Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon Once Engaged in an Epic Battle at Darlington, Where Both Had Dominating Runs During Their Careers
There are few racers in NASCAR history more successful than Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon. The two combined to win 169 Cup Series races, 11 points titles, and both are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Of those combined 169 victories, 16 of them came at famed Darlington Raceway, a track both dominated during their respective careers and also a track that served as the setting for an epic showdown between the two legends in 1995.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. dominated Darlington Raceway from 1982 to 1994
Over the course of his 27-year career in the NASCAR Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt Sr. made 44 starts at Darlington Raceway, tied for the 14th-most in history. “The Intimidator” captured his first victory at “The Lady in Black” in 1982 and went on a dominating run at the track over the next dozen years, winning eight more checkered flags on the 1.366-mile oval, his final win coming at what was then known as the TranSouth Financial 400, the shorter of the two annual races at Darlington.
Later in the year, Earnhardt finished second behind Bill Elliott in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and went on to win his seventh and final Cup Series points title. The following year, Earnhardt was again in contention at the Southern 500 and engaged in an epic battle down the stretch with the man that would not only become the next dominant racer in NASCAR but also the next dominant racer at Darlington Raceway, none other than Jeff Gordon.
Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon engaged in an epic battle at Darlington Raceway at the 1995 Southern 500
Following a runner-up finish in March 1995 at the TranSouth Financial 400, Earnhardt was seen as the favorite for September’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and began the race in third position. Just behind him in fifth position was Gordon, who’d held the pole in March but finished 32nd after a crash prematurely ended his day.
Earnhardt dominated the first two-thirds of the Southern 500, leading 183 of the first 250 laps. Gordon was running solidly as well but spun out on lap 136, dropping him from fourth to 13th. A separate accident brought out the caution flag, allowing Gordon’s crew to make the necessary repairs while still on the lead lap.
Gordon dropped to 15th at one point but as the race went on, he charged through the field to close the gap on Earnhardt, who’d opened up a 12-second lead. Gordon moved into second on lap 227 of the 367-lap race and climbed into the lead during a series of yellow flags. However, a deflated tire forced Gordon to pit, shuffling the running order, but he again moved into the lead with 34 laps remaining.
Down the stretch, Gordon built a four-second lead while Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace battled behind him. Earnhardt, who ended up leading 208 total laps, nudged out Wallace for second and closed the gap on Gordon but came up just short, 0.66 seconds short to be exact, as “The Rainbow Warrior” captured his sixth victory of the season.
Two weeks later, Gordon won at Dover and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series title with 4,614 points. Earnhardt, who won two of the season’s final six races, including the finale in Atlanta, finished second with 4,580.
The win began Gordon’s own dominant run at ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame’
The victory at the ’95 Southern 500 began a dominant run for Gordon at Darlington. He won both races at “The Track Too Tough to Tame” in 1996 and then went on to win the Southern 500 the next two years, giving him four straight victories in that particular race and five overall victories in seven starts at Darlington from ’95 to ’98.
Gordon won a fifth Southern 500 in 2002 and a sixth in 2007 when the race was known as the Dodge Avenger 500. His seven overall Cup Series victories are the third-most at Darlington Raceway, one spot behind none other than Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference