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September 20, 2000
Vote on the issues
By Tim Thomas
The Jackson Herald
September 20, 2000
Ironhead gets bumped
Attention, everyone! This won't happen twice, short of the infamous river Styx being filled with icebergs.
This is the week I make peace with Dale Earnhardt. Let's pause for a moment while my fellow Petty and Elliott fans get up off the floor.
Earnhardt Ironhead, as some like to call him has often left his visage on this reporter's bull's-eye. Everyone knows of the Intimidator's favorite tactic bump, run, win, grin, and say it's just racing. It's in the dictionary under cheap shot.
This past week, Earnhardt got a taste of his own medicine, though most folks probably didn't realize it. In Sunday's race at Loudon, N.H., NASCAR tapped Earnhardt on the rear quarter panel and sent him into the outside wall of the 2000 season's fourth turn.
Deep in the trenches of the Winston Cup points race, the Man in Black was dealt a serious blow this week in his quest for a record eighth points championship, thanks in part to NASCAR's decision to use restrictor plates at Loudon.
The decision was about as popular with drivers as a fire-breathing preacher in the middle of the Bulldog Tavern. Still, even though most disliked it, virtually everyone viewed it as necessary. Everyone except old Ironhead.
"This is not racing," the mustached warrior grumbled as he hurried to get away from reporters after Sunday's race. For those who didn't tune in, Earnhardt finished the race in the top 15, but obviously thought he'd have done better without the restrictor. The other 42 guys on the track particularly those who finished ahead of him evidently had nothing to do with it.
NASCAR officials made the decision to use restrictors as a Band-Aid approach to the safety concerns at Loudon. The deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin earlier this year in the same turn at the track had led some drivers to threaten a boycott of Sunday's event. With little time left (and evidently little desire to seek a more permanent solution), officials sent crew chiefs scrambling last week, desperately trying to make up for the inevitable lost horsepower.
The result was a yawner of a race, with Jeff Burton doing something no one has done in a Winston Cup race in 22 years lead from start to finish.
The result from Earnhardt's seat was a big slide in the points chase for the man who wants to be king. Having won seven points titles already, the aging Earnhardt is seeking to break his tie with reigning NASCAR monarch Richard Petty. Time is against the old buzzard, and the 2000 season has been his most productive in a while. It's somewhat understandable that the perennial paint-swapper would be a bit miffed.
And there, friends, is the rub. After years of griping and wincing and gritting my teeth at his methods, I find myself almost wanting to feel bad for the old goat. Notice I said almost.
So, in the spirit of fair play, I'm wiping the slate clean. Intimidator, you've cost lots of guys wins over the years; now you think the suits have cost you a potential title. I'd say that's just about even.
But I suspect it won't stay even for long. Those old dogs generally return to their old tricks.
Chill out, Dale; it's just racing.
Tim Thomas is a reporter for The Jackson Herald.
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