A jubilant Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke through for his first Nextel Cup victory of last year’s season, using a two-tire strategy and holding off Matt Kenseth to win at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I was worried I was going to go winless this year,” the relieved Earnhardt said after smoking the tires on his No. 8 Chevrolet and celebrating with his crew in the infield grass. “Now, let’s go out and do it again, win some more. ”
Kenseth led 176 of the 267 laps but wound up second after choosing to change four tires and falling behind on his final pit stop in the USG Sheetrock 400.
Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver, has had a mostly miserable season and had little to smile about until he turned in a third-place finish a week before at Daytona. He started 25th and spent most of the day hovering near the end of the top 10.
The plan to build a superspeedway in the third-largest market in the nation had been rumored for years. Auto racing executives and major-league sanctioning bodies had long maintained that the untapped market of Chicago was perhaps the most lucrative in the country.
The race to build a major speedway in the Windy City took its first step towards becoming a reality during an informal meeting between Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George and Bill France in late 1995.
The Motorsports Alliance, consisting of George, France, and home-remodeling magnate John Menard, was formed in the spring of 1996 and immediately began considering sites that summer.
The first effort to begin the project was to focus on a 500-acre plot of land less than 30 miles from downtown Chicago, near the Dupage County Airport. Faced with constructing a facility that would be able to host NASCAR and the Indy Racing League on a small parcel of land, the trio decided that the extremely high price of real estate would not fit properly into the budget.
The Alliance was contacted by several communities that were interested in building the facility and even looked at sites as far west as Rochelle, before turning their attention to the small farm community of Plano, about 70 miles west of Chicago, in the fall of 1997.
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