Saturday, February 21, 2004

Earnhardt grows weary of queries about dad


The Associated Press

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. was glad to get to North Carolina Speedway on Friday and put the week of celebrating his Daytona 500 victory behind him.

If nothing else, it allowed him to finally stop answering questions about his late father.

"The only difficult part is everybody associated it ... every interview, they related my dad's death to the win," he said at North Carolina Speedway. "When is the day going to come when I don't have to reflect back?

"I don't know what's right and what's wrong, because I want to honor my old man. I know what he meant to me. But I don't want to bank on it, either."

Although he's always been in Dale Earnhardt's shadow, it intensified the past week because Junior's Daytona victory came six years to the day his father won his only Daytona title and three years after he was killed in an accident on the final lap.

The comparisons don't bother the son, but Junior said he'd just like a break from the constant inquiries. "The biggest compliment you could tell me is that I remind you of my dad," he said. "But I don't want to talk about what effects his death had on me the next 10 years."

Although he doesn't want to distance himself from his father, Junior said he would like to stand on his own merits someday.

"I just hate having to talk about it. ... I can't talk about it all my life," he said. "But I don't feel like I have to get out from under his shadow. If I can accomplish half of what he did, I'll be happy."

BUSCH SERIES: Johnny Benson won the first Busch pole of his career, putting his Dodge on the front row. Benson ran a lap at 153.169 mph around the 1.017-mile oval to earn the top starting spot for the Goody's Headache Power 200 today. That edged David Stremme, who posted a lap at 152.455 mph to qualify second in a Dodge.

GOING FOR FOUR: Jamie McMurray will make a run at Mark Martin's record of four consecutive Busch series victories at North Carolina Speedway in Saturday's race.

Martin set the record by sweeping the races in 1996 and 1997 and McMurray is primed to tie him with a streak of three consecutive wins. He starts seventh in the Goody's Headache Powder 200.

McMurray earned his first win here in 2002, then swept both events last year.

"I don't know what it is about Rockingham, but it just seems to fit me," McMurray said. "I've had a lot of success, and it's just one of those places that comes easy to me. Hopefully we'll be in victory lane on Saturday celebrating our fourth straight win."

McMurray dominated the two events last year, leading all but five of the laps in the spring race and 126 laps last fall.

If McMurray wins Saturday, he'll be within one victory of the Busch record of five consecutive victories at any track. Dale Earnhardt did that at Daytona, while Jack Ingram did it at South Boston.

LOOKING FOR WORK: Jimmy Spencer was a no-show at North Carolina Speedway and John Andretti was a late addition to the field, both pawns in the constant search for sponsorship.

Spencer competed in the season-opening Daytona 500 last week, but his Ultra Motorsports team won't try to qualify for any more events without a sponsorship deal.

Andretti has a deal with Dale Earnhardt Inc. that also needs financial assistance to make it to races. When DEI worked out a late deal with a sponsor for the No. 1 Chevrolet, Andretti was sent to Rockingham and qualified 39th for the Subway 400.

Meanwhile, Dave Blaney was scouring the garage area looking for some opportunities.

Blaney ran at Daytona for Bill Davis Racing, but isn't scheduled to compete against until next month at Atlanta. Should Davis find some sponsors, that could change.

"I think Las Vegas is still up in the air, and after that it will be just race-to-race," Blaney said. "This is the team I would like to run for if I can. I would like to put something together to run as much as we can."

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