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1st NASCAR Cup Win!
Texas Motor Speedway - April 2nd, 2000
Dale Jr and the Bud Team win the Direct TV 500!
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Left to right: Tony Eury (crew chief), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (driver) and
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief) celebrate their first Winston Cup victory.
Photo credit: Harold Hinson

Fort Worth, TX - I first met Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year during a practice session at New Hampshire International Speedway. During the question period, the 24-year-old, 6', dyed-blonde hair, racing heartthrob of many young girls, and idol of many young boys, seemed very shy. The well-spoken young man answered questions, with complete sentences, elaborating on the answers. He gave more details than what was actually asked of him. But he kept his head down most of the time, explaining that stardom was something new to him, and he could not yet explain how it felt when someone asks for an autograph.

Since then, he has matured. He had to. He has the media in his face all the time. Now, 25, and competing full-time in the ranks of Winston Cup, he has had the pressure to perform. With great qualifying in each event this season and great finishes, other than the last three races prior to Texas, he has had to compete with this big dark cloud over him. But this past Sunday, April 2, he demonstrated he could break through that big dark cloud of rotten luck. During the running of the DirecTV 500 he proved that with his confidence, his crew, and his driving ability - everything is obtainable, including his first-ever Winston Cup victory, and what a better place for that to happen than at Texas Motor Speedway. The place he won his very first Busch Series race, only two years ago.

"How about our boy yesterday," was the opening statement of an email I received on Monday from one of Jr.'s best friends, Brandon Hinson, drummer for bridge. He goes on to say how Jr. had been feeling a little down about his luck or lack there of in the past couple of weeks. "When we crash out of a race or something, I go to the house, and the phone don't ring," Jr. said. "You sit there and wonder if anybody gives a (darn). Race car drivers go in and out of this series, and I want to be around a long time," he concluded. Then good friend and long-time crew chief and now NASCAR's Winston Cup Director Gary Nelson sat down with Jr. a few days prior to the Texas race to bring Jr.'s spirits up a notch. Nelson basically told him to calm down. Patience is a virtue.

Looking in the past, Texas has always been a turning point in Jr.'s racing season - which could only mean good things for him and the fans alike.

One of the greatest moments after the checkered flag flew, was watching his dad, and car owner Dale Earnhardt lean into the car for a personal chat with his son/driver. Jr. accomplished something quite spectacular on Sunday, he pulled away from the competitors three times after three cautions, and had an awesome pit crew, giving him four tire changes all day long, with the final stop being clocked at 14.7 seconds. That pit stop speed in itself was amazing. Jr. also gave DEI it's first ever victory - another great achievement.

"I felt all along like we had a chance to win races this year," said the 25-year-old pilot of the Budweiser rocket, but who knew it would come so soon. And with the Budweiser sponsorship, Earnhardt Jr. said this was his opportunity to get his messages and views across, especially about underage drinking, and designated drivers, "It's cool, and it's fun to help people out," he said.

FAMILY PRIDE
Driving in the tire tracks of his grandfather and father, the No. 8 on the side of the door carries much family history, as they both drove the No. 8 automobile. Dale Jr. said that the number is very significant to his dad, and he hoped he could give it justice. I think Jr. did just that on Sunday. Dale Earndardt Inc. purchased the number from the Stavola Brothers, who, according to Jr. "Were not too hard pressed to hand it over."

This past weekend, Jr. raced 42 other drivers, veterans and rookies alike at the Texas one-groove track, and came home triumphant. Now, Jr. may have the added tension of performance. He has proven he can win; now he will have to overcome the pressures of the media and the fans to do it all over again.

Go get 'em Jr!      Written by Karen Eryou



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Victory number one in only his 12th Cup start.
Photo credit: Harold Hinson
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The joy of winning: Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his first
Cup victory at the Texas Motor Speedway, April 2, 2000.
Photo credit: Harold Hinson

Interesting Statistics...

Dale Earnhardt Sr's first Cup win.
7th race of the season - Apr. 1, 1979

Dale Earnhardt, Jr's first Cup win.
7th race of the season - Apr. 2, 2000

Dale Earnhardt, Jr's first Busch win.
7th race of the season - Apr. 4, 1998

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