The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls into Talladega, Ala., this weekend for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500. Most of the remaining 12 Chase drivers are probably on proverbial pins and needles heading into the biggest wild card race, in more ways than one, of the Chase, well, except for maybe Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Logano’s the only driver who heads into Talladega with Chase advancement guaranteed beyond the race where anything can happen. As for Earnhardt, well, he just loves Talladega and is confident, despite the near-certainty of the “big one” that can jump out to bite pretty much anybody, pretty much anywhere, at pretty much anytime throughout the race.
One fond memory of Talladega for a lot of NASCAR fans stars an Earnhardt, but not Earnhardt Jr. His late father, seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt pulled off a spectacular late-race run to a win, so unbelievable that the likes of it may never be seen again. Then, though, race fans and his fellow-competitors didn’t know it would be the “Intimidator’s” last trip to victory lane, the 76th to be exact. It was his 10th Cup win at Talladega.
On Oct. 15, 2000, Earnhardt claimed that last win in the Winston 500. But more memorable than the victory lane celebration at the end was the drive to the front in the final laps, with a little help from Kenny Wallace, then driving for NASCAR team -owner-turned-television-broadcaster Andy Petree, who just so happened to be a former crew chief of Earnhardt’s.
For those who weren’t NASCAR fans either glued to their couches at home or in the grandstands at Talladega on that October day back in 2000, or those who somehow don’t remember the details, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version, so to speak:
Earnhardt was running 18th with four laps to go. With drafting help from Wallace, they drove up through the field in those final four laps to score the win for Earnhardt and a runner-up finish for Wallace. Wallace never managed to get to victory lane at the Sprint (then-Winston) Cup level, but for him and fans of his, that trip to the front with Earnhardt and Talladega is probably at least almost as memorable as a win. For Earnhardt, the win also meant a win of a No Bull 5 $1 million bonus.
That late-race run was so spectacular, Earnhardt didn’t even seem to believe it in victory lane after the race.
“It was wild,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t have any thought that I have a chance of winning this race, starting where I did on that restart.”
Earnhardt, himself, not thinking he had a chance to win? That, in itself, should tell you something. Maybe the legend was true; maybe Earnhardt really could see the air. For some reason, when I think of that legend, I think of that scene in the ESPN move, “3″ where Earnhardt tells Neil Bonnett while on a hunting trip that it’s like he could see the air and Bonnett kind of gives him a hard time about it. But that’s beside the point.
Check out our photo gallery of images from that memorable race at Talladega (photos courtesy of ISC Archives/Getty Images):
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