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Earnhardt: The greatest 'til the end



By Joe Macenka, Turner Sports Interactive


CONCORD, N.C.--Two names usually ascend to the forefront in conversations about the greatest driver in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Petty has the all-time numbers on his side, Earnhardt the recent history.


Petty leads the sport's career winning list with 200 victories, more than twice as many as his closest pursuer.


More than half of his victories, however, came in an era when there was often more than one race a week and not every driver competed in every event. All 76 of Earnhardt's triumphs came after the circuit was reorganized and significantly streamlined, meaning, in theory at least, he was assured of competing against the best each and every time out.


While this argument is embraced strongly by Earnhardt's supporters, Petty's backers can once again point to the numbers. Their driver won eight championships compared to seven for Earnhardt. And a breakdown of some individual race statistics shows Petty with a decided edge.




Petty once won 27 races in a season; Earnhardt never had more than 12. Petty had 55 victories on superspeedways; Earnhardt had 48. Petty won 139 races on short tracks; Earnhardt had 27.


One area where Petty clearly lagged behind, however, was the issue of competitiveness over the length of their careers. Petty got his final victory in 1984 but continued to drive through 1992, going the final four-plus years of his career without a top-5 finish. Earnhardt remained competitive right up until the end, finishing second in the points last year, when he won two races and recorded 24 top-10s and 13 top-5s.


He was picked by many as a legitimate title contender this year, and he began the season by running with the leaders all the way up until the final turn of the Daytona 500.


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