Winning the Daytona 500 meant quite a bit to “The Intimidator.” But for two decades, despite all the titles he earned and the massive amount of Cup Series races he won, Earnhardt could never win NASCAR’s biggest race, until 1998 anyway when he finally broke through.
But up to that point, Dale Earnhardt had some crazy things happen to him at Daytona, including a two-year stretch to start the 1990s in which a small piece of engine debris on the track cost him a victory and a two-collision day where he not only collided with a couple of fellow drivers but also a seagull.
A small piece of engine debris cost Dale Earnhardt Sr. a victory at the 1990 Daytona 500
The 1990 Daytona 500 was certainly an interesting day. Daytona is obviously always a big day for NASCAR but that particular race was unique as two drivers weren’t even truly competing as they were only running 100 of the 200 laps to get some footage for Days of Thunder, the Tom Cruise NASCAR film that was released that summer.
As for the actual race, Dale Earnhardt Sr. owned it, leading 155 laps and seemingly on his way to finally win the race that every NASCAR driver dreams of winning. At that time, Earnhardt had three Cup Series titles to his name and would win his fourth that season. But once again, he’d so without winning the Daytona 500.
With a sizable lead heading into the final lap, Earnhardt was seemingly going to cruise (pardon the Days of Thunder pun there) to victory. But about midway through that last lap, he ran over a small piece of metal bell housing that had settled onto the track a few laps earlier when Rick Wilson lost his engine.
Earnhardt hit the debris and shredded his right rear tire, forcing him to let off the throttle. Derrike Cope, who’d never even won a single race on the Cup Series, raced past to claim his first victory as three others also drive by as Earnhardt limped home to finish fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. annihilated a seagull on the second lap of the 1991 Daytona 500
After winning his fourth NASCAR Cup Series points title in 1990, Dale Earnhardt Sr. came into the 1991 Daytona 500 as the favorite and began the race in fifth position.
But just two laps into the race, a freak accident occurred as an old-school problem became an immediate problem for “The Intimidator.” Back when NASCAR would hold races on the beach in Daytona, seagulls were obviously an issue and there’s no telling how many were slaughtered back in the old days. But when Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, that problem went away…until 1991 anyway.
On the second lap, a seagull flew down to the action and got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as Earnhardt annihilated it with his famous No. 3. While some feathers obviously went flying into the air, the majority of the bird got wedged into the grill, which blocked air from getting into the engine, which easily could have caused the motor to overheat. Luckily for Earnhardt and his crew, that didn’t happen and the seagull was removed when he made a pit stop on lap 32.
But that wasn’t the only collision Dale Earnhardt Sr. would have that day.
‘The Intimidator’ collided with Davey Allison and Kyle Petty with two laps remaining
Dale Earnhardt Sr. easily recovered from the seagull incident and went on to lead 46 laps of the 1991 Daytona 500. With seven laps remaining, he was out in front of the field but was passed by Ernie Irvan, who went on to win the race.
Earnhardt was battling Davey Allison for the No. 2 spot as the race came to a close but with just two laps remaining, Earnhardt got loose just after the second turn and tapped Allison, who hit the wall before spinning out and ending up on the infield. As for Earnhardt, he got completely turned around and was hit hard by Kyle Petty, whose car actually flew for a brief moment after the collision.
The race ended under caution and for the second year in a row, Dale Earnhardt Sr. finished fifth.
Race stats courtesy of Racing Reference