The Earnhardt Connection - Race Reports

Race Report for:
Daytona 500
The Earnhardt Connection

Race: Daytona 500
Date: February 15, 1998
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Qualified: 4th
Finished: 1st
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 200 of 200
Points Earned: 185
Money Earned: $1,059,105
Summary: The Daytona 500 being the first points race of 1998, all drivers entered the event with a chance to put themselves at the top of the points standings.

Dale took the lead almost immediately after the race started. He led until lap 36, when Bobby Labonte re-took the lead, moving Dale to second. Labonte continued to lead the race until Dale passed him on lap 44. Dale came in on lap 57 for his 1st of 4 pit stops on the day. Among the drivers who joined Dale on pit road were Mike Skinner, Bobby Labonte, and Derrike Cope. Dale had a 21.44 second pit stop. Jeff Gordon, who had made a 17.7 second pit stop a few laps earlier, became the leader. When Dale came out of the pits, he had fallen to approximately 10th place. From laps 66 to 72, Dale worked his way up to 5th spot. The order was now Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt. Mark Martin and Earnhardt passed Ernie Irvan next on lap 76, moving Mark to 3rd and Dale to 4th. Dale stayed in 4th place until lap 81 when he was passed by Chad Little and Bobby Labonte. Dale fell to 6th place. He worked his way back around Bobby Labonte, moving himself into 5th place. Then, with Bobby Labonte's drafting help, Dale re-took 4th spot from Chad Little, and Chad fell back several positions. The order was Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte, and Jeremy Mayfield. On lap 91, Dale passed Mark Martin for 3rd spot with Bobby Labonte's and Jeremy Mayfield's drafting help. Jeff Gordon was still in the lead at halfway point of the race (lap 100). On lap 106, the top 15 cars made their second pit stop. Dale Jarrett, Geoff Bodine, and Jeff Burton were involved in a wreck on pit road during their stops. Dale came off pit road in 4th place. Joe Nemecheck was leading the race. When Joe finally made his pit stop, Dale moved up to 3rd. On lap 21 Dale got a great run going into turn 3, moving himself alongside Jeff Gordon. Dale and Jeff battled side-by-side for a lap until Earnhardt got the best of #24. Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield were also able to get by Jeff. The order was Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield, and Jeff Gordon. On lap 124, Ward Burton cut a tire, bringing out the race's 1st caution. During the caution, the leading cars made their 3rd pit stops of the day. Rusty Wallace's pit crew pulled off the quickest stop, putting Rusty into 1st place. The order was Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Mike Skinner, and Bobby Labonte. The race restarted on lap 130. Gordon tried to pass Earnhardt on the inside, his plan backfired. Skinner drafted with Earnhardt, and the two Richard Childress owned cars passed Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace. Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner ran single file in 1st and 2nd positions. From 3rd place on back, the field was all bunched up, with cars running 2- and 3-wide. Around lap 138, Earnhardt, Skinner, and Ken Schrader shuffled positions for a couple laps. Earnhardt came out of the battle again in 1st place, with Schrader and Skinner running 2nd and 3rd. By lap 147, the top 15 cars were all in single file. Earnhardt still led, followed by Ernie Irvan, Jeremy Mayfield, Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader, and Jeff Gordon. From lap 157 through lap 174, the order was Earnhardt, Mayfield, Wallace, Gordon, Irvan, Skinner, and Schrader. Teams were planning when they would make their final pit stop. However, a caution on lap 174 through any pit strategy out the window. The caution was caused by John Andretti and Robert Pressly. Under the yellow flag, teams pulled onto pit road to make their final stops. The leading cars took only right side tires and gas. Earnhardt's crew made the quickest stop, and Earnhardt won the race off pit road. Mike Skinner was behind Dale in in 2nd place, followed by Mayfield, Wallace, Gordon, and Bobby Labonte. The race restarted on lap 178. By lap 192, cars began shuffling positions like it was the last lap of the race. First, Mayfield and Bobby Labonte battled for 2nd spot. Mayfiled won. Then, Rusty Wallace took his shots at Mayfield. Again, Mayfiled won. With 4 laps to go, the order was Earnhardt, Mayfild, Gorodn, Wallace, and Schrader. With 3 laps to go, Bobby Labonte went on the outside of Mayfield for 2nd spot. With just two laps to go, the order was Earnhardt, Labonte, Mayfield, Schrader, and Wallace, repsectively. Earnhardt blocked every pass that was thrown at him. Then, comong out of turn 2, John Andretti and Lake Speed tangled. With two laps to go, it was a race back to the caution flag. Whoever got thier 1st would win the Daytona 500. Entering turn 3, Earnhardt used Rick Mast's lapped car as a pick. Meanwhile, Mayfiled and Labonte fought for 2nd spot. Earnhardt led the field to the caution flad, securing him the win. Earnhjardt turned one lap under yellow before recieving the checkered flag.

Finally Earnhardt had won the Daytona 500!
Quotes: "Yes! Yes! Yes!", said an excited Earnhardt in victory lane. "Twenty years! Can you believe it!

This win is for all our fans and all the people who told me, 'Dale, this is your year,'" Earnhardt said. "There was a lot of hard work that went into this and I have to thank every member of the Richard Childress Racing team. I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough."

