First title with Richard Childress
Chevy Monte Carlo
|Car No: 3
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
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.
Copyright © 2000 The Earnhardt Connection
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