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 Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend for the second 400-mile event of the season at the 2-mile, D-shaped oval. Richard Childress Racing has three wins, 25 top-five and 58 top-10 finishes at Michigan International Speedway, and this weekend Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric look to add to those strong numbers.
Team owner Richard Childress earned two top-10 finishes as a driver at Michigan, but Ricky Rudd delivered RCR’s first top-five finish at Michigan in June 1982.
Dale Earnhardt scored the organization’s first win in 1987, then took them back to Victory Lane in 1990. RCR returned to Victory Lane at Michigan in 2010, when Kevin Harvick earned his third win of the season for the No. 29 team.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we will take a look at Earnhardt’s 1987 victory.
The defending Cup Series champions, Earnhardt and the No. 3 team started the 1987 season off on the right foot and showing the competition they were ready to win another title.
After a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500, the No. 3 team knocked off six wins in the first eight races. The team earned wins at Rockingham, Richmond, Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville, recording a worst-finish of 16th in Atlanta.
Heading into the race weekend in Michigan, Earnhardt and the team knew they had to beat some of the best if they wanted to record their seventh win of the season. Bill Elliott had won three-straight 400-mile events at Michigan, while Tim Richmond had entered the weekend scoring two wins in a row after coming back from an illness the year before.
Starting in the fifth position, Earnhardt was quite for the opening stages of the race while pole-sitter Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott battled for the lead.
When the caution flew for the first time for a wreck involving H.B. Bailey, the Junkyard Dogs pit crew got Earnhardt out front and in command of the race lead, where he would remain for the majority of the race.
The blue-and-yellow No. 3 Chevrolet remained out front for 152 of the next 163 laps, including the final 71 circuits.
The win was not a cakewalk for Earnhardt, however, as he had to deal with a young rookie named Davey Allison. The second-generation member of the Alabama Gang shocked the series by winning two races in his first year at NASCAR’s top level. Looking for another win, Allison’s No. 28 put the pressure on Earnhardt’s No. 3 over the final few laps.
Still, the pressure was not enough as Earnhardt kept Allison at bay to score the victory, despite a hard charge by the No. 28 to get side-by-side in the final corner. As Earnhardt took the checkered flag, Childress and the crew jumped up and down in celebration on pit road.
“We beat them today. The car ran great all day. Davey was getting tough at the end,” Earnhardt told Chris Economacki in Victory Lane.
“We had something going on with the fuel system, it was cutting off halfway down the straightaway a little bit and fluttering, but we held on anyway,” he said.
“It means a lot to Chevrolet to win here at Michigan for the first time in a long time. We’ve been working awfully hard on this Monte Carlo and Chevrolet helped us out with some tests we did up here and the car drove fine,” Earnhardt said. “Richard and Lou (LaRosa, engine builder) and all they guys, they just did a super job.”
The win was the first for RCR and Earnhardt at Michigan, the sixth of the season and extended Earnhardt’s lead in the series standings. Earnhardt would finish second in the year’s second trip to MIS, but the team would go on to win a total of 11 races during their 1987 championship season.