The 1998 DieHard 500 started off quite smoothly. There were only two
cautions, both of them due to debris on the track. Then, on lap 141, all hell broke
loose. A monstrous 20-car crash started in the tri-oval, eliminating several victory
contenders, including Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott. The race was red-flagged for
over 27 minutes while the track was cleared. Both Earnhardt and Elliott were
injured, but weren't hospitalized.
Earnhardt suffered second-degree burns to the left side of his neck and face.
He hair and mustache also was singed.
Asked how he felt as he was making his way toward his motorhome after leaving the
care center, Earnhardt said: "I'm hot."
Elliott was diagnosed with a a bruised sternum and was transported by ambulance to
the airport for "comfort reasons". Elliott walked into the infield medical
care center without assistance. He traveled on his own plane back to his home in
Blairsville, Ga. where his doctor, Jim Heaton, confirmed the injury.
Morgan Shepherd, Kyle Petty and Jerry Nadeau were also sent to the care center, but
were released and did not require treatment.
The accident occurred as the tightly bunched field raced through the trioval.
Ward Burton's Pontiac clipped the rear of Earnhardt's Chevrolet and turned it
sideways into Elliott's Ford. The driver's side of Elliott's car slammed into the
wall before flipping over on its roof. Earnhardt's car was pinned against Elliott's.
As Elliott's car slid down the track upside-down, flames were coming from the exhaust
pipe. Smoke and debris filled the air as cars spun and collided all over the track and the
tri-oval grass. Earnhardt, who still wears an open-faced helmet, had his face burned
and his goggles melted by the flames from Elliott's car.
"Just about the same thing happened to Elliott that happened to me here in
'96," Earnhardt said. "This is not good racing. You can talk about it all you
want, it's not good racing."
Earnhardt, who fractured his sternum and his collarbone in the crash two years ago,
added, "We can't keep running like this, running over each other like this."
When the red flag period was over, the field ran seven caution laps before the race
resumed. On lap 165 (of 188) Kyle Petty climbed into Earnhardt's car after the
Goodwrench crew had finished some extensive repairs. The beat-up Chevy was missing
its hood and all front sheet metal. Kyle made two laps around the track. Then,
Kyle pitted and gave the seat to Joe Nemechek. Nemechek made a few laps in the car before
he was black flagged because the car was too slow to meet NASCAR's minimum speed
requirement. The team was forced to take a DNF (their first DNF in 53
races). Bobby Labonte eventually took the checkered flag, edging a
fast-approaching Jimmy Spencer by .167 seconds.
After the race, Ward Burton said he thought his car's left front got on the apron
of the frontstretch just a little and that got him loose.
"I was getting off the throttle quick and I think I slid up a little bit and
got into the back of the 3 car (Earnhardt)," Burton said. "I was in the side of
him. I didn't get him by much, but hell, it doesn't take much. I feel really awful
about it. Of course, it's nothing I would do on purpose by any means, particularly
the 3 car."
This is the second straight race at Talladega in which Dale was involved in a major
accident Dale fell another position in the point standings, and now holds ninth