Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dale Earnhardt Wins His First "Daytona 500" - February 15, 1998

February 15, 1998
Dale Earnhardt
After 20 years of trying, the racing great finally wins his first "Daytona 500", the NASCAR season opener, dubbed the "Super Bowl of stock car racing." Driving his black No. 3 Chevrolet, Earnhardt took home a then-record, more than $1 million in prize money. Also, his long-awaited Daytona 500 win snapped a 59-race winless streak dating back to Atlanta Motor Speedway in March of 1996.

Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500. The race began with emphasis on NASCAR's 50th Anniversary Celebration. The pre-race show on CBS featured some of the greatest Daytona 500 finishes in recent memory. It also detailed the famous Daytona Beach Road Course and it featured Russ Truelove, Buck Baker, Tim Flock, Red Farmer and Junior Johnson on the Daytona Beach with one of Tim Flock's old "Full Jeweled" #300 Chryslers. The command was given by then Kansas Governor Bill Graves and waving the green flag to start the race was Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

The race was remarkably clean for a restrictor plate race. There were only three cautions - all of which were for minor incidents, and there was a pit stop incident that involved Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Derrike Cope but no caution was waved. The race was run under the green flag for the first 125 laps. This resulted in it being the third-fastest Daytona 500 ever, behind the 1980 Daytona 500 won by Buddy Baker, and the fastest of the restrictor plate era.

In the mid stage of the event, green flag pit stops were still in progress with Jeff Gordon leading, and were on pace of breaking the average speed of 1980. Then Ward Burton cut down a tire leaving debris on the track, thus bringing out the first caution.

Late in the race with a possibility of another green flag stop, John Andretti and Robert Pressley made contact and spun together in turn 2. Which led to the final stops. Dale Earnhardt came out first, Michael Waltrip had a penalty after running over a hose while pitting, thus held back at the rear of the pack.

On lap 198, Dale Earnhardt led Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield heading into turn 2. Lake Speed and John Andretti, who already was spun out at the same corner, got together and both cars spun, setting up a scenario where Earnhardt, Labonte, and Mayfield were all in contention for the win. With 1½ laps, the three came up on the lapped car of Rick Mast. Earnhardt easily passed Mast on the outside. Labonte lost Earnhardt's draft while Mayfield sped to the inside of Mast. Earnhardt led Labonte and Mayfield, who were side by side. Earnhardt took the white and yellow flags in first while Labonte edged Mayfield for second by a fender. The race would end under the caution flag.

For moreRemembering A Legend - "The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt

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