July 6th, 2015
When you think Daytona, typically you think Dale Earnhardt. You associate Earnhardt because it seems like he won everything at the race track except for a bicycle race. It might have taken him until 1998 to pick up the Daytona 500 win that eluded him most of his career, but it took until 1990 for him to get his first points paying win at the track.
Dale Earnhardt captured the 1990 Pepsi 400 by 1.47 seconds over Alan Kulwicki in a race that is more known about a big crash than Earnhardt’s triumph. Greg Sacks won the pole in a fourth Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the #18 Slim Fast entry. This was an opportunity presented to Sacks because of his help with Hendrick on the movie Days of Thunder.
The opening lap saw Sacks drop back in the middle groove, then he got to racing three wide with Richard Petty (who started seventh) and Derrike Cope (who started 18th and won the season opening Daytona 500 that year). Contact was made and when it was all said and done, 24 cars were damaged in the wreck. Sacks made contact with Petty, the Cope, then heck broke loose on the backstretch.
Afterwards those three drivers had different opinions on what happened and other drivers effected had really clear opinions on what happened.
Starting at the top, Sacks said “Richard got into me a little bit and I got into Derrike and it sort of felt like a pinball effect. I wasn’t hitting Derrike until I got hit. Petty said “You can’t win a race on the first lap and there a bunch of us in the garage to prove that.” And finally Cope chimed in that Sacks “hit me going into turn three. I moved up and told myself to relax. I got hit again in turn four and I said ‘come on guys, calm down,’ Sacks hit me again and I hit the wall. Evidently, he must have bounce off me and hit King (Petty). I guess we all got into a situation we couldn’t get out of. You can’t back off. You get out of shape and you have 30 or 40 other guys right behind you.”
Taken out, but not at the start of it was Geoff Bodine. His simple explanation on the wreck was “three idiots wrecked, they saw the damn movie (Days of Thunder).”
Winner Earnhardt suggest that Sacks’ car was rigged to get the pole, which might have caused him to be slower, and lead to the accident. “NASCAR took his manifold gadget, either that or he was afraid to use it. I think the start of the race showed the difference in his car. He wasn’t as fast as when he qualified, was he?”
Ernie Irvan, also involved, blamed it on Sacks’ car as well, but a different area of it. “Every other car has a 33-degree spoiler and he (Sacks) had a 25. Something told me he was going to be loose. I could go fast with a 25 degree spoiler, but I knew I might not be around at the finish.”
It was a red flag of 36 minutes and seven seconds to clean up the carnage.
With the shortened field, it was Earnhardt versus Bobby Hillin, Jr. for most of the afternoon. Hillin spun entering the pits for the last pit stop, dashing his dreams of a win. “I just blew it, I let the guys on the crew down, and I feel bad. I came in too hard and spun it out.”
Two drivers suffered significant injures during a practice crash prior to the event. AJ Foyt lost an engine, putting oil on the track. The pile up that ensued included Darrell Waltrip, Dave Marcis, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Ernie Irvan, Phil Barkdoll, and Bill Elliott. Waltrip and Marcis hit each other, with both drivers suffering broken legs. Jimmy Horton replaced Waltrip (who was then replaced by Sacks) in the #17 Tide Chevrolet, while J.D. McDuffie replaced Marcis in his #71 Pontiac, a Pontiac borrowed from McDuffie.
Earnhardt jumped up from fifth place in points to second behind Martin. The two would have a great fight for the rest of 1990, with it coming down to the final race to determine the champion.