Earnhardt Jr. takes EA Sports 500, plus cool mill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 10, 2001

It was a memorable experience two Sundays ago for fans of the Earnhardts; as if repeating last year's race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the EA Sports 500, plus $1 million.

In front of more than 160,000 racing fans, Jr. drove his number-8 Budweiser Chevrolet to the finish and on to victory lane, where he took the trophy for the 500 race, plus an extra $1 million for winning out in the Winston No-Bull 5" contest.

Jr. came into Talladega with two impressive races at Daytona this year, when he finished first and second, and already took home an eighth-place finish from the Talladega 500, and also came in second for leading the most laps during that race, which in the spring was caution-free.

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As part of the "Winston No Bull 5" event at NASCAR's most competitive track, Dale Jr. was competing against Ricky Rudd, driving the Texaco/Havoline Ford number 28, Kevin Harvick, driving the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, number 29, Dale Jarrett in the number 88 UPS Ford and Rusty Wallace, driving the Miller Lite Ford, number 2.

Earnhardt used the same car that took the checkered flag in the Pepsi 400 race at Daytona International Speedway in July.

"It's the same car that was painted in baseball colors at Daytona, but we came back in the usual Budweiser red for Talladega," Dale Jr. said.

After staying in front a lot during the spring race at Talladega, Earnhardt came in hopeful in that Winston would write his team a big bonus check.

During the 188-lap race around the 2.6 mile tri-oval track billed as the "World's fastest speedway," Earnhardt shrugged off Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton during the final lap, the same lap which saw Rudd's Ford and 16 other cars become involved in an accident.

Leading in the end by just .385 seconds during a race with three cautions for 16 laps, Earnhardt was among the many who participated in the 13 lead changes of the three-hour, three-minute race.

With an average speed of 164.185 miles per hour, the race was full of excitement from the start until the finish.

Jr. surpassed his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s record of last year, after not only winning a purse of $165,773, but also the $1 million bonus.

Sr. last year was just $30,000 less in his earnings for the same race.

"It was real exciting," Jr. said after the race was finished. "I wanted to win this race real bad n it's the same race my father won last year, and he also won $1 million."

Jeff Gordon, although leading in the Winston Cup points race, finished seventh after a starting position of number 11. He said the race was a real asset for the fans.

"They (the fans) get really excited when they see three-cars-wide going through the high-banked curves at Talladega," Gordon said. "It's like an extra boost for them, although it is the most dangerous move to be made on the track."

Once the race was finished, and the cars were at the garages for post-race inspections, a violation was discovered regarding Earnhardt's car.

"The number 8 car failed inspection," said Jim Hunter, vice-president of Corporate Communications. "The car did not meet the minimum height requirement of 51-inches n it missed by one-eighth of an inch."

On Monday morning, Oct. 22 NASCAR announced that although the car had an infraction, they would not penalize Earnhardt for it, as he was only the driver of the vehicle.

"Although there was a discrepancy in the post-race court for the number eight, we have decided not to fine or penalize Jr. for it n instead, Jr.'s crew chief will be fined $25,000 for the oversight," Hunter said.

He also said in the past when situations like this did occur, the driver did not receive any penalties.

Earnhardt raced in Arizona this past weekend, but was unable to finish due to motor problems.

The next race in Talladega is scheduled for April, and tickets are already on sale at the Talladega Superspeedway ticket offices.