The 'Man in Black' is back
|Car No: 3
|Sponsor: GM Goodwrench
In December of 1992, Earnhardt had watched from
his seat on the floor of the Grand Ballroom as Alan Kulwicki accepted the plaudits of the
crowd for overcoming incredibly high odds to emerge as the champion with his fiercely
competitive crew. Earnhardt had made only a single journey the stage -- to accept
the McDonald's All-Star Team award. He had been 12th in the final points standings
for '92 -- the first time he had not finished in the top 10 since 1982.
The Goodwrench team spent the winter prior to the opening of the 1993 season preparing an
effort that everyone hoped would bring the team back into contention on a race-to-race
basis. Each member of the group -- from the driver, to the car owner, to the
lowliest floor sweeper -- made a conscious commitment to excellence. When the team
arrived at Daytona, the once-familiar spring, absent for a year, was back at the step of
every crew member. Black was back.
Before the year was over, Earnhardt and the Childress crew would be tested in the fire of
the title chase -- and the point race became a hammer-and-tongs affair that to the final
race of the season before it was finally decided.
Obviously every team had made improvements during the off-season. But as soon as the
Goodwrench Chevrolet hit Daytona's track in practice, every team knew they could expect a
serious charge from Dale Earnhardt. The "Black is Back" slogan Earnhardt's
press kits wasn't just a snappy catch-phrase.
The Earnhardt show began with the Bush Clash. He simply blew the field away in each
segment of the Clash, then went on to easily win his Gatorade 125 and score his fourth win
in the Goody's 300 NASCAR Busch Series race. In the 500, he looked set to finally
win his first trophy and led the field into the final two turns. But he and Jarrett
bumped, and Jarrett won the dash to the line.
Despite Earnhardt's dejection about losing the 500 once again, he had shown everyone that
the Goodwrench team would be a contender for the title. He scored his first victory
in the TranSouth 500 at Darlington, proving beyond a doubt his mastery of the track.
His next wins came back-to-back at Charlotte and Dover, followed by another victory
in the Pepsi 400. Dale again scored back-to-back victories with his wins at Pocono
and Talladega. When he didn't win, he ran at the front of the field, and by the team
-- led by new crew chief Andy Petree -- arrived at Bristol for the stretch run to the
championship, Dale held a commanding 259-point lead over Jarrett and was 324 ahead of
It was an outstanding performance for a team with a new crew chief, a critical leadership
position. Kirk Shelmerdine had left the Childress team following the 1992 season in
hopes of pursuing his own driving career, and Richard had hired Petree away from Leo
Jackson's Skoal team and driver Harry Gant. Instead of taking time for the crew to
meld, the chemistry, fortunately, had worked immediately.
As the season headed for the stretch run, Earnhardt seemed increasingly ready to
wrap up his sixth crown. But Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace found the right packages
for their cars, and both made a charge at the former champion. Mark rode his
Thunderbird hard, collecting victories at The Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Darlington.
Then it was Wallace's turn: He scored victories at Richmond and Dover and received
some help at Dover's Monster Mile that helped him chop ever further at Earnhardt's point
Dale had entered the race with a 284-point lead, but he experienced problems
with body damage from an accident. Wallace was able to rally from two laps down to
win the race, and, combined with Earnhardt's struggles, gained 101 points on Earnhardt.
Suddenly, Rusty seemed to have gained new life, and although he still was 181
points behind with just six events to go, he felt there was still hope. Wallace went
on to finish second to Irvan at Martinsville, while Earnhardt again suffered from bad
He left the race with a broken axle, allowing Wallace to chop 99 more points off the lead.
Now he was only 82 points ahead. At North Wilkesboro, Rusty gained 10 more
points by winning his eighth race of the year.
But Rusty lost those 10 hard-earned points at Charlotte, and at Rockingham, Rusty blew a
right-front tire and finished 19th to Dale's fourth. The race for the championship
would continue at Atlanta.
Wallace did everything he could possibly do in Georgia's season finale: he led the most
laps and won the race, but unless Earnhardt had troubles and finished 35th or worse, there
was nothing he could do to stop him from clinching the championship. Like Rusty,
Dale did what he needed to; he fought his way to 10th place, and his sixth NASCAR Winston
Cup was as good as on the mantle.
Rusty's dogged pursuit and never-say-die attitude had brought him back from the brink of
defeat with just 10 races to go, but in the end, the Goodwrench team's experience had made
the difference. Throughout the season, Earnhardt fought for every position, giving
no quarter to any competitor. The pledges made by every crew member, the new crew
chief, the car owner and by the driver had paid off.
Instead of sitting on the floor of the Grand Ballroom, Dale and his mates would return to
the stage and the highest position of honor. The fact that he would become the first
driver to claim the $1.25 million bonus as the champion mattered little to him. What
was important to Dale and the team was where they would be sitting on that December
It hadn't been an easy championship battle. Wallace's early season splurge had seen
him win four of the first eight races and take the point lead. At Talladega, he had
suffered some injuries racing Earnhardt to the checkered flag in the Winston 500 in a
wreck that sent Wallace violently flipping through the infield grass several times.
Wallace lost the point lead to Dale the next race, Sears Point. By the time Wallace
resumed his charge to the top of the points ladder, Earnhardt and his team had hit their
stride and were simply to difficult to dislodge in the stretch run to the title.
In the end, Dale and the Goodwrench team had won the championship by 80 points over
Wallace. Earnhardt's year-end winnings total for his sixth championship had brought
the Kannapolis, N.C. native $3.3 million!
Copyright © 2000 The Earnhardt Connection
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