‘NASCAR Race Hub’ looks back at Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 Win

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Larry McReynolds, Richard Childress, Darrell Waltrip, Andy Petree and Jeff Gordon sit down with the 'Race Hub' crew to look back at Dale Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 win

- I love being at the racetrack and listening in on one of your radios because you always know Richard is going to say something at some point. I can't wait to dig a little bit more into this day and talk about your reaction on the radio and just how special that was for you. I can't believe it's been 20 years. For any race fan who's forgotten how it all went down, here's a look back at the finish of that memorable February day in 1998.

ANNOUNCER 1: Trouble coming off of turn two.

ANNOUNCER 2: Lake Speed and John Andretti tangle as the leaders head for turn number three. Andretti and Spencer got together. Labonte up high. Earnhardt uses the lapped car of Rick Mast as a pick. 20 years of trying. 20 years of frustration. Dale Earnhardt will come to the caution flag to win the Daytona 500.

The most anticipated moment in racing. If John Elway can win the Super Bowl, Dale Earnhardt said he could win the Daytona 500 checkered flag. Dale Earnhardt finally is a champion of the Daytona 500. The taste of long awaited victory will be his.

MAN: You make the strongest man on Earth cry when you win this race. It's special.

- So many moments about that race that you kind of lose sight of until you go back and watch a piece like that and reflect. Jeff, we got your ideas of what happened back in 1998. But Larry, being on the pit box and knowing the pressure that comes with calling a race for Dale at Daytona, what was it like?

- Well, I go back to '97. My first race with Dale and with Richard Childress Racing in the three car was the '97 500, and we had had a very up and down day. And lo and behold, he found his way to the front and was leading that thing with 20 to go. And I remember looking at Richard and going, what do you think? He went, been here way too many times before.


With about 10 or 12 laps to go, I totally understood because we were barrel rolling down the backstretch. But I guess headed in the '98 500, just the confidence that Dale had and the confidence that race team had in that race car-- it's like as the week went on and the track lost grip, that car just kept getting better. And just his confidence alone race morning. And I remember the last thing he told me before I buckled that window net, he got me by the collar, he said, you just keep me in touch with the leader. His good day will go bad when this thing comes to the end.


- Yeah.

- What were the first moments-- what were the first words that you and Dale said to each other, whether it be on the radio on in victory lane or whatnot, once that win was yours?

- You know, we were all hollering and cheering and hugging and everything, and we couldn't believe right then that we finally won the Daytona 500. We'd won the 499, 495. Every year we had won some. And a few laps to go, even in the '98, I said, Larry, I don't know about this one. But we knew we had the car, we knew we had the team, and we know we had the driver to get the job done if everything fell in place.

And that last caution come out, and then you race for the-- you had to race back. And I said, wow, man. I didn't know if we were going to make it. Well, luckily we pulled it off. I think Andretti wrecked on the backstretch.

- I think it was Andretti and Lake Speed. That lap coming back to the caution and then the lap under caution, I think that's the fastest lap we ran all day long.

- We were going to get it.

- Dale finally won on his 20th start. Darrell, you didn't win until your 17th start in the Daytona 500. What stories did you share with Dale after you each had hoisted that big trophy?

- Dale always was in a position to win that race, as these guys all said, and I was always fascinated by Dale at Daytona and Talladega, but Daytona mostly. He just-- you know, people said he could see the air. Well, now, you guys know [INAUDIBLE]. You don't see air, but I do believe he could feel the air.

And I do believe there was something about Dale because if you look at when he drove Richards cars and when he started his own teams, those cars ran good at Daytona and Talladega. So I always felt like they all had a little something that he knew that maybe everybody else didn't know, other than how good he was, at those two racetracks. But something about the cars made them always special at those two tracks.

- Yeah, I think he understood more about the draft than most people did then. You know, he understood things like side drafting, things he-- people didn't know about that then.

- No.

- The guys today are very good at that. They know how to stop each other and stop runs, but Dale understand that way earlier than anyone.

- No, it's funny you say that because I remember the first time I watched it, and he would just go up and get into the door of somebody. And I went in the garage there. I said, what the hell you doing? And he said, side drafting. I said--

- Nobody had even heard of that back then.

- I said, what are you talking about?

- He was great at it, and I was one that always said he could see the air, and I actually-- you can't see it, but he knew where he wanted to pick that air up. He knew exactly where that air was going to come off of another car. He just-- he was that good at it.

- He was.

- I can remember thinking that there was something in the car, right? There had to be something--

ANDY PETREE: Oh, I did too until I was crew chief.

- --in the car that [INAUDIBLE] those passes. And then I saw him do some things in the car by himself where I saw him maneuver and do something, you know, behind the car. Backed up to the car behind him, used that air to get this momentum, and I was like, whoa, wait a minute. Wait a minute.

And I was fortunate. I got to race with him a lot from 1993 all the way through 2001. We raced together a ton of Daytona, Talladega, and I couldn't have had a better teacher than racing side by side and wheel to wheel with him.

- What tipped me off of the confidence he had-- I begged him on bended knees throughout the week in practice. He would leave pit road with a line of cars behind him. And he'd run 20 laps, just leading this line of cars.

- He would never get back--

- And I'd say--

- --in the pack.

- --Dale.

- He knew he wanted to be in the lead.

- How about if we get back in the pack and see what we're like in traffic? He said, don't plan on being back there.

- And he wasn't very often.

- But you guys did get stuck back there. There were some moments in that race, if you go back and watch, that had to create anxiety, Larry, for both you and Richard. I mean, it wasn't easy.

- Oh, yeah. We had to get pretty aggressive. Jeff and I were talking about-- pretty aggressive with some adjustments with that race car.

- So I actually-- I had fun watching the race the other day and reliving it. But I noticed they were-- on the first long run, you guys got really loose. And actually the Pontiacs were pretty strong that day, Bobby Labonte, and ended up getting by you. But at the end of that race, that car looked like it was driving really good.

- We had made adjustments. There were only three cautions during that race. We ran over 100 laps before the first caution came. Every time that [INAUDIBLE] car came to pit road, we had to get pretty aggressive with adjustments.

- There is no doubt that this is going to be a great hour because what I've learned in the last eight minutes is-- I'm just going to sit back and listen to you guys tell your stories. It was certainly a moment in time, and I'm sure everyone that was at that race, they felt that 100%. Still, when you watch it you feel it.