Dale Earnhardt Jr. got his long-awaited first victory of the season in a rout, reminding his Busch Grand National competition why he won the title last year by blitzing the field yesterday at Dover Downs International Speedway in Dover, Del.
The victory in the MBNA Platinum 200, combined with a crash that took Matt Kenseth from the race, gave Earnhardt the lead in the driver standings. Afterward, his father, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, leaned into the car he owns and hugged his son.
"I'm glad we finally made all those Earnhardt fans happy," the winner said. "Winning races is a lot more difficult than it was last year. But we've been running up near the front a lot, and when you do that you're going to have some good finishes."
Earnhardt Jr., who broke through with seven victories last year, won the race--his 15th start of 1999--for the second year in a row. He started 15th and worked his way through the field before passing polesitter Dick Trickle on the 89th of 200 laps at the Monster Mile.
Earnhardt's average speed was held to 91.324 mph by the cautions that slowed the field for 50 laps.
The race was halted for 16 minutes with 32 laps remaining as track workers fixed the steel wall near the start-finish line. The wall broke when Jeff Fuller hit it twice after spinning off the high-banked fourth turn.
Winston Cup: Bobby Labonte has been a force for a decade at Dover Downs International Speedway, yet when the green flag falls today on the MBNA Platinum 400, he'll be seeking his first Winston Cup victory on the track.
Between Grand National and Winston Cup racing he has five poles and 10 top-five finishes in 25 starts. But his only victory came in a Busch race two years ago.
Included in a litany of problems was a crash that same year in this race, robbing him of his best opportunity after he had won the second of his three Winston Cup poles at the Monster Mile. After a record qualifying lap Friday at 159.320 mph, Labonte finds himself in a similar situation but hardly mindful of past letdowns.
"This track doesn't owe me anything," Labonte said yesterday. "We just need to go out and do our business."
Since 1995, that has meant one impressive run after another, with the crash-caused 40th place his only finish outside the top 10.
CART: Between the arms pumping in the air and the grin splitting his face, it was obvious that Helio Castro-Neves was elated after winning his first CART pole.
The 24-year-old Brazilian will lead a 26-car field into the Miller Lite 225 today at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.
"I'm just so happy," said Castro-Neves, who is riding the crest of a wave of enthusiasm that began a week ago in Madison, Ill., where he matched his career-best finish with a second in the Motorola 300.
"The last time I was on pole was in go-karts," the second-year driver said.