Top All-Star moments – No. 1: Earnhardt’s ‘pass in the grass’

Bill Elliott (9) and Dale Earnhardt battle for the lead in The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1987.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

There’s a reason Dale Earnhardt was known as "The Intimidator."

The second-generation racer was tough, relentless and cocky, and during the second half of the 1980s, he and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing squad were the most feared team in what was then known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

The Winston, NASCAR’s version of an all-star event, was tailor-made for Earnhardt. With no points on the line,  Earnhardt could afford to be as aggressive as he wanted in search of the big check and the bragging rights for winning.

In fact, car owner Richard Childress had a pet phrase he would use often in describing his philosophy in what today is called the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: "Bring me the trophy or bring me the steering wheel." In other words, go all-out for the victory and if you tear the car up in the process, so be it.

Dale Earnhardt celebrates with his team in Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway after the 1987 All-Star race.

By all accounts, the 1987 running of The Winston, the third year of the event, was an epic fight on several levels.

Earnhardt was coming off of his second series championship and RCR was the flagship Chevrolet team. The Intimidator came into Charlotte red hot, having won six of the first eight points races of the season.

His main rival in the race was Bill Elliott, an immensely popular Georgia driver who was at his best at fast tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway. Elliott started the ’87 season by driving his Harry Melling-owned Ford Thunderbird to victory in the Daytona 500, the biggest of the six races he would win that year.

Earnhardt led the points, Elliott was second.

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Elliott drove a Ford, Earnhardt drove a Chevrolet.

Earnhardt was The Man In Black, Elliott the polite and soft-spoken country boy.

All the elements were in place for a great race, which is exactly how it played out.

The race was rough from the very start. Earnhardt, Elliott and Geoff Bodine all took turns trading sheetmetal, with Elliott claiming that Earnhardt tried to deliberately wreck him.

When the final 10-lap segment began, Elliott and Bodine tangled in Turn 1, opening the door for Earnhardt to take the lead as Bodine’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevy spun.

Once in the lead, Earnhardt could not be passed, despite the fact that Elliott appeared to have the faster car.

Coming out of Turn 4 with eight laps to go, Earnhardt got completely sideways and got into the infield tri-oval with Elliott right on his tail.  Despite the fact that Earnhardt didn’t actually pass anyone with this move,  the phrase "pass in the grass" was born and it stuck.

Earnhardt held on to win, with Elliott suffering a flat tire in the closing laps.

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Tempers flared after the race. "Ernie (Elliott, Bill’€™s brother and engine builder) walked right up to me and said, ‘That’s really chicken s***,’" €said Childress. "I told him if he wanted to keep his face looking the way it did now, he better get the hell out of my pit stall."

Bill Elliott was angry afterward, too. "If a man has to run over you to beat you, it’s time for this stuff to stop. What he did wasn’t right. When a man pulls over and lets you by and then tries to run you into the wall, I’d say that was done deliberately. If somebody doesn’t do something about this, we’re coming back next week and we’ll see what happens."

"This whole deal is between me and Bill, and it has nothing to do with our teams," Earnhardt said. "We knocked each other around, but it’s all over now as far as I am concerned. But if Bill still wants to do something about it, then I’ll stand flat-footed with him any day."

To this day, the pass in the grass remains the most talked-about NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race of all time.

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