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1987 All Star Victory Lane

RCR 50 Throwback Thursday: The ‘Pass in the Grass’ is Born during ’87 Winston

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.

The NASCAR All-Star Race has always provided excitement, drama and hard racing since its inception in 1985. Richard Childress Racing has four wins in the All-Star Race, with Dale Earnhardt scoring victories in 1987, 1990 and 1993, while Kevin Harvick brought home the trophy in 2007. This year, Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric will honor RCR’s 50th anniversary season by running gold-colored Chevrolets.

Earnhardt delivered the organization’s first All-Star win in dramatic fashion in 1987, causing a fair share of drama with Bill Elliott in the process.

In the third year of the exhibition event, the race moved back to Charlotte Motor Speedway after a one-year trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986. New for the 1987 running of the race was a special format that featured three segments, with special rules determining the starting order for the second and third segment and ending with a 10-lap shootout.

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Many of the drivers were skeptical of the format and voiced their concern, but with a total purse of $600,000 and $200,000 going to the winner, 20 of NASCAR’s best put it all on the line regardless of the rules and regulations.

The defending Cup Series champion, Earnhardt’s No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet started the exhibition event in the fourth position. Heading into the weekend, Earnhardt and the RCR crew were on a tear, winning six of the first nine races of the season.

Elliott’s No. 9 took the lead from the pole position to start the opening segment, and Earnhardt’s day nearly came to a swift end on the opening lap. After entering Turn 3 on the top of a three-wide battle, Earnhardt nearly hit the outside wall when Geoffrey Bodine’s No. 5 Chevrolet drifted up the track in the middle of the corner and sent both cars sliding out of control.

Elliott dominated the majority of the race, while Earnhardt aggressively fought and clawed his way back to the front of the field. He and Bodine continued their heated battle throughout the second segment as they fought over the second position, which Earnhardt was able to secure.

For the final 10-lap segment, Earnhardt restarted fourth with Elliott and Bodine on the front row. As the field raced double-file into Turn 1 to start the segment, Earnhardt shoved Bodine’s car into the corner. Unable to control the car, Bodine slid down the track and made contact with the right front of Elliott’s car. Bodine was sent spinning and making addition contact with Elliott as Earnhardt drove underneath both to secure the lead.

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With Earnhardt in the top spot for the restart, Elliott did all he could to move his No. 9 past the yellow and blue No. 3 Chevrolet. Despite multiple attempts to take the lead, Earnhardt kept shutting the door on Elliott and doing his best to maintain the lead.

1987 All Star Elliott Earnhardt
Bill Elliott had the dominant car throughout the 1987 running of The Winston, but he did not have enough to get by Dale Earnhardt when it mattered most. (Charlotte Motor Speedway Archives)

After Earnhardt threw blocks in both corners with eight laps to go, Elliott finally gave him a shove in the left rear exiting Turn 4, which sent Earnhardt’s car sliding down the track, through the grass and back on the track at the start/finish line.

Somehow, Earnhardt was able to maintain the lead and the iconic “pass in the grass” was born as the crowd went wild. The fight for the lead was far from over and the Earnhardt-Elliott battle brought other cars into the mix over the final laps.

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With seven laps to go, Earnhardt and Elliott made contact again in the middle of Turns 3 and 4, sending Elliott’s car up the track and allowing Terry Labonte, Tim Richmond and others to move past the most dominant car of the day. As the laps clicked away and with Earnhardt in command of the race, Elliott nearly spun off Turn 2 and was forced to hit pit road late in the race.

Leading 121 of the 135 laps, Elliott was forced to swallow a 14th-place finish while Earnhardt went on to take the win, earn the trophy and the big paycheck in Victory Lane.

After the race, both Bodine and Elliott showed their displeasure with Earnhardt by making contact with the No. 3 Chevrolet on the cooldown laps.

“Well, that was something else,” Earnhardt said sitting inside his car in Victory Lane. “Bill spun that 5 car out (Bodine) and caused a big mess. Then he came up there and tried to spin me out twice. I didn’t take it. I just held onto it. I did the best I could.”

Frustrated with how Elliott raced him in the closing stages, Earnhardt admitted he wanted to show he was not going to take it from the driver of the No. 9.

“Bill and them got into it there and spun around and we just missed them, then I’ll be darned if Bill tried to knock me out twice. He had me sideways going off (Turn) 2 over there and then he turned me through the tri-oval. I slipped him up high just to let him know I was mad. I didn’t try to wreck him or run him into the wall or nothing, then he tried to wreck me under the caution.

“I think he’s a little upset,” Earnhardt said with a beaming smile.

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While Earnhardt, Richard Childress and the RCR crew were smiling with the trophy in Victory Lane, Elliott was more than upset with the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet.

“I was clearly under him and I was going on. I clearly had the quickest car and he was trying to cut me off every way he could,” said Elliott. “If we’re going to let stuff like that go, we’ll see what happens next week.”

The drama and hard racing produced during the 1987 running of the All-Star Race would become the norm over the years, but the battle between Earnhardt, Elliott and Bodine in the third annual event was the start of it all, setting the tone for many years to come.