Nine wins and 4th championship
|Car No: 3
|Sponsor: GM Goodwrench
For Dale Earnhardt, who had retreated immediately into the woods for a little
deer hunting following the completion of the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup season, there was
plenty of time to analyze what had gone wrong. His frustration grew when he realized
that he has essentially lost the title at North Wilkesboro because he had not looked at
the big picture. On that Sunday afternoon, his battle with Ricky Rudd on the final
lap was about victory - but not victory in the overall points battle. Instead of
regaining the point lead over Rusty Wallace that afternoon, he had lost another two points
on the leader. Angry with himself, he fired his gun into the ground.
And from that moment on, Dale was a dedicated
soul. He would come roaring out of the blocks, overcome a disappointing final lap at
Daytona and lead his team on its quest for another championship. This time, he was
clearly focused on the title rather than winning a single race. He had watched Rusty
claim the one million dollar champion's bonus at the Waldorf-Astoria, and he was
determined to retake the champion's table at center stage when it came time for the
festivities next December.
Earnhardt and the Richard Childress team's
determination to come out of the box smoking had been evident to everyone in the Daytona
garage. The black Goodwrench Chevrolet was the dominant car throughout Speedweeks.
Dale looked like he had his first Daytona 500 victory in hand until he cut a tire
on the final lap and skated high in the third turn. Derrike Cope's Chevrolet whipped
by Earnhardt, leaving his with another Daytona disappointment. Dale managed to bring
his Chevrolet home fifth. It was a heartbreaking loss, but there was little question
in anyone's mind that the team was on a quest.
At Atlanta, Dale finally moved to the top of the
points table with his first victory of the season. Mark Martin was 175 points behind
Earnhardt as the teams headed for Darlington. There, Mark only fell further behind
when Dale won his second straight race.
Earnhardt led the point battle after the
Coca-Cola 600. Early in the Budweiser 500 at Dover, Dale broke the engine in his
Goodwrench Chevy early in the race, but with a determined effort, his team was able to
repair the motor in just over 90 minutes. Earnhardt returned to the track after the
outstanding work by his crew and picked up 12 more points than he would have earned had he
stayed in the garage. Unfortunately for Dale, it wasn't enough - he lost the point
lead to Morgan Shepherd.
A couple of races after Dover, Dale streaked to
a pair of consecutive wins at Daytona and Pocono, followed by a win a couple of weeks
after that in the DieHard 500 at Talladega.
The championship clearly had come down to the
two drivers -- everyone else was too far behind to challenge. Dale picked up his
second-straight Heinz Southern 500 in Darlington and a win in Richmond the following race.
When the teams arrived at Charlotte, the point lead that Martin had held for months
had shrunk to 16 points.
Both teams struggled at Charlotte and
Rockingham. At Charlotte, Dale lost a rear tire on pit road when his lug nuts
weren't tightened. His crew, tools and tires in hand, dashed down to the turn one
apron and put a new tire on the Chevrolet. Davey Allison won the race, while Martin
increased his lead to 49 points.
Two races later in Phoenix, Martin still had the
point lead, 45 points ahead of Dale in the championship battle. But Earnhardt won
the Checker 500 in dominant style. Martin, on the other hand, had to make an
emergency pit stop late in the race. As a result, Dale left Phoenix with a six point
For the season finale in Atlanta, the Ford teams
left no stones unturned to help Mark win the title. He tested no less than six cars
prior to the race, before settling on a car that belonged to Robert Yates Racing.
Earnhardt, meanwhile, was calm and cool, treating the race no differently than he would
treat any other race. Martin was only able to finish sixth, while a calm Earnhardt
coasted to a third place finish. Earnhardt had won his fourth title by 24 points.
On his way to a record $3.3 million season,
Earnhardt also claimed the $100,000 "consolation" bonus for winning two of the
three events counting for the Winston Million. The cut tire at Daytona on the final
lap of the season-opening race kept him from claiming the Million. He had won at
Talladega and Darlington in two of the other three races counting for the huge bonus.
Copyright © 2000 The Earnhardt Connection
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