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 fall race in Phoenix, now ISM Raceway, has been the site of some intense championship battles over the course of NASCAR history.
One of the most contested was the 1990 battle between Richard Childress Racing’s Dale Earnhardt and Roush Racing’s Mark Martin. That title fight came to a culmination on November 4 in the Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Entering that event, Martin held a 45-point advantage over Earnhardt in the series standings. If he could finish third or better in the final two events, the driver of the No. 6 Ford would have earned his first NASCAR Cup Series trophy.
Earnhardt and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team had other plans.
Intimidation on and off the track seemed to upset the No. 6 team’s strategy going into the weekend, where Martin struggled to find the right handling to get around the tricking one-mile track.
Earnhardt qualified third, while Martin started eighth. After pole-sitter Rusty Wallace paced the field for the first 50 laps, Earnhardt moved the No. 3 Chevrolet to the lead and never gave it up again. He dominated the event leading the final 262 laps, earning bonus points for leading a lap and for leading the most laps.
When the second-to-last caution of the day flew on Lap 297, Martin’s crew called him to pit road from the fourth position for four fresh tires to help make up ground on Earnhardt and to get back in the race. The move backfired, however, as he was never able to gain back those positions lost and finished 10th.
The victory was the No. 3 team’s ninth of the season and propelled Earnhardt into the series points lead by a margin of six points heading into the final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We made a little adjustment early, but from then on it was just pretty much home free,” Richard Childress told the television broadcast after the win.
Climbing from the car in Victory Lane, Earnhardt knew he did all he could do to move around Martin and position himself and the team to go for their third championship together.
“We’re ahead by a little bit,” Earnhardt said. “I’d rather be ahead than behind. I think we can go down there and put the pressure on them. We’ll be down there testing with them and see what they’ve got and see what we can do.”
The mind games continued during the week, when the RCR group wrapped up their test within hours and left early, while the Roush team struggled and scrambled with multiple cars and multiple setups over multiple days of testing.
In the season’s final race in Atlanta, Earnhardt out-qualified and out-raced Martin once again, leading 42 laps and finishing third in the process. With Martin’s sixth-place finish, it was enough for the No. 3 team to score their third championship by a margin of 26 points.