"The Intimidator," as Dale Earnhardt is sometimes known, stunned the rest of the 43-car field and awed a record Phoenix International Raceway crowd of about 75,000 on Sunday by making the Checker 500 practically a private showing.

His ninth victory of the season, combined with Mark Martin's disheartening 10th-place finish, also turned a 45-point deficit in NASCAR's $1 million Winston Cup championship battle into a six-point Earnhardt lead going into the season-ending Atlanta Journal 500 on Nov. 18 at Atlanta International Raceway.The 38-year-old Earnhardt took the lead on the 50th lap of the 500-kilometer and was never seriously challenged thereafter.