While there are so many incredible Dale Earnhardt memories from over the years to look back on, his first Daytona 500 win is on another level of special. If you were a NASCAR fan in the late ’90s, you probably remember that day like it was yesterday.
By the time the 1998 Daytona 500 rolled around, it was the Intimidator’s 20th run of the race. He had accomplished just about everything a NASCAR driver could dream of by then, including seven NASCAR Cup Championships. And yet, he had yet to see a checkered flag at the inaugural Cup Series race at Daytona Beach, despite having finished second on four different occasions and landed within the top five eight different times.
But, I guess 20 was his lucky number.
As far as restrictor plate races go, it was a relatively smooth race. There were no major accidents and only three caution flags, and it resulted in the second-fastest running of the Great American Race at the time.
Though Jeff Gordon put everyone on notice with a promising push about halfway through the race, Earnhardt came away with the victory at Daytona International Speedway pretty handily. The Intimidator dominated, leading for 107 laps in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. To put that into context, Bobby Labonte finished second and only led for 22 laps.
After Earnhardt won the race, the victory lane celebration afterwards was incredible, with every crew member of every team lining up to shake Mr. Restrictor Plate’s hand.
“I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can’t thank them enough,” Earnhardt said immediately following the win. “The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it, we won it, we won it!”
Though the rest of the 1998 season would not go well for Dale Earnhardt Sr. (with Daytona being his only win that year), his victory at the 1998 Daytona was a historic moment for the Hall of Fame member’s career and a historic moment for NASCAR.