NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt’s Legendary “Pass In The Grass” In The 1987 All-Star Race

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It’s All-Star Weekend in NASCAR.

The best of the best will fight it out for $1 million tonight at Texas Motor Speedway. There are no points on the line – just bragging rights and cold hard cash.

The race features all previous race winners from the last year, as well as previous series champions and winners of the All-Star Race, and winners from a “play-in” Open race held immediately before the big show.

It’s all going down tonight, but before this year’s version of the event gets under way, I thought it was only fitting to go back and take a look at one of the greatest moments in the history of NASCAR’s All-Star Race.

The Pass In The Grass

The year was 1987. Back then the race was known as The Winston, and it was held annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway since its inception in 1985 until the pandemic hit and moved the event to Bristol in 2020 (except for the 1986 event, which was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway).

Bill Elliott sat on the pole for the 1987 Winston, and he led 121 laps of the 135-lap race.

But he didn’t lead the most important one.

That honor went to none other than the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, thanks to an impressive move with 8 laps to go in the race.

Earnhardt had managed to sneak by Elliott for the lead during a dust-up between Elliott and the #5 car of Geoff Bodine at the beginning of the third and final segment of the race.

Elliott wasn’t done though.

Once the race went back to green, Elliott once again worked his way up to challenge Earnhardt for the lead. As the pair came out of turn 4 with just 8 laps remaining until the checkered flag, Elliott put the bumper of his #9 Coors Ford into the left rear of Earnhardt’s #3 Wrangler Chevy, sending Earnhardt into the infield grass.

But Earnhardt never lifted.

Staying in the throttle and holding the wheel straight, Earnhardt somehow managed to keep his car pointed in the right direction and get back on the racetrack.

And he stayed in the lead.

Earnhardt and Elliott continued to beat and bang around the track until the contact finally cut down a tire on Elliott’s car and forced him to come to pit road, ending his chances of winning the race.

The Intimidator managed to pilot his #3 car to the checkered flag and take home the grand prize, which was $200,000 at the time.

Elliott wasn’t happy though.

The Aftermath

As the cars were making their way around the track back to pit road, Elliott once again found Earnhardt on the track and gave his car a shot in the driver’s side to express his displeasure with how Earnhardt raced him.

Earnhardt and Elliott would both be fined $10,000 by NASCAR for their aggressive driving during (and after) the race, but $7,500 was returned to the drivers for good behavior the following weeks.

So what did Earnhardt have to say about Elliott after the race?

“Well that was somethin’ else. You know, Bill spun that 5 car out, caused a big mess, and then he come up there and tried to spin me out twice.

I didn’t take it.” 

And how did Earnhardt manage to save the car as he went off into the infield, in the moment that’s now come to be known as the “Pass in the Grass?”

“I just held on to her. I did the best I could.”

Now, some NASCAR fans are quick to point out that the “pass in the grass” wasn’t REALLY a pass, because Earnhardt was already in the lead when he went off the track – like Bill Elliott’s son and NASCAR champion Chase Elliott.

But even if it wasn’t a pass, it was still some of the best driving and one of the most exciting moments in the sport’s history, a fact that isn’t lost on Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr.

“Now, I regard that as one of the most incredible races I’ve ever watched, and when I go back and watch that final segment, Bill’s car was incredibly fast. My dad did everything he could in his power to keep Bill from passing him – no matter what.

Was some of it a little aggressive? Absolutely.”

Aggressive? Sure.

Exciting? You bet your ass it was.

We can only hope that this year’s edition of the All-Star Race produces a moment as exciting as the Pass in the Grass.

But until the race starts, we can still watch Earnhardt’s incredible move from back in 1987.

And if you want to see a full replay of the race, you can still watch that too.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock