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Dale Jr. wins DirecTV 500

by Mike Harris

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dale Earnhardt went to victory lane again Sunday. This time it was to celebrate his son's first Winston Cup win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 25-year-old rookie, overpowered the field in the DirecTV 500, leaving everybody, including his famous father, far in his wake.

Little E, the two-time Busch Series champion driving in only his 12th Winston Cup event, went wild in the cockpit as he crossed the finish line on Texas Motor Speedway's 1 1/2-mile oval.

His screams of joy reverberated over the radio as he crossed the finish line nearly six seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Burton.

"Yeah, I was excited," Little E said. "I'm still excited. This is amazing."

The elder Earnhardt, a seven-time series champion with 75 victories, parked his seventh-place car next to victory lane and strode to victory circle to greet his son as both a parent and the owner of the winning Chevrolet.

As Junior's car pulled to a stop, the Intimidator leaned into the cockpit for a private moment of celebration.

"He told me he loved me and how happy he was," Earnhardt Jr. said.

The youngster climbed atop his red No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet and threw his arms in the air as confetti swirled around him. Moments later, his father grabbed him off the car and gave him a hug.

Earnhardt Sr. said, "That's crazy, isn't it?" He then hugged his son and walked away to give his son a chance to accept the accolades of winning.

The third-generation driving star gave crew chief Tony Eury Sr. the first victory of his long NASCAR career.

"It's hard to keep him slowed down when the car's good," Eury said. "He wants to show it. We just keep him toned down all the time. He's like a wild horse."

The younger Earnhardt's best previous finish was 10th earlier this season in Las Vegas.

He dominated Sunday's 334-lap event, leading six times for a race-high total of 106 laps.

Twice, Earnhardt Jr. cruised away to big leads only to see the margins erased by caution flags. But, after passing Dale Earnhardt Inc., teammate Steve Park for the lead on lap 289, during a restart following the last of 12 caution periods, the youngster drove away from the competition.

With most of the 200,000 fans on their feet cheering, Earnhardt crossed the finish line 5.920 seconds -- nearly a full straightaway -- ahead of Burton's Ford.

Bobby Labonte, the series points leader, finished third, followed by Rusty Wallace, Kevin Lepage, Jeremy Mayfield and the elder Earnhardt, whose first career victory came on April Fool's weekend in 1979.

That first win by Earnhardt Sr. came in his 16th start.

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