The Callahan Report: Earnhardt Jr. Wins; Others Experience Ups and Downs of Typical BGN Racing Weekend

1 August 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
INDIANAPOLIS: Race fans watched a master in the making. Racing teams watched their hopes of winning the 1998 Busch Grand National Championship slipping away. For the fifth time this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. used his skill to tromp the competition. Earnhardt sparked the final celebration of Speedfest 98 at Indianapolis Raceway Park by winning the Kroger 200 by more than a second and a half.

Earnhardt Jr. started the race from the middle of the pack. It didn't seem to matter. On a track that is known for its tight passing lanes, Earnhardt patiently moved to the front. On lap 138 of the 200 lap event, he had moved to the lead. Earnhardt led the rest of the way.

The son of seven-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt learned patience in the past week. Last weekend in South Boston Virginia, Earnhardt Jr. was beyond the horizon when compared to the rest of the field. He made a mistake. The young master tried a couple of bump and pass moves on slower traffic. He was penalized an entire lap the second time he tried the move. He raced clean but aggressively to earn win number five of 98.

"They sent a message last week, "said Earnhardt. "(Tonight) I just picked my spots and took what they gave me."

Elliott Sadler gave Earnhardt the most trouble. He remained cool headed, waiting on Sadler to make a mistake. The mistake never came. Finally, Earnhardt used the bottom of the race track, combined with a great move to make a clean pass for the lead. Sadler continued to finish in second place

The winner said after the race, "I think the worst the car was all day was when we qualified. But after that, Tony Eury (his crew chief) and the guys got together and made some great decisions. I just tried to be patient and not overdrive the car."

Those "guys" Earnhardt referred to have been a key ingredient in his success. Earnhardt exemplifies what is referred to as "the total package". Much time and effort has been put into the AC Delco team. The communication skills and talent of all involved is making the rest of the teams on the Busch Grand National Circuit race for second place.

Earnhardt was able to stretch his series points lead over Matt Kenseth. The strong running Kenseth could do no better than sixth place in the Kroger 200. Mike Bliss, Elton Sawyer, Mike Wallace, and Bobby Hillin were also in the top ten.

As easy as the race was for Earnhardt Jr., there were drivers at the track having nothing but trouble.
Kenneth Nichols

It is tradition for a local open wheel racer to take a shot at the Kroger 200. This year, it was Kenneth Nichols. The 42 year old open wheel expert has terrorized the Indianapolis Raceway Park asphalt in the past by winning such prestigious events as "The Night Before 500".

Nichols received a call two weeks ago from an old friend and midget race car owner. He was offered a seat in a Busch Grand National car. "It was totally out of the blue,"said Nichols. "I figured it was a no loose' situation for me. I had never stepped into one of these cars until two weeks ago. We did a one day test that was cut short by rain."

Nichols had trouble in practice and qualifying. He said, "The son-of-a-gun just won't turn. I got into the wall down there (turn one). We made a sway bar change but it still won't work. We need to pick up about a half a second. I don't have a provisional."

Nichols kept his good attitude. He said, "I watched these cars on television and just didn't think they would be any to drive. Now that I have been in one, I found out they are fun to drive." The team has a long term, slow-approach to its entrance into the Busch Series. Nichols said, "that fits into my schedule nicely. If it would work out, my kids would be out of school before I had to make a move to North Carolina (the heartland for stock car racers).

Last year, the local driver who tried to make the BGN field at his "home-track" was a young star named Kenny Irwin Jr. He failed to qualify for the Kroger 200 just as Nichols missed his first attempt. However, Kenny Irwin starts the big-bucks Brickyard 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race Saturday. He qualified fourth fastest and is the leader in the rookie of the year standings. What a difference a year makes.

Nichols remains upbeat about his racing career. "If I never make it to Indy (or BGN), I can't complain. I have raced guys like (Jeff) Gordon, (Tony) Stewart, and Irwin and beat them all. I have to be happy with that."

Results of the Kroger 200 NASCAR Busch Grand National Race at Indianapolis Raceway Park with finishing position, (starting position), driver, car make, reason out (if any) and money won:

1. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200, $34,225.
2. (8) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 200, $33,050.
3. (1) Buckshot Jones, Pontiac, 200, $17,025.
4. (2) Randy LaJoie, Chevrolet, 200, $20,600.
5. (6) David Green, Pontiac, 200, $15,575.
6. (32) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 200, $15,375.
7. (27) Mike Bliss, Ford, 200, $10,600.
8. (4) Elton Sawyer, Ford, 200, $12,375.
9. (7) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 200, $5,300.
10. (10) Bobby Hillin, Chevrolet, 200, $8,075.
11. (38) Jeff Krogh, Chevrolet, 200, $7,350.
12. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 200, $9,000.
13. (17) Ed Berrier, Ford, 200, $9,650.
14. (33) Mike Dillon, Chevrolet, 200, $7,600.
15. (18) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 200, $6,115.
16. (30) Jason Keller, Chevrolet, 200, $7,680.
17. (31) Lance Hooper, Chevrolet, 200, $4,570.
18. (12) Mike McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 199, $12,050.
19. (9) Wayne Grubb, Chevrolet, 199, $5,500.
20. (13) Kevin Lepage, Chevrolet, 199, $6,915.
21. (29) Hermie Sadler, Chevrolet, 199, $7,655.
22. (3) Lyndon Amick, Pontiac, 199, $4,445.
23. (14) Patty Moise, Chevrolet, 199, $4,435.
24. (28) Mark Krogh, Chevrolet, 199, $5,425.
25. (37) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 198, $4,765.
26. (39) Dave Rezendes, Ford, 198, $4,405.
27. (36) Glenn Allen, Chevrolet, 196, $7,495.
28. (11) Mark Green, Chevrolet, 187, $7,385.
29. (22) Andy Santerre, Chevrolet, 183, $7,375.
30. (25) Tracy Leslie, Chevrolet, 160, $6,590.
31. (15) Joe Bessey, Chevrolet, 138, Oil leak, $10,855.
32. (26) Jeff Fuller, Ford, 138, Accident, $6,345.
33. (19) Dave Blaney, Pontiac, 115, Accident, $4,335.
34. (23) Phil Parsons, Chevrolet, 91, Accident, $6,325.
35. (34) Curtis Markham, Chevrolet, 91, Accident, $6,315.
36. (35) Matt Hutter, Chevrolet, 91, Accident, $10,805.
37. (24) Shane Hall, Chevrolet, 84, Accident, $6,295.
38. (5) Tim Fedewa, Chevrolet, 49, Accident, $10,785.
39. (21) Kevin Prince, Chevrolet, 8, Engine failure, $4,275.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in The Racing Image Galleries and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.

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