Dale Earnhardt Sr. Only Won a Single Daytona 500 but Took More Checkered Flags at Daytona International Speedway Than Any Racer in History
NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. will obviously forever be linked to Daytona International Speedway. Sadly, one of the reasons for that is the fact that he died on the famed track in 2001 on the final lap of the Daytona 500. But we’re not here to rehash that tragic tale yet again.
No, today we’re here to focus on just how dominating he was at Daytona over the years. Okay, so maybe Earnhardt only won the Daytona 500 once in 23 tries. But what an emotional victory that was. And maybe he only won three Cup Series points races on the 2.5-mile oval in 46 attempts. But it’s not as if the Daytona 500 and the 400-mile summer race are the only races “The Intimidator” ever ran at Daytona International Speedway.
There was the 300-mile Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) race. There was the Busch Clash/Bud Shootout and the Duel qualifying races. Earnhardt also took part in the now-defunct International Race of Champions (IROC) for years. And between all of those different races, “The Man in Black” took 34 checkered flags at Daytona, the most of any racer in history. We’re talking stock car drivers, sportscar drivers, and motorcycle racers. More than any racer ever.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first race at Daytona International Speedway in 1980
In his seventh overall start at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt took his first checkered flag at the home of NASCAR in 1980 at the Busch Clash, just edging out Neil Bonnett. He was the first to win the race after only leading the final lap and also the first to go on to win the Cup Series title, a feat he duplicated in 1986, 1991, and 1993.
Earnhardt also took the checkered flag at the Busch Clash in 1988 and 1995. His six victories are still the most in the race’s history. Four drivers are tied for second with three, while six others have two wins, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.
His biggest win was obviously the 1998 Daytona 500
Earnhardt’s biggest win at Daytona International Speedway was obviously his emotional victory at the 1998 Daytona 500.
Despite all his success over the years, including a record seven Cup Series titles, Earnhardt somehow never found a way to win the Daytona 500 in his first 19 attempts. He came close on several occasions, including runner-up finishes in 1984, 1993, 1995, and 1996, but he just couldn’t get over that hump. But that all changed in his 20th start on February 15, 1998.
Starting from the fourth position, Earnhardt dominated the field that day and held the lead five times for a total of 107 laps. He took the lead for good on Lap 140, but Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield were right there in contention as the race came to a close. The ’98 Daytona 500 was a remarkably clean race with only three cautions and no accident-related retirements.
But that third and final caution came on Lap 198 when Lake Speed and John Andretti came together, causing both to spin out. As Earnhardt, Labonte, and Mayfield raced toward the caution flag, they came upon the lapped car of Rick Mast. Earnhardt easily passed Mast on the outside, while Labonte lost his draft as Mayfield went inside. Earnhardt took the white and yellow flags, and Labonte just edged out Mayfield for second.
Earnhardt’s long-awaited win at the Daytona 500 is still seen by many as the greatest victory in NASCAR history.
Earnhardt recorded 34 overall victories at Daytona International Speedway
ln addition to his win at the 1998 Daytona 500, Earnhardt won two other points races in the Cup Series at Daytona, the 1990 and 1993 editions of the Pepsi 400, the second of which he won by only .16 seconds over Sterling Marlin. As already mentioned, he won the Busch Clash on six occasions, and also won a dozen of the 125-mile qualifying races ahead of the Daytona 500. Tack on the seven times he won the 300-mile Busch Series race and his six IROC victories, the last of which came in 2000, his final victory on the track, and you get 34 races won by “The Intimidator.”
And that’s what racing fans should most remember about Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona International Speedway.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference