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.
Whenever NASCAR heads to the sandy shores and superspeedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, it is hard not to think of NASCAR Hall of Famer and RCR driver Dale Earnhardt. The Intimidator was always a factor on the high banks of the 2.5-mile speedway, earning numerous victories at the ‘World Center of Racing.’
Earnhardt recorded 12 wins in the Daytona qualifying races, six wins in the IROC Series, seven Xfinity Series wins and six wins in the pre-season Clash. However, Earnhardt only has three points-paying wins in the Cup Series at Daytona.
Despite the dominance and ability to put his car out front over the years, Earnhardt’s first Cup win at Daytona came in 1990 during the annual 400-miler in July.
Earlier that season, Earnhardt came oh-so-close to winning the elusive Daytona 500, coming up two corners short when a flat tire ruined his hopes of victory on the final lap after a dominant performance. The driver of the black No. 3 Chevrolet had the race all but won, but instead had to face the frustration of watching yet another Daytona 500 slip away.
Following that disappointment in the season-opening race, the No. 3 team rattled off four wins, eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes before rolling back to Daytona in July. The team had just celebrated a victory at Michigan International Speedway and entered the 4th of July weekend looking for redemption for February’s disappointment.
Starting in the third position, Earnhardt wasted no time moving his No. 3 RCR Chevrolet into the lead by diving to the bottom of pole-sitter Greg Sacks exiting the tri-oval and heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap.
As Earnhardt took command of the race from the initial start, all heck broke loose behind him.
The opening lap saw Richard Petty make a move to go three-wide down the backstretch with Sacks and Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope. As the trio made it to the start-finish line after beating and banging their way off Turn 4, their luck gave out and the contact sent Petty’s No. 43 sliding across the track and blocking the entire speedway from the fourth position on back.
The ensuing incident, one of the first of the ‘Big One’ wrecks, collected 23 of the 40 cars that started the 400-mile event. With the field significantly reduced, Earnhardt’s chances at victory were greatly increased, but far from guaranteed.
Earnhardt was out front enjoying a sizeable lead with less than 10 laps to go when he narrowly had to avoid disaster. The No. 71 of Dave Marcis wrecked in the frontstretch just ahead of the No. 3 Chevrolet, forcing Earnhardt to take evasive maneuvers to get by.
On the ensuing restart with three laps to go, Earnhardt pulled the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet out front by another sizeable distance as Alan Kulwicki, Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte battled for the second spot behind him.
Taking the checkered flag, Earnhardt scored the first points-paying win at Daytona International Speedway both for himself and RCR.
“Nothing makes up for the Daytona 500, but man it sure feels good to win a Daytona 400,” a smiling Richard Childress told ESPN on pit road. “We feel great. These guys are just super.”
Despite the disappointment of losing the race on the final lap in February, Childress said he was never worried his driver would let another slip away but wasn’t ready to celebrate until he crossed the start-finish line.
“We’ve seen that rodeo before, with the last-lap deal,” he said. “We never count it until he gets that checkered flag.”
The victory was the No. 3 team’s fifth of the 1990 season, its first at Daytona and one of nine total wins during the 1990 season, leading to the team’s third NASCAR Cup Series championship.
“Well, that was a good one,” Earnhardt told Dr. Jerry Punch. “The guys worked hard all day. The car was as good as it was in February. We just sort of cringed there at that last caution. We had a couple of laps to run yet and we were worried about Alan (Kulwicki) having enough to race with us. We got a good jump on him there on the restart and the car did a great job.”
When asked if he was worried at all about a repeat of this dramatic flat tire on the last lap of February’s Daytona 500, Earnhardt smiled and told Dr. Punch he did all he could to not run over anything.
“I just ran sort of in the middle of the groove, I didn’t get too close to the edge on either side so I wouldn’t run over any debris. I didn’t want to take any chances,” Earnhardt said with a smile.