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 annual NASCAR Throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is upon us, and the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets will be decked out in their throwback wraps, the crew uniforms will be a nod to NASCAR’s past and everyone involved is gearing up for one of the most enjoyable and memorable weekends of the NASCAR season.
This year, Darlington Raceway has focused on the 1990-1994 era of NASCAR, a time when Richard Childress Racing, Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3 team were the ones to beat week-in and week-out.
During that era, RCR earned four championships, 24 wins, 75 top-five and 105 top-10 finishes. At Darlington alone during that time span, Earnhardt and RCR combined for four wins, including a sweep of the 1990 races.
For this week’s NASCAR Throwback Weekend Throwback Thursday, we will be looking at the 1990 Southern 500, which locked in the season sweep for Earnhardt at Darlington. This was the second time the RCR bunch swept the Darlington races in a season, the first taking place during the 1987 championship season.
The victory also marked Earnhardt’s sixth win in 10 Darlington starts. The ‘Lady in Black’ may be ‘Too Tough To Tame,’ but Earnhardt and the RCR group sure put her to the test.
Earnhardt and the No. 3 team did all they could to put themselves in position to contend for the win throughout the annual Labor Day Weekend test of man and machine by capturing the pole award and leading the field to the green flag.
Starting out front, Earnhardt kept the lead for the first 42 laps of the 367-lap event. However, the No. 3 team’s struggles began the first time they hit pit road. As the team completed work on the right side of the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, the car fell off the jack, slowing the stop and losing the lead for Earnhardt and miring him mid-pack.
The determined Earnhardt worked his way back through the field and into contention, but the car was too tight to threaten for the lead. The team’s second stop of the day was clean, but the adjustment to free the car up went too far and on the ensuing run Earnhardt struggled mightily with the handling of the car.
The handling issues continued, as Earnhardt bobbled in the middle of the corner while racing with Hut Stricklin and Kyle Petty less than 150 laps into the race, smacking the outside wall with the right side of the car.
Despite the heavy contact, Earnhardt refused to give in as he remained in the top 10 and kept battling for positions through the first half of the race.
When the race restarted on Lap 260, Earnhardt had muscled his way back to the second position behind Bill Elliott. As the race neared the 300-lap mark, Earnhardt took advantage of Elliott’s older tires to take the lead for the first time since Lap 42.
However, Earnhardt had to deal with a hard-charging Ernie Irvan, who had one of the strongest cars of the day and was fresh off a win at Bristol Motor Speedway. Irvan retook the lead and Earnhardt brought the No. 3 Chevrolet in for the final green-flag pit stop of the day.
The pit strategy timing and new tires gave Earnhardt an advantage over Irvan and the rest of the competition. As the green flag pit stops cycled through, Ricky Rudd gave up the lead to come in for service, which put the No. 3 Chevrolet back out front on Lap 314.
Despite working his way back to the lead, the potential pitfalls were still lingering for Earnhardt. With more than a straightway between him and the battle for second, Earnhardt radioed the crew to warn them he felt a tire was equalizing and causing a vibration. The crew jumped on the pit wall in anticipation of Earnhardt, but they would never have to service the car.
After maintaining his lap times and the gap to second, Earnhardt told the crew he was staying on track despite the concern. The tires held up and so did Earnhardt’s lead over the competition. Taking the checkered flag by 4.19 seconds over Irvan, Earnhardt sealed the RCR sweep of Darlington in 1990 and became only the second driver to win back-to-back Southern 500s.
"This team never gives up. Dale, he had a tire equalize, and he kept on getting it. It was just a great day. We just want to thank R.J. Reynolds for putting up the extra $100,000," team owner Richard Childress said on pit road after the win.
Earnhardt also picked up a hefty paycheck for the day, with the bonus money for winning from the pole, additional bonus money from R.J. Reynolds and the winner’s purse, however, it wasn’t the money the ‘Intimidator’ was worried about when he climbed from the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in Victory Lane.
"Did we pick up any points on Mark?" he asked ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch.
In the back of Earnhardt’s mind throughout the day was the ever-tightening points battle with Mark Martin. The Roush Racing driver struggled all race, spinning twice and trying all he could to avoid trouble. When Earnhardt took the victory, his seventh of the 1990 season, he narrowed the points gap to just 26 with the pressure mounting on Martin.
"I was holding my breath," said Earnhardt. "The car developed a vibration like it had an equalized tire. I was worried about it, but it made it all the way. I don’t know what it was.
"That’s what we wanted, we want to gain every race," Earnhardt said of narrowing the gap on Martin in the points.
With two more wins in the final weeks of the year, Earnhardt and the No. 3 RCR team were able to secure their third Cup Series championship in five years.