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Racing

After 20 Years, Dale Earnhardt FINALLY wins the Daytona 500 in 1998

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  • For two decades, success in stock car racing’s biggest race had eluded Dale Earnhardt.
  • It all came together in 1998.
  • Earnhardt led 107 of the 200 laps, including the final 61, sparking a wild celebration—in the stands and along pit road.

    Dale Earnhardt finally got the monkey off his back – literally.

    After celebrating his 1998 Daytona 500 win in Victory Lane, Earnhardt marched to the Daytona International Speedway press box for the winner’s interview. As he sat down, he pulled a stuffed monkey from his shoulder and tossed it across the room.

    “Finally got that monkey off my back!” Earnhardt said.

    Earnhardt’s win in the 500 was as much relief as joy. For two decades, success in stock car racing’s biggest race had eluded him—and by ways most foul. He had won everything else in sight and had reached pinnacles few other NASCAR racers had seen, but the sport’s marquee event had been beyond reach—this despite the fact that he had dominated in virtually every other sort of stock car event at the 2.5-mile track.

    Dale Earnhardt is all smiles after winning the 1998 Daytona 500.

    George TiedemannGetty Images

    It all came together in 1998. Earnhardt led 107 of the 200 laps, including the final 61, sparking a wild celebration—in the stands and along pit road.

    In one of the most remarkable post-race events in NASCAR history, crew members from every team lined up along pit road to congratulate Earnhardt as he slowly moved toward a long-awaited victory lane.

    Later, as he answered questions in the press box high atop the frontstretch grandstands, fans gathered on the grass infield below lined up to form his car number — 3, frantically waving to get Earnhardt’s attention.

    Rival teams line up to congratulate Earnhardt after his win in the 1998 Daytona 500.

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    He looked through the glass and gave them a thumbs up and a big smile.

    Before finally winning the 500, “The Intimidator” had already piled up an impressive list of victories at Daytona International Speedway. He won two summertime points races at Daytona, 11 Daytona 500 qualifying races, seven Xfinity Series races, six Budweiser Shootouts and four races in the International Race of Champions series.

    But never the 500.

    Earnhardt had finished second in three Daytona 500s. His best shot at victory before his win came in 1990, when he was leading until a flat tire on the last turn of the last lap dropped to fifth in what was to be Derrike Cope’s lone win at Daytona.

    In 1993, Earnhardt led the white-flag lap (and the 20 laps prior to that lap), but Dale Jarrett passed him on the final lap for the win.

    Earnhardt shared the victory with his fans in 1998.

    RacingOneGetty Images

    Earnhardt had finished second to Cale Yarborough in 1984, to Sterling Marlin in 1995 and to Dale Jarrett in 1996. In short, nobody had a better overall record at NASCAR’s most important track.

    “But I don’t think he ever believed he’d never win the 500,” Childress said soon after Earnhardt won in ’98. “He’d won enough other races down here to know he could win the 500, but there was always something that got in his way. A flat tire, a caution flag when he didn’t need it, a pit stop when he was leading . . . it was always something. That day, though, everything came together at the right time.

    “He was the happiest that day that I’d ever seen him.”

    Read the full article here

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