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The Callahan Report: 'Lady Luck' bites Skinner, Earnhardt wins close race in Atlanta

12 March 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
HAMPTON, GA: Richard Childress fields a two-car team on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Near the end of the Cracker Barrel 500 Sunday, he knew one of his cars would be in victory circle. After all, Mike Skinner had led 191 during the race and he was running away from the competition at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Enter lady luck. She snatched Mike Skinner's first Winston Cup victory away in a flash. There were twenty laps remaining in the race when Skinner's engine gave up. He limped to the pit area in his broken race car. His seven-time champion teammate, Dale Earnhardt, benefitted and won the closest racing battle of the season. Earnhardt won the race by less than two feet over Bobby Labonte.

"It just went pow. There was no warning whatsoever," said Skinner. "I ran the car just as hard as it would go all day and you were fixing to see about an 85-foot wide Chevy in those last 20 laps.

"It's a shame. I don't know what I've done, but I'm sorry," Skinner concluded.

Earnhardt used all of the racing surface to beat Labonte to the finish line. At the start of the final lap, Labonte had closed to within a car length of the 48 year old NASCAR superstar. Earnhardt was able to stay in front . . . barely. His margin of victory was 0.010 seconds.

"That was good racing. That was fun," said and elated Earnhardt after the victory.

The race finish was so close that Bobby Labonte was not sure who won. "I couldn't tell. I haven't seen a replay and I don't care to. I just came up a little short," said Labonte, the new Winston Cup points leader. "I was flat out as hard as I could go just to keep up with him. That last eight laps were just flat out, no holding back."

NASCAR Winston Cup racing has increased in popularity over the years due to its trademark "close competition". The first few races of the season have not been close or exciting. The Cracker Barrel 500 was the first race of the 2000 season where racing excitement prevailed.

Many Chevrolet teams complained that Fords and Pontiacs had an aerodynamic advantage. NASCAR officials made some rules changes this week allowing Chevrolets to increase their downforce. Earnhardt and Skinner both drive Chevrolet Monte Carlos for Richard Childress Racing.

"That was a boring race, wasn't it," said Earnhardt jokingly. "We showed this week in all three makes being competitive and running well. It was pretty competitive, I thought."

The complaining has now shifted to the Ford and Pontiac teams. They believe that NASCAR has gone too far, giving the Chevy teams an unfair advantage.

"The Chevrolets got what they wanted and they're the best car right now by a lot, by a real lot," said Jimmy Spencer who drives a Ford.

Rules changes are not uncommon in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. The rules makers will continue to monitor the competition. They will probably make some more "adjustments" to ensure competitiveness.

Consider this. Dale Jarrett, driving a Ford, won the pole position for the race. A Chevrolet beat a Pontiac by two feet for the victory. Sounds like NASCAR has made the right choices for now.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.