NASCAR honors Gordon, Earnhardt

Saturday, December 1, 2001

NEW YORK -- Jeff Gordon and the still-vibrant memory of Dale Earnhardt Sr. dominated Friday night's NASCAR Awards.

While Gordon was honored for his fourth Winston Cup championship and raked in a record payoff of $10,879,757, the sport gathered for a black tie gala that also was a tribute to Earnhardt, its biggest star who died in a crash in the Daytona 500.

The Earnhardt family was represented by Teresa, the widow of the seven-time champion, and son Dale Jr., who finished sixth in the season standings.

Teresa Earnhardt has made few public appearances since her husband's death but wanted to come to New York to accept a posthumous award honoring him as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 2001.

The Intimidator, always a fan favorite but never before a winner in the fan balloting, drew 56.6 percent of the nearly 400,000 votes. Gordon was second with 14 percent, followed by Dale Jr.

"Teresa felt this was the right time and the right place to do this," Dale Jr. said. "It's a huge honor for my dad and it's something he would have loved to have been here to accept."

NASCAR put together a video tribute to Earnhardt, accompanied by a live appearance by country star Garth Brooks.

"I admired and respected Dale Earnhardt and I'm glad to share this night with him," Gordon said prior to the ceremony. "I only wish he was here to enjoy it with us."

Gordon, the only driver other than seven-time winners Earnhardt and Richard Petty to have won more than three championships, was dominant on the track in 2001.

The Rainbow Warrior, whose earlier titles came in 1995, 1997 and 1998, won six poles and six races and finished in the top five in 18 of 36 races.

His total career earnings soared over $51 million, leaving behind former record-holder Earnhardt, whose career earnings were just over $41 million.

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