18 February 2001 was perhaps the darkest day in NASCAR history.
Dale Earnhardt became mortal, suffering life-ending injuries on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Less than a week later the Series made their first of two stop at the one-mile North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham North Carolina.
Fittingly rain delayed the 400-mile race until Monday. On that day rookie Kevin Harvick made his Winston Cup Series debut, replacing Earnhardt in the newly numbered No. 29 Chevy.
Kevin qualified the white machine back in the pack but drove a good race ending up in the 14th spot at the finish.
The last few laps came down to a duel between 2000 Winston Cup champion and defending race winner Bobby Labonte and the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet driver Steve Park.
The No. 1 team was owned by Dale Earnhardt, Dale himself picked Steve to drive for his new team in 1998. Steve had scored his first Cup Series win 8 months earlier on the road course at Watkins Glen N.Y. On this day Steve delivered the victory that all NASCAR fans needed, holding off a last lap charge from the Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac.
Steve took a "Polish victory lap" which had become a common tribute to fallen drivers. As Steve entered turn 4, he got a high-five from teammate Michael Waltrip, who had won the Dayton 500 on the day Earnhardt passed away. As to be expected, Park was overcome with emotion in the winner’s circle.
Holding a Dale Earnhardt banner that the track had given away to all fans, and wearing a No. 3 tribute hat, Steve did Dale and all NASCAR fans proud that day. Sadly this would be the last Cup Series win for Park, who was seriously injured at Darlington later that year.