Earnhardt History
1980 Season
First Winston Cup Championship

1980 Season

Starts 31
Wins 5
Top 5's 19
Top 10's 24
Points Rank 1
Crew Chief:
Jake Elder until May, then Doug Richert
Car Owner:
Rod Osturlund
Car Makes:
Chevy Monte Carlo, mixed with Olds Cutlass
Car No: 2
Sponsor: Mike Curb Productions

 

 

At Osturlund Racing, more than just the cars were being prepared for the beginning of the 1980 season.   Car owner Rod Osturlund and driver Dale Earnhardt sat down to talk about the future, and Dale, who a year before had been in debt and struggling while trying to find a way to move his career from the Sportsman ranks to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, was about to finally feel secure about his future. Rod and Dale put together an five-year contract that insured Earnhardt's future in stock car racing's major league.

When the season started, Earnhardt and his young group of stalwarts at Osturlund were going from race to race, trying to win every event and putting up some incredible results for a team with a second-year driver.  Meanwhile, drivers like Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, who normally would be in control of the series, were sorting through problems.

The Osturlund team had given no thought to challenging for the title at the beginning of the season, especially since no driver had ever won the championship as early as his second year of competition. The crew was inexperienced in a title run, and everyone expected the blue and yellow cars to have problems with consistency - the key to winning a championship on a 31-event schedule. But Dale surprised everyone when he took the point lead after collecting a second-place finish at Riverside and a fourth in the Daytona 500. Earnhardt never looked back.

Race after race the team ran up front, and the points for the championship came in gobs. Earnhardt won his first career superspeedway at Atlanta in the spring; he beat Rusty Wallace - in Rusty's NASCAR Winston Cup debut - by more than nine seconds. Earnhardt won again the following week at Bristol.

Dale's crew chief, Jake Elder, walked away from the team following the World 600 at Charlotte. Pit road-watchers expected the Osturlund effort to fall on its face. But 20-year-old Doug Richert stepped up as crew chief and more than met the demands of leading the team. The Chevrolets never missed a beat.

Richard Petty was the first to make a run at Earnhardt, but a string of engine failures late in the season ended his hopes. Then, Cale Yarborough leveled both barrels at Earnhardt in the stretch run. But Dale's hugely popular win at the National 500 at his home track, Charlotte, blunted Cale's charge and propelled the Osturlund team through the final three races of the season. Cale did win at Rockingham and Atlanta and had closed to within 29 points heading into the final race at Ontario. Yarborough charged to a third-place finish in the final race of the season, but Earnhardt finished fifth at the southern California track, gaining just enough points to hold onto the lead and claim the title. Dale, who wrapped up five wins that season, had won his first championship by 19 points.

1980The young and aggressive team had accomplished what few had expected. With a "just win" attitude and working against all odds - including a crew chief shuffle in mid-season - the Osturlund "kids" parried every thrust by tried and proven championship teams. No one had told them they weren't supposed to win the title. The team's game plan never changed: try to win every race, and if they couldn't, obtain the best finish possible. The wins and top-10 finishes came with regularity, and the "meltdown" that the team's competitors had expected in the midst of the torrid stretch run to the championship never materialized. It was a brilliant display of driving, preparation, and team chemistry that obviously was missing from several other teams during the season.

In the final stages of the season, the Osturlund team proudly announced sponsorship for the coming year from Wrangler. The Wrangler name even appeared on the car at Ontario. Osturlund's normal blue and yellow colors were a perfect fit for the clothing manufacturer, and by having its name on the Chevrolet during the event in which the team had nailed down the NASCAR Winston Cup championship, Wrangler enjoyed the added benefit of a winter of "free advertising"!

 

WC History 1980 -- Earnhardt Rising_5/14
A three-page article about the 1980 seasons of Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. Article.

 



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