With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series.
When it comes to Daytona International Speedway, Richard Childress Racing knows how to get the job done. Austin Dillon provided RCR with its third Daytona 500 victory in 2018, returning the No. 3 Chevrolet to Victory Lane 20 years after Dale Earnhardt accomplished the same feat.
In all, RCR has earned 12 NASCAR points-paying wins at Daytona International Speedway. However, that stat ignores the organization’s impressive run in the Duel qualifying races that precede the annual Daytona 500.
The annual Duel 150-mile qualifying events were originally Twin 125-mile races, which set the field for the Daytona 500. In 2005, NASCAR extended the pair of qualifying races to 150 miles each.
During the 1986 season, Dale Earnhardt delivered RCR’s first Twin 125 victory by leading 33 laps and taking the top spot from rival Geoffrey Bodine with 13 laps to go. That win was the first of 15 total Duel qualifying race wins that RCR has enjoyed over the years. That mark ties RCR and Hendrick Motorsports with the most victories in the Daytona qualifying races.
While the team has enjoyed success in the Duels over the years, RCR’s run of 10 consecutive victories from 1990 to 1999 is unmatched. In case you missed that, RCR and Earnhardt won every qualifying race entered during the 1990s.
During their time together, Earnhardt and Childress combined for 11 wins, 15 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in the 125-mile qualifying races.
Earnhardt and team started that impressive run in 1990 with a dramatic race that saw the black No. 3 Chevrolet dive under Dick Trickle heading into Turn 3 with four laps remaining in the race. After leading a total of 24 of the 50 laps, Earnhardt earned his third Twin 125 win and second with RCR.
In 1991, Earnhardt dominated the event after going three-wide on the opening lap, putting the RCR Chevrolet out front for all 50 laps, besting Ernie Irvan and Kyle Petty in a fuel strategy race. During the 1992 running of the Twin 125, it was Earnhardt and Mark Martin that fought for the top spot, with Earnhardt putting his RCR Chevrolet in the lead with 10 laps remaining.
While rookie sensation Jeff Gordon was making headlines for winning his qualifying race in 1993, Earnhardt and the RCR crew were conducting business as usual in Daytona earning another Twin 125 win over Bodine. In 1994, Earnhardt battled eventual Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin for the top spot, with Earnhardt getting the advantage and leading 34 laps.
During the 1995 season, Chevrolet introduced the new Monte Carlo body style, which added another variable for the RCR crew. However, the off-season preparation paid off as Earnhardt held off a charge from Gordon and Marlin to earn his sixth-straight win.
Marlin gave him another run for his money in 1996, but Earnhardt drove the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet to the front of the field on Lap 30 and the Intimidator never looked back to earn his seventh-straight qualifying race win. Earnhardt’s RCR Chevrolet also claimed the Daytona 500 pole that year – his first and only pole in the ‘Great American Race.’
“I was really happy to keep that streak of 125s alive,” Earnhardt told Mike Joy in Victory Lane. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“The streak wasn’t really talked about until we won seven races in a row,” said longtime RCR employee and current Xfinity Series competition director Danny Lawrence.
“Once it started gaining attention, we started wondering, ‘OK, who is going to be the crew chief that loses that first one?’” Lawrence joked.
In 1997, a caution halfway through the race stacked the field up and gave Earnhardt the chance to get by John Andretti for the lead. He would go on to lead the final 32 laps of the race and hold off Gordon for the victory.
The following year, Earnhardt led all 50 laps of his Twin 125 qualifier. On Sunday, he would finally kick his bad luck and earn his first Daytona 500 victory.
The final year of Earnhardt and RCR’s impressive streak came in 1999 when the cagy veteran wasted no time moving up from his fifth starting spot and getting by up-and-coming rookie Tony Stewart after just seven laps.
While Lawrence pointed out RCR was bringing top-notch equipment to the track during this time, it was Earnhardt’s ability at Daytona – and particularly in this format – that truly made the difference.
“He just knew how to get the job done,” he said. “It didn’t matter who was in his race or what, he just knew how to win. We would qualify mid-pack sometimes and he would just work his way up through the field and win and we would start third or fourth in the Daytona 500.”
The streak finally came to an end in 2000, when Earnhardt’s Twin 125 race featured very little passing throughout the field. While a small pack of cars was able to break away in the draft, the Chevrolets battled handling issues and were unable to make a charge to the front of the field. Earnhardt drove the red Tasmanian Devil-themed RCR Chevrolet to an 11th-place finish and for the first time in a decade was not in Victory Lane on Thursday afternoon.
“When the Daytona 500 came around, there were so many times we would say, ‘Well, we won the Busch Clash, we won the Twin 125, we won this, we won that, but we would give up all of that for the Daytona 500 win,” Lawrence recalled. “I can remember in 2000 saying, ‘Maybe this is the year we win the Daytona 500 again, because we had won the Twin 125s every other year and only had the one win in the 500. Once you win it, you want to win it again and again and again.”
In his final Twin 125 start in 2001, Earnhardt started deep in the field and worked his way to the front of the pack after taking four tires early. With 10 laps to go, Earnhardt’s No. 3 RCR Chevrolet was in the 10th position, but in just two laps he was back in front of the field. When a caution flew with just four laps to go, the field was reset for a one-lap shootout.
With a strong push from behind, Marlin was able to get to the inside of Earnhardt and grab the lead gong into the final two corners. In the end, Earnhardt brought the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet home in the third spot.
Although Earnhardt missed out on another Twin 125 win, his RCR teammate Mike Skinner was able to earn the win in his race, giving the organization its 12th win in qualifying races.
That success carried on through the 2000s, as Robby Gordon (2003), Jeff Burton (2011) and Kevin Harvick (2013) all took RCR to Victory Lane in the Twin 125/Duel 150s.
This year’s Can-Am Duel at Daytona is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.