- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. A black flag with a blazing No. 3 hangs from the grandstands, waving in the wind.
Outside Daytona International Speedway, a shrine of pictures, flowers and candles hangs along the fence below turn 4 as a tribute to Dale Earnhardt.
For the fans still struggling with the death of NASCAR's biggest star, the flags, pictures and signs are therapy. But for the drivers especially the three at Dale Earnhardt Inc. it's agony.
"I think it's just time that we give it a rest," said Steve Park, the only DEI driver willing to speak this weekend about Earnhardt. "We've all tried to work through our issue with this."
And it's not just at Daytona, where the Intimidator was killed in turn 4 on the final lap of the season-opening Daytona 500.
"We're reminded every day that we go to the shop the loss that we've suffered, and we're reminded every week with the memorials we see at each and every race track," Park said. "It's about time we all give it a little bit of a break."
That couldn't happen last night, when the circuit raced at Daytona for the first time since Earnhardt died Feb. 18.
As if just being at the track wasn't painful enough for the drivers, the reminders were visible the moment they drove toward the facility on International Speedway Boulevard.
Earnhardt was everywhere, it seemed, so larger than life that he overshadowed another significant date: Yesterday also was the one-year anniversary of Kenny Irwin's death.
Irwin, the second of four NASCAR drivers to die since May 2000, was killed last July 7 in a crash during Winston Cup practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.
But just like those of Adam Petty and Tony Roper, Irwin's death has been eclipsed by grief over Earnhardt.
"Although Dale played a huge part in motorsports, we also feel for Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty and Tony Roper and a number of other folks," Mark Martin said. "It feels like it's taken away from that, too.
"In a way, if you want to turn it around, it's being disrespectful to other people we lost by overkilling on this."
The Earnhardt issue has been so prevalent this weekend that Sterling Marlin wasn't even asked about Irwin his former teammate during the pole winner's news conference.
Instead he was asked about his feelings returning to Daytona without Earnhardt, a question he glossed over in the same weary way all the drivers have done in the five months since the 500.
"We've dealt with it long time, we've had time to deal with it," Jeff Burton said. "The truth of the matter is I haven't talked to other drivers about it. We don't do that, and everybody wants to make it look like we do.
"When I drove through the tunnel, I was thinking about racing, not Dale Earnhardt."
Unfortunately for the three DEI teams and Richard Childress Racing, the team Earnhardt drove for, the Intimidator was a silent factor.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept a low profile at the track, stepping outside his hauler only when it was time to climb into his Chevrolet.
But it was clear there was an edge to him during the final practice, when he nudged Kevin Harvick out of his way as he charged to the front of the pack to lead several laps around the track.
No one will ever know if he noticed the seats in the Earnhardt Grandstand near turn 4 changed from green to black in honor of his father. And it's doubtful he paid attention to the postrace activities Saturday night, when the track had a tribute that included special effects in the fireworks show and a video tribute.
"We have to remember that Dale Jr. and [Earnhardt's widow] Teresa have to go on with their lives," Park said. "Dale Earnhardt will never be forgotten, it's not like we want to try to forget. But we're all grown people here and we just need for the family to get a little bit of a break.
"We know what he wants us to do be down here, be racing and be winning."

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