Originally created 05/08/00

Earnhardt Jr. establishing identity



RICHMOND, Va. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. is more than the son of a seven-time champion with a black car, a get-out-of-my-way attitude and a nickname that nails the whole package: "The Intimidator."

"Little E" also is the most celebrated rookie in NASCAR history. Now, just 16 races into his Winston Cup career, the 25-year-old driver is living up to the hype.

He won going away with an awesome car last month at Texas Motor Speedway. But he won without the best car Saturday night in the Pontiac 400 at Richmond International Raceway - holding off challenges by former series champions Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett.

Earnhardt Jr. also ended a record string of 10 different winners to start the season.

"How about Dale Jr.?" Jarrett asked after finishing third. "Who would have ever thought he'd be the first two-time winner on the circuit?"

Earnhardt Jr. also threw in a little out-of-my-way work of his own, clipping the back of Tony Stewart's car on pit road late in the race. That caused Stewart's left rear tire to go flat, forcing him to pit again and killing his chance for victory.

Stewart wound up eighth, and Earnhardt Jr. was guilty with an explanation.

"It was just a bad situation," he said. "Tony was coming out of the pits behind us so he couldn't just make a hard right and left. He came straight out. I guess he just didn't anticipate me coming out at about the same time."

Earnhardt Jr. said he would have been happy to finish second to Stewart, but once last year's top rookie was out of the way, Little E set his sights on a more accomplished star, one famous for making a lead last to the end: his father.

The elder Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet led the race when it went back to green for the last time on lap 369. But his son's No. 8 Monte Carlo was right on his rear bumper.

Many in the crowd stood in anticipation of the father-son duel, but it didn't last long. On the second trip around the three-quarter-mile oval, Earnhardt Jr. ducked under his father's car in turn 3 and took his first lead of the race.

Earnhardt had only taken two tires while everyone else took four.

"We were going for it," said the 49-year-old racer. "The car was a lot better than that. It was top-five easy and maybe a second or third, maybe a win. Junior did a good job.

"I guess he's going to make a habit of winning."

PIT STOPS:

Todd Bodine, who had the fastest car in happy hour, lasted just 42 laps before hitting the wall coming out of the fourth turn and retiring for the night. . . . Jeremy Mayfield, whose team was fined twice this week for infractions in the last two races, hit the wall in turn 3 on the eighth lap and went behind the wall for repairs. He finished 36th. . . . Paul Sawyer, the developer and owner of Richmond International Raceway until he sold it to International Speedway Corp. in December, was grand marshal for the Pontiac 400. .ƒ..ƒ All but eight of the starters in the Pontiac 400 had led at least one lap in the season's first 10 races. Among those not on the list was Tony Stewart, who ended that drought when he led on the 209th circuit around the raceway.

CLEMSON IN FAST LANE:

Clemson is taking its athletic fund-raising efforts into the fast lane with the help of the NASCAR Roush Racing team.

Kevin Lepage will drive a new Clemson car for the Roush team during the Winston Open May 20 in Charlotte, N.C. The car, a Ford Taurus complete with Clemson tiger paws and color scheme, will be retired after the race, and collectible cars, clothing, toys and decals will be sold to benefit the school's scholarship program.

The new scholarship fund will be named after Roush Racing chief executive officer Jack Roush. His company's manufacturing division, Team Caliber, will produce and sell the collectibles.