Earnhardt History
1986 Season
First title with Richard Childress

1986 Season

Races 29
Wins 5
Top 5's 16
Top 10's 23
Points Pos. 1
Crew Chief:
Kirk Shelmerdine
Car Owner:
Richard Childress
Car Make:
Chevy Monte Carlo
Car No: 3
Sponsor: Wrangler

 

 

In 1986 Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress were together with Wrangler's colors for a third year.  Dale looked certain to pick up his first Daytona 500 victory.  But just three laps from the end, he ran out of gas, and Geoff Bodine streaked past him to the win.

Perhaps the biggest headline for Dale in the season came from a race he didn't even win.  At Richmond, Darrell Waltrip tried to dive past Earnhardt for the lead with just three laps to go.  After dominating the race, Earnhardt wasn't having any of it.  He clipped Darrell in the third turn, resulting in a four-car accident.  Kyle Petty parted the wreck to take the checkered flag.  Earnhardt recovered from the guardrail to finish third behind Joe Ruttman.   Darrell was fifth.  Dale was fined $5,000 for "reckless driving", put on probation for the remainder of the year, and would be required to post a $10,000 bond before he could compete again.  Under appeal, his fine was reduced to $3,000 and the probation and bond were dropped.

Darrell Waltrip had the points lead early in the season.  But Earnhardt moved to the top of the ladder after the ninth race of the season with his second-place finish in the Winston 500.  Once there, Dale was not displaced from the top for the remainder of the season.

Being at the top of the point standings after the Pepsi Firecracker 400 also had an added bonus for Earnhardt and the Childress team.   He claimed the mid-season point fund bonus for the leader in the point race -   a sweet $150,000.

While Tim Richmond drew all the attention in the second half of the season, Earnhardt and Waltrip were locked in what seemed like mortal combat.  The two Chevrolet drivers were fighting tooth-and-nail for the championship.

Earnhardt was delighted to see himself in in a position to finally win himself a second title.  It had been a long time since 1980 - and there had been a lot of ups and downs since then.  The Rod Osturlund team had been sold to Jim Stacy, Dale had left and gone to Childress, and then moved to Bud Moore's cars, which he drove for two years.  Finally, he had gone back to Childress' Chevrolet team and spent the last two years building Richard's team into a championship contender.  Earnhardt was not about to let all that work go to waste, and he was as determined to win the championship as Darrell was.

Dale's World 600 win was as immensely popular in Charlotte, where legions of his fans lived.  He wasn't able to win again until the fall Charlotte race, but in the 14 races in between, he worked hard to finish as high as he could in every race.  He led by 259 points after the second Pocono race.  His win in the October Charlotte race put him clearly in command of the title race.  The battle for the NASCAR Winston Cup title was wrapped up as early as Atlanta when Darrell fell from the race with a blown engine, ending any hope he had of catching Earnhardt.   Dale's response was a convincing victory - he had led all but three of the final 138 laps.  It was the first time since 1978 that the championship had been decided before the final race of the season.

The margin between the two drivers after the Riverside event was 288 points.  Darrell barely held onto second place, finishing a mere six points ahead of Richmond.

For Earnhardt and Childress, the New York banquet was a week-lond celebration of their triumph.  Richard had never won a race during his Winston Cup driving career, and he had certainly enjoyed living vicariously through Dale.  In his best season as a driver, he had won just over $157,000.   This year, his driver had won nearly that much just for leading the point standings and the mid-point of the year.  Dale's winnings in 1986 was a new record, totaling more than $1.7 million.  The championship was also a first for crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine and engine builder Lou LaRosa.  Lou had built engines for Dale at Osturlund in 1980 but left the team before Earnhardt claimed the championship.

 



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