"The Daytona 500 is over. And we won it! We won it!" - Dale Earnhardt

"I had a good feeling after Thursday (Feb. 12, the day he won his 125-mile qualifying race)," Earnhardt said. "I knew we had a good race car and that's what's important. We worked hard all day long to keep it in position and to keep it in place to win."

"I don't know what he thought was going on after last year," said Earnhardt, who came into the season-opening Daytona 500 mired in a career-worst losing streak of 59 races. "He came back this winter with the look in his eyes." - Dale talking about Larry McReynolds

"If you're successful and focused, and you go a through a period where you don't win, I think there's always this little voice that haunts you," McReynolds said. "Until you actually do it, there's a little voice that haunts you. Hopefully it went away today."

"And we pulled that Goodwrench Chevrolet right into Victory Lane today. That's awfully special."

"Man I cannot believe what happened today," said Park, whose team is owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc. "Both Dale and I realized our dreams today. He earned the only thing that has ever eluded him and I raced in the Daytona 500. This was a great day."

next day

"I woke up this morning, and I still don't believe I won the Daytona 500," said Earnhardt, who won the "Great American Race" in his 20th attempt on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

"The feeling has gotten better. I'm really enjoying this one and will probably enjoy it for quite a while."

"I woke up about two o'clock this morning and couldn't get back to sleep just because of the excitement," Childress said. "The night before, I woke up about 1:30 and I couldn't go back to sleep worrying about engines and trying to think of anything that may go wrong the next day, so it was a great feeling to wake up and have that problem instead of worrying about something race-related. It's just an unbelievable feeling."

"I talked all yesterday (Sunday) about the race and about my feelings about the race, and they haven't changed a bit except that they've gotten better," said Earnhardt, who was joined at the function by his wife, Teresa; car owner Richard Childress and his wife, Judy; crew chief Larry McReynolds; Dale Earnhardt Inc. President Don Hawk; and PR representative J.R. Rhodes.

"The feeling has gotten better. I'm really enjoying this one and will probably enjoy it for quite a while."

As will Childress, who also gained his first Daytona 500 win on Sunday.

"I woke up about two o'clock this morning and couldn't get back to sleep just because of the excitement," Childress said. "The night before, I woke up about 1:30 and I couldn't go back to sleep worrying about engines and trying to think of anything that may go wrong the next day, so it was a great feeling to wake up and have that problem instead of worrying about something race-related. It's just an unbelievable feeling."

DAYTONA USA will display the Daytona 500-winning car for the third year in a row. Dale Jarrett's No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford Thunderbird was the first to have that distinction, after Jarrett won the 1996 race. Jeff Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet was on display until Sunday's race, after Gordon won the 1997 event.

"I'm only happy to donate it. I've never won the Daytona 500 before," Earnhardt said. "I don't know about Richard, but I'm very happy about it. Very excited. We're already planning for next year since we've got to build a new race car for Talladega."

"We're working on building another car already," Childress said. "We've got the chassis and we're ready to go with it. We built this car in August or September. That's when we started working on it.

"All through the year we always save one of our tests to go to Talladega and test before the end of the season. We tested this car and we knew right away that it was an awful good car. We did a lot of testing. This car has got a lot of testing on it, a lot of miles, and we'll be very proud to give it to Daytona."

By coincidence, Earnhardt, Gordon and Jarrett are the three drivers who shot a TV commercial prior to the 1997 Daytona 500 promoting DAYTONA USA. All three now have donated their cars to the motorsports attraction after winning the race.

Childress and Earnhardt have been together for six of Earnhardt's seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships. But never has one victory been so satisfying for either. The big question surrounding Earnhardt's career, "Why can't he win the Daytona 500?" no longer applies.

"I feel happy for everybody involved, especially Richard," Earnhardt said. "He's been coming down here more years than I have. All the disappointments we've had down here, the hard luck, the competitive race cars... you just work so hard coming here, focused on this race. It's the only race you get a couple of months to plan for.

"The disappointments you go through, the chapters you write each year of the race, and to finally win this race it's just as big for Richard Childress and him and his family and his whole organization as it is for me.

"The thing about it is, all those races we lost, we won this race together. We won it as a team. There wasn't a man on that race team that didn't have something to do with this win."

In addition to Earnhardt's car, which is intact exactly as it rolled into the speedway's Victory Lane after cutting several doughnuts in the tri-oval grass, Earnhardt's helmet and gloves will also be part of the display.

DAYTONA USA guests enter "Gatorade Victory Lane" after watching "The Daytona 500 Movie," the attraction's premier show that is preceded by a 15-minute pre-show on the "World's Greatest Race."

Related Articles: 2/17/98 - News: Earnhardt Shows Silly Side on Letterman

2/16/98 - News: Earnhardt: Keep the Car, I Want my Penny

2/16/98 - News: Earnhardt to Make Late Night TV Rounds

2/16/98 - News: Earnhardt Enjoys Aftermath of Historic Win

2/16/98 - News: Earnhardt Wins as Park's Winston Cup Career Begins

2/15/98 - News: Redemption for Larry McReynolds

2/15/98 - News: Fans Tear up Earnhardt's Turf

2/15/98 - News: At Last Earnhardt Wins Daytona 500

2/15/98 - Results: Daytona 500

1998 Unimount Enterprises