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Another Earnhardt tries Talladega

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Kerry Earnhardt, eldest son of the late Dale Earnhardt, will attempt to join half-brother Dale Jr. as a teammate in Sunday's EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

"This will be a good chance for me to get my feet wet in Winston Cup racing," said Kerry, 32, a Busch Grand National rookie coming off a career-best runner-up finish at Kansas. "Talladega's a big track to start at, but we feel like we're capable of being competitive."

Kerry will drive the No. 83 Chevrolet fielded by Dale Earnhardt Inc., which has won five of the past seven restrictor-plate races with Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip. The number is a combination of grandfather Ralph Earnhardt's No. 8 and his father's No. 3.

Talladega, with its drafting packs and four-wide racing, can be tough on newcomers, but few places could be better for an Earnhardt to make a splash. Dale Sr. won 10 times on the 2.66-mile tri-oval, including his final victory, before dying in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. has won the past two Talladega events.

"My confidence has been building every week," said Kerry, who wrecked early in his only Winston Cup start in August 2000 at Michigan. "This week, our confidence is high. It's going to feel really good, but we've got a lot more learning to do."

Forty-seven drivers will try to qualify at 4 p.m. today for the 43-car field. Because his team does not have any provisionals, Kerry must be among the 36 fastest cars to make the field.

Kerry plans to run two more Winston Cup events this season, at Charlotte and Atlanta, but will complete one more full season of BGN and a handful of Cup races before his FitzBradshaw Racing team moves to Cup full time in 2004.

FASTER, FASTER: It has been 15 years, but Bill Elliott remembers his initial reaction to setting NASCAR's speed record with a lap in excess of 212 mph at Talladega. Disappointment.

"I was hoping I'd run faster," Elliott said of his qualifying lap on April30, 1987. "We ran 210 at Daytona, and I was hoping for 214 or 215 at Talladega at that particular time."

Elliott's lap of 212.809 mph came in the last year of unrestricted horsepower at NASCAR's two biggest tracks. In 1988, the sanctioning body turned to restrictor plates to keep speeds below 200 as a safety precaution. Elliott's record might never be broken.

"If they unrestricted the cars, with today's technology we'd be running in the 220s relatively easy," said Elliott, who has a record eight poles at Talladega, including six in a row from 1985-87. "But to run those speeds at that time, with the race cars as crude as they were, I still say is an impressive thing."

PIT STOPS: Ron Hornaday will substitute for injured Bobby Hamilton in the No. 55 Chevrolet. ... Rusty Wallace, the only driver among the top 13 in points without a victory, never has won a restrictor-plate race but was the runner-up in July at Daytona.

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