“It’s the Greatest Feeling I’ve Felt” – in 1998 Dale Earnhardt Defined the Daytona 500’s NASCAR Superiority in an Iconic Interview

Published 01/28/2024, 2:36 AM EST

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Dale Earnhardt Sr had amassed quite the trophy collection from various racetracks, including the famed Daytona International Speedway. Yet, the Daytona 500 crown had always slipped through his fingers, making his triumph in 1998 a real game-changer.

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“Finally got that monkey off my back!”, Sr said, breathing a sigh of relief. That victory lap was as much a release of pent-up frustration as it was a burst of pure elation. In a vintage clip making the rounds on the internet, you can catch Dale Earnhardt, all smiles, sharing with reporters just how sweet it felt to clinch that elusive win after two decades in the driver’s seat.

Dale Earnhardt Sr wished everyone could experience the joy he had felt

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Dale Earnhardt Sr, known as “The Intimidator” for his fierce driving style, was actually rightly named. Yet beneath that tough exterior was a man overjoyed by his long-awaited Daytona 500 victory, a feeling he wished everyone could know. In an interview, surrounded by a sea of fans and reporters, Earnhardt opened up about the sheer bliss of his triumph.

I’m telling you, it’s the greatest feeling I’ve felt in my career in the long run. I’m at the first championship, the first win, the first championship, all that’s great. Coming out here for 20 years and not winning the Daytona 500 and finally winning it, I wish everybody could experience this. This is the greatest feeling. I’ve talked to all my relatives, all my fans, everybody who all night long just different phone calls,” he shared.

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Earnhardt’s dominant performance, leading 107 out of 200 laps and sealing the deal in the last 61, sparked an electric celebration both in the stands and on pit road. In an unforgettable display of respect, crew members from every team lined up to shake Earnhardt’s hand as he inched his way to the victory lane, a spontaneous tribute to a long-awaited victory.

Mike Helton, reflecting on the moment, marveled at the organic show of solidarity. “You couldn’t have scripted it. You couldn’t have told them and said, ‘All right, everybody. Go down pit road.’ No. It was organically just done. Maybe two or three teams did it, and everybody said, ‘Well, let’s go join them.’ That line created itself in time for Dale Sr to come down through there.”

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As Dale Earnhardt fielded questions from the press, a crowd formed on the infield, arranging themselves into his iconic number 3, all trying to catch a glimpse of the legend. Ironically, Richard Childress, Earnhardt’s team owner at the time, had doubts about him clinching the Daytona 500, making the victory even sweeter for “The Intimidator.”

Richard Childress resigned himself to the thought that Dale Sr might never clinch the Daytona 500

With runner-up finishes behind legends like Cale Yarborough in ’84, Sterling Marlin in ’95, and Dale Jarrett in ’96, Earnhardt’s prowess at Daytona was undeniable. His trophy cabinet boasted wins from the summer Daytona races, a slew of Daytona 500 qualifiers, victories in the Xfinity Series, multiple Budweiser Shootouts, and triumphs in the International Race of Champions.

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Yet Richard Childress reflected, “But I don’t think he ever believed he’d never win the 500,” Childress said soon after Earnhardt won in ’98. “He’d won enough other races down here to know he could win the 500, but there was always something that got in his way. A flat tire, a caution flag when he didn’t need it, a pit stop when he was leading . . . it was always something. That day, though, everything came together at the right time. He was the happiest that day that I’d ever seen him.”

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Written by:

Neha Dwivedi

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Neha Dwivedi is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. As a journalist, she religiously believes in the power of research, which allows her readers to dive deep into her stories and experience the detailed nuances of the sport like never before. Being proficient with Core Sport and Live Event Coverage, she has written multiple copies on the top entities of Stock Car Racing, like Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Tony Stewart.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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