Watkins Glen International, NY - Dale Earnhardt Jr. chased Ron Fellows for nearly three hours yesterday. He needed all of it.
Earnhardt passed Fellows on the last lap, and with one hand on his steering wheel and one on his malfunctioning shifter, won the Lysol 200 NASCAR Busch Series race.
"Sometimes the great race car drivers don't even have victories like this, so I'm very happy I have this," said Earnhardt, whose father, the seven-time Winston Cup champion, hasn't won at Watkins Glen. "[The Empire Cup winner's trophy] is going to go on my mantel at home. It's going to be one of my proud possessions."
Fellows dominated the race but had motor trouble at the end. Earnhardt was strong, too, but his car kept popping out of second and fourth gears. At Watkins Glen International's 11-turn road course, that's a major problem.
Earnhardt said his car began popping out of gear with about 20 laps to go in the 82-lap race. For large portions of the remaining laps, he had to hold the shifter into gear while charging around the 2.45-mile road course.
His left hand, meanwhile, had a firm grip on the wheel.
"It's hard enough to drive around this place with two hands," Earnhardt said. "With one hand, that's real hard. The gear would stay in third but would pop out of fourth (into neutral) midway down the back straight."
His car also was popping out of second gear, which is a major bummer at the Glen because cars race in second gear up through the Esses, through the Inner Loop chicane, and through turns 10 and 11.
Earnhardt was turning with one hand and holding the shifter in place with the other, and that almost cost him the race.
Fellows' skipping motor did cost him the race.
Both drivers' problems led to a wild finish.
Earnhardt charged up on Fellows down the front straightaway on the final lap. Because of Fellows' insufficient straight-line speed, Earnhardt was able to pull inside Fellows entering Turn 1, a 90-degree right-hander.
Earnhardt passed Fellows, then Fellows rammed Earnhardt from behind as they approached Turn 2 and the Esses.
"The car jumped out of gear, and I was weaving all over the place trying to get back it in gear, and we got together," Earnhardt said.
"I was trying to block him, trying to get the car into gear and everything else. It was a difficult time, but we got up through the Esses and got about five car-lengths on him, and we held him off."