The NASCAR Cup Series rolls into its biggest track once again on Sunday for the YellaWood 500, and with 12 drivers left to compete for 8 playoff positions, it’s sure to be a wild one.
But you can’t really talk about Talladega without talking about one name: Dale Earnhardt.
The Intimidator. There will never be another one like him in NASCAR.
7 Cup championships. 76 wins. But maybe none more impressive than his final win, which came nearly 23 years ago at Talladega Superspeedway on October 15, 2000.
There are certain races from his career that Dale Earnhardt fans will just always remember.
There was the 1998 Daytona 500, when he finally broke a 20-year winless streak in NASCAR’s biggest race. There wasthe “Pass in the Grass” during the 1987 Winston All-Star Race. And the bump-and-run on Terry Labonte on the last lap at Bristol in 1999.
But of all of his wins, none may be more impressive than what would turn out to be his last one.
Earnhardt was Mr. Restrictor Plate: He won more races at Daytona and Talladega, the two tracks that used restrictor plates on the engines to slow the car’s speeds, than any other NASCAR driver in the 1990s.
His car owner Richard Childress even claimed that Dale could see the air moving around the cars.
And watching Dale work his way through the pack that day, you’ve got to think Childress may have been right.
Earnhardt’s black #3 Chevrolet was beat up by the end of the race. He had had a bad pit stop before the last restart that left him stuck back in the field. And the laps were winding down.
But none of that would matter.
With 6 laps to go, Earnhardt got a push from his off-track friend Kenny Wallace and the two began to move up to the front of the field, slicing his way from 18th position to take the lead just before the final lap.
Wallace had his teammate Joe Nemechek behind him to give him a push if he decided to jump out of line to try to pass the 3 car for the lead – but he didn’t realize who it was in his rearview mirror, because he didn’t recognize Nemechek’s special-edition Charlie Daniels paint scheme.
Earnhardt would go on to win what would turn out to be his final Winston Cup race (and a cool million dollars thanks to the No Bull 5 bonus), but would tragically lose his life just four months later at the 2001 Daytona 500.
But for one final time, 21 years ago today, Dale Earnhardt proved why he was one of the best to ever climb into a NASCAR racecar.
It’s a moment that NASCAR fans still talk about – and one guys like Eric Church still pay tribute to today: