Iremembering A Legend: Part 2/Ibrbirth Of The Intimidator

When Dale Earnhardt joined Richard Childress racing in 1984 no one could have predicted the domination that was to follow.

After mounting a mini-comeback in his first season reunited with Childress, Earnhardt set out to win his second Winston Cup championship in 1985. But four wins and six Top-5 finishes were not enough to top eventual champion Darrell Waltrip. In fact, they were only good enough to give Earnhardt an eighth-place finish in the final point standings.

Earnhardt wasn’t called the Intimidator for nothing, and he bumped and grinded his way to the top in 1986. Back-to-back wins at Darlington and North Wilkesboro led the way as Earnhardt went on to record his second championship. He also won at Charlotte twice and at Michigan in addition to winning the pole in Atlanta.

By the time he was 35, Earnhardt had won two Winston Cup championships and recorded 20 victories… and his best year was yet to come.

In 1987 Earnhardt dominated the series. He won 11 races, finished second five times and third once in 29 events. He won the Winston all-star event and became only the third driver of the modern era to win four straight races (Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville). Earnhardt earned the American Driver of the Year and NMPA Driver of the Year award in 1987, in addition to his third Winston Cup championship.

Earnhardt’s winning ways continued in 1988 but his streak of championships ended. The Intimidator took three races that year, in Atlanta, Martinsville, and Bristol. He finished third in the championship behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace.

Earnhardt nearly claimed the championship again in 1989. His six wins mirrored the number of eventual champion Rusty Wallace. In the end, Wallace beat Earnhardt by a mere 12 points. The season was not without controversy, either. In October, Earnhardt had to be physically restrained from attacking Ricky Rudd after an incident on the final lap of the Holly Farms 400 resulted in a 10th-place finish for the Intimidator. He had been in the lead when he and Rudd tangled. A higher finish would have pushed him into the points lead at the end of the season.

The elusive fourth championship came to Earnhardt the next year. He led the series with nine victories in 1990, eight of them on superspeedways, and four poles. But the most memorable event may have been the one that got away. For all his championships, Earnhardt had yet to win the Daytona 500 - the crown jewel of NASCAR racing. He came close in 1990, taking the white flag with a half-lap advantage after leading155 of the first 199 laps. As he was exiting turn two, Earnhardt slowed, a flat tire ending his chances of winning his first Daytona 500.

Four wins propelled him to a fifth championship in 1991. Earnhardt finished on the podium 11 times that year and in the top-five 14 times. His luck stopped there, however, as 1992 proved to be a disappointing year. The only victory that season came at Charlotte in May. He finished the season 12th in the championship points standings.

Earnhardt re-bounded the next year to win his sixth championship. He recorded victories in six points-paying races, the Winston, the Bud Shootout, and a 125-mile qualifying race. His win at the Winston made Earnhardt the first three-time winner of the all-star event. Another memorable win came in Charlotte, where he was penalized for rough driving but still came back for the victory. At Talladega, he won in a thrilling finish, beating Ernie Irvan by six inches.

A record-tying seventh championship came in 1994. Earnhardt won four races (Darlington, Bristol, Talladega and Rockingham) and posted 21 Top-5 finishes. The win at Talladega saw the Intimidator jump from 11th to first in the final 22 laps for the win.

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