NASCAR had stormed through the 1980's, making headlines, and becoming more and more popular as it grew as a sport.
Now in the '90s, NASCAR knew this decade was going to either make or break it's attempt to become the top sport in the U.S.
The opening race was the Daytona 500. The tickets were sold out the July before the race, marking the popularity of the event. That crowed of 150,000, the ones who didn't come to see Dale Earnhardt win anyway, were not disappointed whatsoever.
The race started like any other Daytona 500 from 1980-2001—dominated by Dale Earnhardt.
With the final re-start, there were five laps to go. Finally, in his 12th try, could Earnhardt win the biggest race of the year?
The running order was as follows: Car No. 10, Derrike Cope, an unheard of driver, having the race of his life; second, No. 8 Bobby Hillin; third, Earnhardt. Behind Earnhardt was a fast lap car, driven by 1986 Daytona winner Geoffrey Bodine.
As they came off of turn two, Earnhardt was getting pushed by Bodine. They blew the doors off of Hillin's Ford, and were trying to make quick work of Cope.
Going into turn three, Earnhardt went around Cope and slide up in front of him.
Bodine and Cope were side-by-side, but Cope had a better run off of turn four, and was able to keep his under-funded Chevrolet out in front of Bodine's Junior Johnson Ford.
As CBS went back and forth from the racetrack to the hauler where Teresa Earnhardt was watching the race, it seemed like it was just a matter of time. All they had to do was finish the final four laps, and Earnhardt would be the winner.
As Earnhardt began to pull away, there was mention that the bump Hillin had given him had not affected that car. No yet, anyway.
Still in second place was Cope. Cope was driving for a team known as Whitcomb Racing. A small single-car team that didn't really make much noise as a race contender, driver, crew chief (Buddy Parrott), and owner Bob Whitcomb were content with finishing second, as the performance was already a win for them.
As Dale passed the stripe, there were three main front runners: Earnhardt in first, Cope in second, and Terry Labonte, in Richard Jackson's No. 1 car, running third.
When they got into turn two, CBS commentator Chris Economaki mentioned that Cope had never finished better than sixth, ever. So, he concluded, Cope was just thrilled with running second, and didn't want to push his luck and risk losing such a solid finish.
The white flag was in the air.
Dale Earnhardt had 2.5 miles to go, and he was the Daytona 500 winner.
They came into the first and second turn and onto the back straightaway. Both Labonte in third and Bill Elliott in fourth were trying to get out of line and pass Cope. Cope was still too strong though, even on used tires.
CBS went into a side angle shot as the car went into turn three, and the unthinkable happened.
In what looked like the makings for a pretty boring finish, commentator Ken Squier was bringing the cast home. His voice went higher as the No. 3 car became unstable as it went into turn three.
"...Earnhardt slopping back, something is amiss on the Earnhardt car, something amiss! .... and an amazing finish, the Whitcomb Racing team has won it!"
Earnhardt had blown a tire, a left rear tire, as he went into turn three. Cope only had half of a front straightaway to gather that he, some unknown driver from Spanaway, Washington, was going to be amongst the elite, forever, as the winner of the 1990 Daytona 500.
The Purolator crew went bonkers. As CBS went to the pit road shot, you saw the team members jump higher than NBA players doing a slam dunk.
It was impossible, and happened so fast, no one knew what to think.
With Teresa Earnhardt flipping out in the hauler, and her new daughter crying, everything seemed so unreal.
Everyone watching the race had come to grips with Earnhardt finally winning it, but then all of a sudden, boom, gone in one turn.
What a victory. What a finish. Dale Earnhardt was a driver people either loved or hated, and let's just say I was ecstatic with the way the race turned out.
As one who didn't love him, it's still thrilling to see that No. 3 car slow down into the corner. And the man who won it is probably one of the nicest men in the garage area. It was great to see him win it, especially now that the people in the northwest felt alive and a part of the NASCAR world. They have Derrike Cope, and Bobby Hillin, to thank for that!
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