What has slowed his budding
career - until this season - has been a lack of
"We thought we were going to come in here and do so much better that first
year," Little E recalled, "and we really set ourselves up for such an upset
and such a disappointment."
Coming to the Winston Cup Series after winning consecutive NASCAR Busch
Series titles in 1998 and 1999, Dale Jr. won two races and finished 16th in
the points - a fine rookie season but not what was expected.
He managed three wins and eighth place in 2001, then slipped back to two
wins and 11th in the points last year. But this season has been a
breakthrough for Earnhardt and his team.
Earnhardt, 29, has won once going into Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500 at
Atlanta Motor Speedway, but has 19 Top 10 finishes in 31 races and is third
in the points race with five races left.
"We've worked and worked and improved little by little, and I feel like
we're really gaining in areas where we need to be gaining," he said.
Earnhardt, who had driven with a handshake agreement for the team founded by
his late father, showed his confidence in the future of DEI earlier this
month when he agreed to a five-year contract.
"I feel like I'm with a team that can
make things happen and win
championships," Junior said. "One of the things that I based my decision to
stay around on was whether they could win the championships that I wanted to
Trailing series leader Matt Kenseth by 283 points, the 2003 title is
probably out of reach. But second-place Kevin Harvick is 43 points ahead and
Earnhardt would love to catch him.