Satisfied a day ago to even be included in The Winston, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first rookie to win NASCAR's all-star event Saturday night when he blew past Dale Jarrett with one lap to go.
Earnhardt was sixth when a multi-car collision brought out a caution with eight laps to go. He then told crew chief Tony Eury he couldn't win with the car he was driving and convinced him to give him four fresh tires.
The result was a much quicker car than the rest of the field, allowing Earnhardt to rapidly move through the traffic and pass Jarrett in turn four with one lap to go.
Earnhardt then easily pulled away to pick up a $515,000 payout from the record $2 million purse.
"I was running real good, but we were tight and I told Tony I needed four tires," Earnhardt said. "We sat there and thought about it and thought about it and finally said, 'We didn't come here to run second or third, let's take the tires.'"
Earnhardt Jr. was met in Victory Lane by his father - the only three-time winner in Winston history - where the two hugged in celebration.
"I thought I could give Dale Jarrett some trouble and then I saw this kid running in my rearview mirror and couldn't believe it," Earnhardt said. "He is just something else."
Earnhardt Jr., a rookie this season, made the field by winning two races this season. He's the only
Winston Cup driver to win more than once, something he seems overwhelmed by.
The victories got him into The Winston, which was more than enough for him - even after Lowe's Motor
Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler picked him to win it earlier in the week.
"I didn't plan on winning The Winston, to be honest with you," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We were just happy to be running it. It's a prestigious race and I'd watched a lot of them from up there in the second-floor condo and just knew it was something I someday hoped to be a part of. I didn't care who won the thing."
Earnhardt Jr. overcame a series of early problems to win.
He was halfway down pit road for a stop during the first 30-lap segment when a cautio came out on the track. He quickly drove off of pit lane to avoid falling a lap down during the yellow flag.
He later brushed against the wall in turn four during the second 30-lap segment and thought his night was over.
"I don't know why I hit the wall, it was my fault," he said. "Then it got real tight and I thought to myself, 'We had a race winning car and now we don't.'"
It looked gloomy for him when the final segment - a 10-lap shootout - began and Jarrett took the lead away from Bill Elliott on the first lap and was pulling away from the field.
But Steve Park and Joe Nemechek collided on the second lap, bringing out another yellow flag. That's when Earnhardt Jr. persuaded his crew to give him four tires when much of the field wasn't even bothering to pit.
"I was a little nervous after we did it because if I didn't win Tony would have been mad," he said. "But they listened and that's why I like Tony and them guys because they are gutsy."
Crashes knocked some cars out of the race early.
Kenny Irwin and John Andretti bumped in turn four of the first lap. Because caution laps don't count and the wreck happened before the first lap was complete, the race started over again after Andretti's car was towed off the track.
Darrell Waltrip, retiring at the end of the season, got to say the customary "Gentleman, start your engines," before the race. He finished 11th. He has raced in all 16 runnings of The Winston.
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