they can't see
when the lights are on," he says. So maybe, in the end, there
was a silver lining: Adam is no longer the only Winston Cup
driver to live with his parents and share a bedroom with his
Seasons, through 1999, that Michael Andretti has won at least
one CART race, tying the record of Rick Mears, who retired in