The Daytona 500. The Great American Race. The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing. There are many names for the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series season. And, as you probably know, there are even more incredible historical moments associated with iconic even. While we could go on and on about special Daytona 500 moments from over the years, Dale Earnhardt's first Daytona 500 win -- and only Daytona 500 win -- is on another level of special. If you were a NASCAR fan in the late '90s, you probably remember that day like it was yesterday.
By the time the 1998 Daytona 500 rolled around, it was the Intimidator's 20th run of the race. He had accomplished just about everything a NASCAR driver could dream of by then, including winning seven NASCAR Cup Championships. And yet, the Kannapolis, North Carolina native had yet to see the checkered flag at the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in Daytona Beach, Florida, despite having finished second on four different occasions and landed within the top five eight different times.
But, I guess 20 was his lucky number.
WATCH: Full Race Recap of 1998 Daytona 500
As far as restrictor plate races go, the 1998 Daytona 500 was a relatively smooth Cup race. There were no major accidents, the race was run under the green flag for the first 125 laps, and there were only three caution flags. This resulted in the second-fastest running of the Great American Race at the time.
Though Jeff Gordon put everyone on notice with a promising push about halfway through the race, Earnhardt came away with the victory at Daytona International Speedway pretty handily. The Intimidator dominated, leading for 107 laps in his iconic GM Goodwrench No. 3 Chevrolet race car for Richard Childress Racing. Rounding out the top five in the standings were Bobby Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield, Ken Schrader, and Rusty Wallace.
Following Dale's big win, CBS's Mike Joy famously said, "The most anticipated moment in the history of motor racing, Dale Earnhardt rolling into Victory Lane in the Daytona 500."
The Victory Lane celebration for Dale was incredible, with every crew member of every team lining up to shake Mr. Restrictor Plate's hand. As for Dale himself, he was clearly relieved that he had finally gotten the win that had eluded him for so long.
"I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough," Earnhardt said immediately following the win. "The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it, we won it, we won it!"
While 1998 marked a big milestone for Dale Sr. as a racer, it was also a big year for him as a NASCAR team owner and as a father. That same year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first championship in the Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series) for his dad's team at DEI. Dale Jr. would go on to repeat the feat in 1999. You have to believe that the Senior was beyond proud of his son's accomplishments in those two years. And, had he lived to see it, he probably also would've been incredibly happy to see that Junior would go on to win not one, but two Daytona 500s, the runnings in 2004 and 2014. Of course, he would've probably been just a little but jealous, too. After all, he was the greatest competitor in the history of NASCAR.
MORE: Dale Earnhardt Brought the Late Night Laughs With "Reasons It Took Me 20 Years to Win the Daytona 500"
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