Dale Earnhardt Jr may have lost out to Matt Kenseth in the chase for the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship but his #8 Budweiser DEI pit crew could emerge victorious from this weekend's Ford 400 at Homestead after moving into a tie for the lead of the inaugural McDonald's Drive-Thru Pit Championship fuelled by POWERade.

After trailing fellow DEI employees in Michael Waltrip's #15 NAPA pit crew for most of the season, a strong late run of form on pit road by the #8 team mean that the two outfits go into the final race of the year level pegging.

At stake is a $200,000 bonus that will go to the 2003 McDonald's/POWERade season champion. The two DEI pit crews are the only teams in position to capture the inaugural championship.

"We're all friends here at DEI, but both teams want this really bad," said Walt Smith, DEI pit crew coach. "It's not only the money, but also the bragging rights to win the first McDonald's/POWERade championship. It's a tremendous amount of pressure, but both teams understand what they have to do and I know they will handle it very well."

Waltrip and Earnhardt's pit crews have each scored five victories and have earned $100,000 in the pit crew championship that honours the unsung heroes in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

The McDonald's Drive-Thru Pit Championship fuelled by POWERade paid $20,000 at each NASCAR Winston Cup points race to participating teams of the program whose car spent the least amount of aggregate time off the race track.

Waltrip's pit crew has led every week in the point standings since the opening Daytona 500 in February. It was only after last week's race in Rockingham that the No.15 NAPA crew shared the lead.

The Earnhardt No. 8 Budweiser pit crew gained 22 points on Waltrip's team in Rockingham to take a piece of the lead heading into Sunday's finale -- Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Both teams have accumulated 1,213 points. The point distribution per race for the McDonald's Drive-Thru Pit Championship is 43 for first place, descending in increments of one.

With one race remaining, there have been 15 different winning pit crews in 2003. Bill Elliott's pit crew leads in victories (8) and prize money ($160,000).

The total purse for the McDonald's/POWERade NASCAR Cup program, including the $200,000 championship bonus, is $920,000.



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