Father and Son Battle for Victory at ‘Dega

Oh to wonder what he could have done differently. Those thoughts filled Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s mind on October 15, 2000, after his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race at Talladega Superspeedway. That fall afternoon, his father – Dale Earnhardt Sr. – drove from 18th place to 1st in the closing handful of laps to capture his 10th MENCS checkeredflag at ‘Dega and the 76th and final victory of his career. “Little E,” on the other hand, was left to ponder whether a different move would have landed him in Gatorade Victory Lane instead.

“He (Dale Sr.) won the race. It worked out for him and that was good…a helluva comeback,” said Dale Jr., who will make his final Talladega start in the Oct. 15 Alabama 500 – 17 years to the day of that historic run by his dad. “I hate to think about how it went for me, because I wanted to win the race. I wish we could do again because I would do a lot of things differently.”

But, just how did the comeback happen and how did rookie Dale Jr. fare?

With just five laps to go, Dale Jr. was leading the pack around Talladega’s 33-degree high banks, while Dale Sr. was mired back in 18th. However, as is typical at the 2.66-mile venue, the running order would change quickly.

Slicing and dicing through traffic in his black No. 3 Chevrolet, Dale Sr. – ‘the Intimidator’ – made an incredible run through the field. With just two laps remaining, the driver who many said could “see the air” and was the “best driver ever at drafting,” found himself in third, behind Dale Jr., who had been overtaken by Earnhardt Sr.’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, Mike Skinner.

“I was sitting behind Mike and we were in a single file line on the inside,” recalled Dale Jr. “Mike was protecting the bottom and I was going to sit there until the last lap and try to pass him. Dad’s line formed on the outside and was coming. I could see him in the mirror knocking off a few guys each corner and getting closer toward the lead. I had to decide whether I was going to try to pass Mike immediately, and then maybe battle my dad for the lead, which was probably the best thing I could have done.”

Pushing Skinner past his father on the bottom line, however, simply wasn’t an option. “I knew that pushing Mike past Daddy was not going to work well, since I was riding home (flying on Dale Sr.’s airplane) with him,” Jr. joked. 

Dale Jr. chose to make his move down low on Skinner, while his father continued to lead the high line. Skinner made the blockthrough the tri-oval on Dale Jr. who had to back off the gas pedal for a brief moment, and as a result, lost momentum and fell back to 14th at the checkered flag. On the other hand, Dale Sr., with the help of drafting partner Kenny Wallace, swept past his son and Skinner, completing the amazing comeback to celebrate in Gatorade Victory Lane.

“He sort of had a way of, you know, doing all kinds of stuff like that, making big comebacks, or big, great saves or just crazy passes,” remembered Dale Jr. “He would never get out and jump up and down and brag about it. But, you know, when it was all said and done and over with, everybody went home, and he would take pride in doing those things. I think that comeback was one he really, really enjoyed.”

Although he didn’t win that day, Dale Jr. would use lessons learned from his father for future Talladega races. “Racing against him, I learned a lot,” said Dale Jr. “He was always teaching me lessons by leaving me behind out there. I think it’s a lot easier to know what he was doing than it is to actually go out and do it.”

A year later, Dale Jr. began a seven-race streak that is unprecedented, winning a record four straight TSS races from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2003. Then, after two runner-up finishes, he capped it off with a victory in the fall of 2004, earning him legendary Talladega status alongside his father.

To secure your tickets to see Dale Jr.’s final start during Talladega’s memorable race weekend, log on to www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call the Main Ticket office at 855-518-RACE (7223), which is available from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. (CDT) during the week and now open on weekends from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (CDT).

Talladega’s fall event weekend kicks off Friday, Oct. 13 with a full slate of on-track activity, including practice sessions for the Alabama 500 and fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) event, both of which will play major roles in NASCAR’s playoffs. Saturday’s fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola, where the field of eligible championship contenders will be trimmed from eight to six at the checkered flag, is set for a 12 Noon (CDT) start. Sunday’s Alabama 500, another stop on the Dale Jr.’s #Appreci88ion Tour and the “Wildcard” second race in the Round of 12 of the MENCS playoffs, will get underway at 1 p.m. (CDT).


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