Throughout the early 1990s, Dale Earnhardt was to NASCAR what the Dallas Cowboys were to the NFL — utterly, utterly dominant. He won four Winston cup titles in the first five seasons of the decade. Only a relatively dismal 12th-place finish in 1992 prevented him from a then-unprecedented five consecutive championships.
In fact, Earnhardt’s quest for what would have been his third consecutive championship and sixth overall was doomed before it even got off the ground.
Dale Earnhardt does damage control
On Nov. 17, 1991, Dale Earnhardt secured his second straight Winston Cup title and his fifth overall. He had accrued such a massive points lead at this point that he only needed to start the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to clinch the championship.
Despite the 195-point margin of victory, Earnhardt’s title did not come easy. In the preceding weeks, various unsavory rumors about his personal life spread through the NASCAR garage and into the press. According to the Daily Press, the most common rumor had Earnhardt involved in a relationship with his car owner Richard Childress’s 24-year-old daughter Tina. At the time, Dale was 41 years old.
After the race, in which Earnhardt finished fifth, both he and Childress called a news conference to dispel all rumors. Earnhardt, for his part, attributed them to jealousy.
“They couldn’t shake us up on the track, so somebody tried to shake us up off. It was a hair-brained idea,” said Earnhardt. “If I was running around with Richard’s daughter, he’d know about it.”
The 1992 season starts well but ends poorly
Earnhardt’s 1992 season got off to a decent, if unspectacular start. He would once again come up short at the Daytona 500, finishing ninth. He gradually rose through the points standings until finally grabbing his first win of the season at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Little did he know that it would be his only win of 1992.
After 12 races, he sat at second in the points standings. That was about as good as it got for Earnhardt. Mechanical troubles would plague the no. 3 team all season, with four races ending early due to a blown engine. Most embarrassingly, this happened after only seven laps at the July Daytona race.
By October, Earnhardt had fallen back to 14th in the standings, and any hope of a championship three-peat had gone out the window.
The Dale Earnhardt rumor mill keeps turning
Despite Dale Earnhardt’s best efforts dating back to the previous season, the rumor mill never stopped turning.
According to the Daily Press, Earnhardt’s underwhelming performance led to speculation that he could leave Richard Childress Racing after the 1992 season. This would have been a hard sell, as Earnhardt and Childress were close friends and he was under contract to RCR for at least the 1993 season. As it turned out, Earnhardt would drive for Childress until his untimely death, even after forming his own Cup Series team, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Some of the rumors listed in the linked article are rather hilarious in hindsight. One stated that he was a candidate to replace the soon-retiring Richard Petty in the famous no. 43. Another rumor suggests that Earnhardt could replace Ricky Rudd at Hendrick Motorsports.
An Earnhardt driving for Hendrick? Preposterous. Never gonna happen.