Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt earned the 76th and final victory of his career on Saturday, October 15, 2000 following a late charge to the front at Talladega Superspeedway.
HisÂ #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo returned to the site of that victory for the first time on Sunday ahead of this yearâs playoff race at the four-turn, 2.66-mile (4.281-kilometer) high-banked oval in Lincoln, Alabama.
Richard Childress, the team owner of Richard Childress Racing, the team for which Earnhardt drove throughout much of his career, drove the #3 Chevrolet as the pace car ahead of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at the track, which ended up being suspended after only 57 of its scheduled 188 laps until this afternoon.
Childress, who was confirmed in this role a few weeks ago, led the field of 40 drivers ahead of the green flag to get this race underway nearly 19 years after Earnhardt charged from 18th to first place over the course of the raceâs final four laps charge to win over Kenny Wallace in second for the final time.
Only two of these 40 drivers ever had the chance to share the race track with the Intimidator himself behind the wheel of the #3 Chevrolet before his passing following a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, February 18, 2001, illustrating just how long ago and how much has changed since he earned his final victory.
These two drivers are Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, and they combined to make just nine starts against the Kannapolis, North Carolina native.
Busch, who is now in his 19th season as a full-time Cup Series driver, made the first seven starts of his career in the 2000 season, during which time Earnhardt was still a full-time driver. He competed against Earnhardt for the eighth and final time in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Newman, who is now in his 18th season as a full-time Cup Series driver, competed in just one race in which Earnhardt also competed. Both drivers competed in the race at ISM Raceway, then known as Phoenix International Raceway, back on Sunday, November 5, 2000.
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With Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman both being 41 years old, the odds of having driversÂ who competed against Dale Earnhardt compete in the NASCAR Cup Series for much longer are slim. But Richard Childressâs driving of the #3 Chevrolet made famous by Earnhardt illustrated that no matter how long ago it has been since he was alive and/or last won a race, the NASCAR fanbase, young and old, will never forget him and the impact that he had and continues to have on the sport.