First Winston Cup Championship
Jake Elder until May, then Doug
Chevy Monte Carlo, mixed with
|Car No: 2
|Sponsor: Mike Curb Productions
At Osturlund Racing, more than
just the cars were being prepared for the beginning of the 1980 season. Car owner
Rod Osturlund and driver Dale Earnhardt sat down to talk about the future, and Dale, who a
year before had been in debt and struggling while trying to find a way to move his career
from the Sportsman ranks to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, was about to finally feel
secure about his future. Rod and Dale put together an five-year contract that insured
Earnhardt's future in stock car racing's major league.
When the season started, Earnhardt and his young group of stalwarts at Osturlund were
going from race to race, trying to win every event and putting up some incredible results
for a team with a second-year driver. Meanwhile, drivers like Cale Yarborough and
Darrell Waltrip, who normally would be in control of the series, were sorting through
The Osturlund team had given no thought to
challenging for the title at the beginning of the season, especially since no driver had
ever won the championship as early as his second year of competition. The crew was
inexperienced in a title run, and everyone expected the blue and yellow cars to have
problems with consistency - the key to winning a championship on a 31-event schedule. But
Dale surprised everyone when he took the point lead after collecting a second-place finish
at Riverside and a fourth in the Daytona 500. Earnhardt never looked back.
Race after race the team ran up front, and the points for the championship came in gobs.
Earnhardt won his first career superspeedway at Atlanta in the spring; he beat Rusty
Wallace - in Rusty's NASCAR Winston Cup debut - by more than nine seconds. Earnhardt won
again the following week at Bristol.
Dale's crew chief, Jake
Elder, walked away from the team following the World 600 at Charlotte. Pit road-watchers
expected the Osturlund effort to fall on its face. But 20-year-old Doug Richert stepped up
as crew chief and more than met the demands of leading the team. The Chevrolets never
missed a beat.
Richard Petty was the first to make a run at Earnhardt, but a string of engine failures
late in the season ended his hopes. Then, Cale Yarborough leveled both barrels at
Earnhardt in the stretch run. But Dale's hugely popular win at the National 500 at his
home track, Charlotte, blunted Cale's charge and propelled the Osturlund team through the
final three races of the season. Cale did win at Rockingham and Atlanta and had closed to
within 29 points heading into the final race at Ontario. Yarborough charged to a
third-place finish in the final race of the season, but Earnhardt finished fifth at the
southern California track, gaining just enough points to hold onto the lead and claim the
title. Dale, who wrapped up five wins that season, had won his first championship by 19
The young and
aggressive team had accomplished what few had expected. With a "just win"
attitude and working against all odds - including a crew chief shuffle in mid-season - the
Osturlund "kids" parried every thrust by tried and proven championship teams. No
one had told them they weren't supposed to win the title. The team's game plan never
changed: try to win every race, and if they couldn't, obtain the best finish possible. The
wins and top-10 finishes came with regularity, and the "meltdown" that the
team's competitors had expected in the midst of the torrid stretch run to the championship
never materialized. It was a brilliant display of driving, preparation, and team chemistry
that obviously was missing from several other teams during the season.
In the final stages of the season, the Osturlund team proudly announced sponsorship for
the coming year from Wrangler. The Wrangler name even appeared on the car at Ontario.
Osturlund's normal blue and yellow colors were a perfect fit for the clothing
manufacturer, and by having its name on the Chevrolet during the event in which the team
had nailed down the NASCAR Winston Cup championship, Wrangler enjoyed the added benefit of
a winter of "free advertising"!
WC History 1980 -- Earnhardt Rising_5/14
A three-page article about the 1980 seasons of Dale
Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. Article.
Copyright © 2000 The Earnhardt Connection
Home Page | Contact Us