Formula One
 Tuesday, April 4
Junior joins father as Winston Cup winner
Associated Press

  • He had a dominant car all afternoon and drove like a veteran. It would have been easy for Earnhardt to become anxious, considering just how well his car was handling from the drop of the green. But he didn't overdrive his Chevy and get into trouble. When it was time to win the race, he took charge and drove away from Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton. His crew also deserves a big slap on the back. With the pressure on them to keep pace with Labonte's crew, they turned in two solid pit stops that kept Little E in the top five. From there, his car and talent took over. The 1.5-mile configuration also seems to fit Junior's style. He won his first Busch race at TMS in 1998 and has led laps at each of the three 1.5-mile tracks this season.
    Just were does Little E's win rank among other rookies in the modern era? Davey Allison took 17 starts; Tony Stewart won last year in his 25th start and Jeff Gordon didn't start winning until race No. 73.
  • He started 36th and finished in the top five. We can only be talking about one driver -- Jeff Burton, who once again proved qualifying doesn't make the driver. "I do my best work from the back," said Burton, who finished second.
  • Matt Kenseth took the biggest roller-coaster ride of the day, starting 13th and working his way all the way up to third with just 50 laps remaining -- this after being assessed a penalty on pit road for pitting outside his box and falling a full lap down. But all his hard work ended in vain when he lost his way in Turn 2 and crashed on lap 290.
    So much for losing its reputation as a track full of trouble. Caution should be taken at Texas Motor Speedway, which saw a record 12 yellow flags and 10 crashes. The speedway took its toll on rookies and champions alike, as cars hit just about every piece of its wall.
  • We've covered Earnhardt and Kenseth. But seven rookies qualified for the DirecTV 500, so how about the rest? Well, Scott Pruett led early before being spun out by Steve Park. He finished 27th. Dave Blaney was 22nd in a relatively clean run. Ed Berrier's engine quit on lap 270 and he finished 35th, while Stacy Compton and Jeff Fuller each hit the wall in finishing 36th and 38th.
    Adam Petty's debut in Winston Cup ended when his engine gave out on lap 215. And he almost got to race his father after all. Ironically, Kyle Petty got into the No. 21 Citgo ride as a replacement for an injured Elliott Sadler on lap 229. "I learned a lot, I hope I earned some of those guy's respect out there. I had a good time." said the 19-year-old Petty.
  • Results

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dale Earnhardt was no intimidator Sunday -- only a proud father and happy car owner.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. was greeted warmly by his famous father in victory circle after running away to his first Winston Cup win in the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

    The elder Earnhardt, a seven-time series champion with 75 victories, parked his seventh-place car next to Victory Lane and strode purposefully to greet his son as both a parent and the owner of the winning Chevrolet.

    As the 25-year-old rookie's car came to a stop on the checkered flag tiles, the elder Earnhardt, a fearsome competitor known as The Intimidator, leaned into driver's side window for a private moment with his son.

    "He told me he loved me and then he said he just wanted to make sure I took the time to enjoy this and realize what we accomplished today," the youngster said. "That was pretty cool on his part to be thinking about that at that particular time. This was a product of his work. He's proud of his son, but he's also proud that he built this team and the team won the race."

    It was a warm, calming moment for Little E, the two-time Busch Series champion driving in only his 12th Winston Cup event, who went wild in the cockpit as he crossed the finish line on the 1.5-mile oval.

    His screams of joy reverberated over the radio as he crossed the finish line nearly six seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Burton.

    "Yeah, I was excited," Little E said. "I'm still excited. This is amazing."

    After the quiet father-son moment, the youngster climbed atop his red No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet and threw his arms in the air as confetti swirled around him. Moments later, his father grabbed him off the car and gave him a hug.

    Earnhardt Sr. said, "That's crazy, isn't it?" He then walked away to give his the second youngest of his four children a chance to accept the accolades of the huge crowd.

    "I'll tell you, he's something else," the father said. "He was talking about coming to Texas and winning his first Winston Cup race. I knew the kid could do it. This kid has worked hard, had a good car and drove a good race."

    The third-generation driving star gave crew chief Tony Eury Sr. the first victory of his long NASCAR career.

    "It's hard to keep him slowed down when the car's good," Eury said. "He wants to show it. We just keep him toned down all the time. He's like a wild horse."

    The younger Earnhardt's best previous finish was 10th earlier this season in Las Vegas. He dominated Sunday's 334-lap event, leading six times for a race-high total of 106 laps.

    Twice, Earnhardt Jr. cruised away to big leads only to see the margins erased by caution flags. But, after passing Dale Earnhardt Inc., teammate Steve Park for the lead on lap 289, during a restart following the last of 12 caution periods, the youngster drove away from the competition.

    With most of the 200,000 fans on their feet cheering, Earnhardt crossed the finish line 5.920 seconds -- nearly a full straightaway -- ahead of Burton's Ford.

    Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is greeted by his father in Victory Lane after winning the DirecTV 500 on Sunday.

    Bobby Labonte, the series points leader, finished third, followed by Rusty Wallace, Kevin Lepage, Jeremy Mayfield and the elder Earnhardt, whose first career victory came on April Fool's weekend in 1979. That first win by Earnhardt Sr. came in his 16th start.

    Burton, the winner of the inaugural Texas race in 1997, passed Labonte for second on lap 318 after a lengthy battle.

    "I just couldn't get by Bobby there," Burton said. "He's a tough competitor. I had a fast enough car to run with Dale Jr. But, once I got behind him, there was no sense in running the car any harder than I needed to. I was too far behind."

    Earnhardt Jr., whose first of 13 Busch Series victories came on this same track in 1998, said, "It's a good track for me.

    "We've got an awesome car," he said. "It did whatever I asked it to do. We didn't change nothing all day long. That tells you how good a race car we had."

    Asked if he expected to win this soon, Earnhardt Jr. said, "I didn't think it was actually coming this quick. I can't believe it. When you put together a car that good, it's going to get you to Victory Lane sooner or later."

    Ten of the 12 caution flags were brought out by crashes, but the only injuries reported were Elliott Sadler's bruised left shoulder and Dale Jarrett's sore right knee.

    Earnhardt's winning speed, slowed by 62 laps of caution, was 131.152 mph. The winner's share of $374,675 was by far the biggest check of his life.

    Although Junior was dominant in the end, there were 29 lead changes among 17 drivers -- both race records.

    Furr: J.R. proves bulletproof

    Notebook: Adam starts, Kyle finishes

     Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with RPM 2Night's Bill Weber.
    RealVideo:  | 28.8

     Dale Earnhardt says he knew his boy could do it.
    wav: 62 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

     Rusty Wallace is happy for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    wav: 74 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

     Jeff Burton thinks Little E's Busch experience helped him the winner's circle.
    wav: 155 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

     Tony Stewart is extremely confident in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ability to win.
    wav: 47 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

     Terry Labonte says Dale Earnhardt earned his victory.
    wav: 65 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

     Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. is happy for his driver.
    wav: 94 k
    RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6