Dale Earnhardt’s Amazing Final Victory
by Tom Jensen October 12, 2020
A charge to the lead in the final laps electrified the throngs of Earnhardt fans packed into the Talladega Superspeedway grandstands.
October 15, 2000
Twenty years after it happened, it still defies belief how seven-time premier series champion and Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt (2010) won his 76th and final race.
Did that really happen? Did I really see that?
Then again maybe Earnhardt’s remarkable victory was proof of his rumored superpower: In a superspeedway draft at speeds approaching – or even exceeding – 200 miles per hour, Earnhardt really could see the air that none of his rivals could.
The scene was Talladega Superspeedway, where Earnhardt had qualified his familiar and menacing black No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 20th place for the Winston 500, the final restrictor-plate race of the 2000 season.
As always, the Talladega grandstands were jammed full of members of the Earnhardt Nation, untold thousands who had come to see just one thing: their hero win his 10th Talladega race. But with four laps to go, they appeared headed for bitter disappointment, as Earnhardt was buried way back in 18th place, having just bounced off of Rich Bickle’s car, seemingly trapped in a sea of race cars on all four sides of him, hemming in the black No. 3.
But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Earnhardt charged forward, knifing through the traffic jam, and with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek alertly tucking in behind him, Earnhardt rapidly moved towards the front.
The Talladega grandstands exploded in a thunder of applause as Earnhardt methodically worked his way through the cluster of cars.
“I don’t understand how he did that!” shouted Hall of Famer Benny Parsons (2017), who was doing the television commentary for the race.
I don't understand how he did that!
— Benny Parsons
As the race wound down, RCR’s Mike Skinner had the lead on the bottom lane, with Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021) behind him. But up top, it was the elder Earnhardt taking the lead on the penultimate lap, with Wallace pushing him for everything he was worth and Nemechek holding sway behind them.
As they went around for the final time, Skinner’s challenge faded and the top three pulled away. Earnhardt crossed the line the winner, claiming the $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus money, in addition to his race earnings.
It was an epic display of shock and awe, one that left the Earnhardt Nation fans dazed and delighted in their disbelief. The noise from the grandstands was deafening as Earnhardt took the checkered flag. It sounded and felt like a mild earthquake.
On pit road, Hall of Fame team owner Richard Childress (2017) was so happy that he grabbed crewman Danny Lawrence and kissed him on the cheek. “The race fans got the race they deserved today,” said Childress. “This is for the race fans.”
Childress was as stunned as anyone as the applause continued from the 170,000 race fans. “He never gave up,” Childress said of his driver.
“It was wild,” Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. “I didn’t have any thought that I have a chance of winning this race, starting where I did on that restart. Boy, as we kept working away and got on the outside of Kenny — Kenny Wallace really worked hard with us and he done a good job. I don’t think we could have got back up there without Kenny.”
It was Wallace’s push that drove Earnhardt past Skinner for the victory. “I hate to beat Mike Skinner, but I had to beat him for a million (dollars),” Earnhardt said.
“It was a chess game of getting there and staying there and it just worked out for us to be there at the right time,” Earnhardt said.
It was a chess game of getting there and staying there and it just worked out for us to be there at the right time.
— Dale Earnhardt
“It was just a deal where it was vintage,” said Wallace, teammate of third-place finisher Nemechek at Andy Petree Racing. “Here I am trying to win the race … he (Earnhardt) comes down in front of me and I’m thinking, ‘My God, I’ve got no choice now but to help this guy win.’”
Afterward, there was no way anyone could have known it would be Earnhardt’s final visit to Victory Lane. Nor would anyone who witnessed it ever forget what they saw as The Intimidator worked his magic one last time.
See the air? Earnhardt might have been able to do just that. And no one who was in the Talladega grandstands on that crisp, sunny fall afternoon could ever be convinced otherwise after what they witnessed.
Curatorial note: Dale Earnhardt’s first and seventh premier series championship cars are on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit.
The rest of This Week in NASCAR:
October 12, 1969
During his career, Donnie Allison won 10 premier series races in 242 starts, while in his older brother, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (2011) won 84 times in 718 starts. But here’s where the numbers get interesting: Of the 10 races Donnie won, Bobby finished second in four of them. One of those 1-2 finishes came in the 1969 National 500, the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Donnie wheeled his Banjo Matthews-owned No. 27 Ford Torino Talladega to a victory of nearly half a lap over Bobby and his No. 22 Dodge, which was fielded by Mario Rossi. Coming home third was a Hall of Fame combo, driver Buddy Baker (2020) and team owner Cotton Owens (2013). The victory paid $20,280.
October 13, 1963
Driving a Ray Fox-owned Chevrolet Impala powered by the legendary 427 cubic-inch “Mystery Motor,” Hall of Famer Junior Johnson (2010) scored a dominating victory in the National 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After qualifying on the outside pole in the white No. 3 Chevy, Johnson led 209 of 267 laps, including the final 43, to finish 12 seconds ahead of Fred Lorenzen (2015) and claim the first prize money of $11,720.
October 14, 1956
At the 0.900-mile Orange Speedway dirt track in Hillsborough, North Carolina, Hall of Famer Curtis Turner (2016) started from the pole and led all 110 laps to win the final NASCAR Convertible Division race of the 1956 season over his teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly (2015). It was Turner’s 22nd victory of the season in a Ford convertible.
October 16, 1949
The eighth and final race of the first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) took place at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, the epicenter of the Southern moonshine trade. Bill Blair led the first 180 laps until the engine in his Cadillac failed, handing the win to Bob Flock, who led the final 20 laps to win $1,500. Hall of Famer Lee Petty (2011) finished second.
October 17, 1976
On the 2.54-mile Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California, Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (2012) led all 30 laps in his Chevrolet Camaro to best an all-star field of 11 drivers in an International Race of Champions event. Yarborough finished second in the series championship that year to A.J. Foyt.
October 18, 2003
Jon Wood, grandson of Hall of Famer Glen Wood (2012), won the Advance Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (now Camping World Truck Series) race at Martinsville Speedway. Driving a Ford F-150 owned by Hall of Famer Jack Roush (2019), Wood led 79 or 200 laps, earning $40,510 for himself and the team. The victory was the second of two that season for Wood, who finished a career-best fifth in points.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To purchase tickets, go to nascarhall.com/tickets.