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 stars of the NASCAR Cup Series return to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend for the annual Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend. The longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 is a 400-lap test of man and machine but also sees the track transition from day to evening to night.
However, the first time the Coca-Cola 600 ended under the lights in May 1993 it was Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt that ended the night in Victory Lane.
Earnhardt and the RCR team won The Winston All-Star Race under the lights the week before and entered the Coca-Cola 600 weekend on a mission to sweep both races. The team had some work to do, though, as they qualified 14th and started mid-pack.
“It is hard to remember how we approached that transition from day to night, but we had Earnhardt, so we didn’t worry about it too much,” said Andy Petree, crew chief on the winning No. 3 Chevrolet that year.
“We really deferred to him on things like balance swings and what he thought the car would do when the track cooled down,” said Petree. “Back then, the car used to get a lot tighter at night. Now, the cars tend to get freer when the track cools down. We did plan to have the car right when the track was cool and it worked out really well.”
Despite a solid setup and constant work by the No. 3 team to make it handle well, Earnhardt’s dive to the Coca-Cola 600 victory was almost as tough and demanding as the 400-laps.
Earnhardt had wheeled his No. 3 RCR Chevrolet up to the second position when the second caution of the event flew 90 laps into the race. Within eight laps, the RCR Chevrolet took the lead for the first time.
Just past halfway, Earnhardt was stuck a lap down when Rusty Wallace brought out the caution on Lap 225 right in the middle of green flag pit stops. Like a man on a mission, Earnhardt pulled ahead of the leaders shortly after the restart and went work racing his way back to the lead lap.
With a quick Chevrolet, Earnhardt moved into the second position in the final stages of the race but was still far behind leader Dale Jarrett. Racing behind the lapped cars of Mike Wallace and Greg Sacks, Earnhardt was behind Sacks when his No. 68 spun through the frontstretch grass to bring out the caution and erase the gap to the leader.
However, NASCAR determined that Earnhardt spun Sacks on purpose to make up ground on Jarrett for the lead. As a result, NASCAR officials held Earnhardt a lap on pit road as a penalty. Despite arguments from Earnhardt and team owner Richard Childress, the No. 3 Chevrolet fell a lap down as it sat on pit road with less than 75 laps to go.
“We spent a lot of time trying to make that first lap up, then NASCAR didn’t help us any when we finally got it back when the caution came out,” Petree recalled. “They held us another lap because they thought Earnhardt wrecked him on purpose to get the caution – which may or may not be true. He swore to me he never touched him. He just got busted when Sacks spun out.”
At this time, the lapped cars lined up on the inside row for restarts, which put Earnhardt’s No. 3 RCR Chevrolet on the front row for the restart with less than 70 laps to go. Once the green flag flew, Earnhardt was on a mission and wasted no time getting his lap back and driving away from the leaders to catch the tail end of the field.
When Rusty Wallace brought out the seventh caution of the day Earnhardt’s chances were greatly improved. The yellow allowed him to catch up to the race leaders and put the black No. 3 on their back bumpers in the closing laps.
Earnhardt took the lead with 39 laps to go and never looked back. Taking the checkered flag, the RCR crew members celebrated on pit road, knowing how hard they had to fight for the victory.
“Well, I didn’t get into him. I don’t know why they penalized me. He just got loose in the air and spun out, I was just close,” Earnhardt said of the incident with Sacks.
“I did all I could to get my lap back,” he said. “I got that back, caught a caution and got back to the front. It’s hard to believe.”
For Petree, the victory was one of the biggest of his career to that point.
“Thinking back on my crew chief career, it might have been the biggest at the time,” said Petree. “We won the Brickyard 400 two years after that, but this was big. You get a ring for winning the Coca-Cola 600 and it was always considered one notch just below the Daytona 500. I had come pretty close with Harry Gant a couple of times, but never got that victory until then.
“I look back at that weekend and that two weeks in Charlotte as some of the fondest memories I have as a crew chief,” said Petree.
This year is the 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 and both Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric hope to deliver another win for RCR in the Memorial Day Weekend event.