Earnhardt flags down encouraging start to '93 NASCAR season


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The man in black spent a humbling 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup season trying to drive out from under a black cloud.

The color of Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet matched the five-time series champion's mood as he won only once and skidded all the way to 12th in the final point standings.

But a dominating victory yesterday in the $290,000 Busch Clash of '93 had Earnhardt jubilantly crowing, "I reckon black is back."

The victory, worth $60,000, was Earnhardt's fifth in the specialty race, which matches pole-position winners in the previous Winston Cup season. "The Busch Clash is a go-for-it race," he said. "Our kind of race."

Earnhardt had no choice but to "go for it." He drew the No. 13 starting spot in the 15-car field for the first of the 10-lap Clash sprints. He started the second half 15th because the field was inverted by first-half finishing positions.

That proved no problem for the mustachioed driver who has his sights set on Richard Petty's record of seven Winston Cup titles.

Putting on a show for an estimated 55,000 fans and a CBS television audience, Earnhardt maneuvered through traffic so effortlessly that he proclaimed in victory ceremonies afterward that he has "as good a chance as I've ever had" to score that elusive first Daytona 500 victory next Sunday.

Ken Schrader, two car lengths behind Earnhardt at the checkered flag, concluded: "They don't call Dale 'The Intimidator' for nothing. He gets through traffic better than anyone. Once he gets his nose in there, he gets more room than the rest of us. He's got most everybody doing what he wants."

Ernie Irvan made it a 1-2-3 sweep for Chevrolets, a result that had Ford drivers grousing about off-season body work changes dictated by NASCAR.

Davey Allison, the 1992 Daytona 500 winner, said unhappily: "It's obvious to me that the Chevrolets did the best job of politicking over the winter. NASCAR's completely eliminated us [Fords] from this week. We don't have a chance."

Earnhardt, who averaged 186.916 mph, worked his way from 13th to the lead in six of the 10 laps before "halftime." It was on lap 16 that he completed the charge from 15th in the second half by whipping past Sterling Marlin, who slipped back to eighth.

On the last lap, Earnhardt said, he worried about Schrader's and Irvan's working a two-car draft to get past him. Drivers in tight bumper-to-bumper formation can blast through head winds more efficiently than one running alone.

"But they couldn't get their act together," Earnhardt said. To keep them guessing, he was alternately increasing and decreasing throttle pressure entering and exiting the 31-degree banking.

The Clash start was delayed because, on the initial pace laps, Bill Elliott's Ford was spewing oil from his starting position outside on the second row.

After repairs, Elliott returned in time for the start, got a black flag midway through the first 10-lap segment and started the second 10 laps on the pole by virtue of his last-place finish. The problem lingered, though, and he finished ninth.

Earnhardt came with both a car for the Clash and one for the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying race Thursday and then the 500. "The 500 car is a little better than this one," he said. That comes as bad news for those who must chase him.

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