It was a rivalry for the ages from the time Jeff Gordon entered NASCAR in 1993, with fans quickly picking their side between either the flashy young driver from California or the gritty legend from North Carolina.
And fans of Dale Earnhardt? Well they couldn’t stand Jeff Gordon.
Even after his death in 2001, the Intimidator’s fans couldn’t bring themselves to cheer for the Rainbow Warrior, despite cementing himself as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time.
So when Jeff Gordon passed Dale Earnhardt for all-time wins in the NASCAR Cup Series?
Yeah, those Earnhardt fans weren’t happy.
It was on this day in 2007 during the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. Gordon entered the day tied with the NASCAR legend for all-time wins at 76 apiece. And all eyes were on Gordon, because everybody knew that he was eventually going to pass Earnhardt in the record books. It was just a matter of when.
The race at NASCAR’s longest track went into overtime, with the field getting one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish to settle the score.
Gordon brought the field to the green flag, with his teammate Jimmie Johnson trying to catch him for the win. As the cars were getting up to speed to finish the last two laps of the race, carnage broke out in turns 1 & 2 behind the leaders, with Greg Biffle and Johnny Sauter crashing into the wall at the same time as Tony Stewart and David Gilliland made contact and went around.
The field was frozen at the moment the caution came out. Jeff Gordon was the winner.
Oh, and to make matters worse for Earnhardt fans? Jeff Gordon had just passed their guy in the record books on what would have been the Intimidator’s 56th birthday.
Gotta think Earnhardt fans weren’t gonna be happy about that one.
Well, they weren’t.
Although Dale Jr. pulled up beside Gordon to congratulate him on his win and passing his dad on the all-time wins list, the notoriously-rowdy fans at Talladega still decided to show their displeasure with Gordon – by pelting his car with beer cans, middle fingers flying in the air, as he celebrated.
It wasn’t a good look for the track or the sport, which ultimately arrested 14 people for throwing debris on to the track and banned them from buying tickets for future events at the track.
Gordon would go on to win four more races that season (including the fall race at Talladega), but he would ultimately fall short of the championship, losing to teammate Jimmie Johnson – the man who would ultimately go on to tie Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty’s record of seven Cup championships.