Fifteen years ago, in October of 2000, Dale Earnhardt won one of the most incredible stock car races you will ever see, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Earnhardt went from 18th to first in the final five laps of the Winston 500. That’s not a misprint – 18th to first.
The victory would turn out to be the last one “The Intimidator” ever had in NASCAR’s top series – No. 76 of 76. Only four months later, Earnhardt would die in a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.
I went back and watched the last 20 laps of the race on YouTube this past week, just for fun, and it was just as good as I remember.
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Earnhardt was a master of restrictor-plate racing – much like Dale Jr. is today – although he made no secret of the fact he didn’t much like it. Earnhardt beat his son that day at Talladega, along with everyone else, working with Kenny Wallace to get to the front at the end of a remarkable race.
At a place where the potential for a big wreck always looms, the Winston 500 in 2000 was unusual in another respect. There were no big wrecks at all until right after the checkered flag flew.
The cars went four-wide frequently at 150 mph, and there were 49 official lead changes and a whole lot more unofficial ones. The late David Poole, our great racing writer at the Observer, was there and wrote that it was “one of the most amazing races” in NASCAR history.
So wouldn’t it be something if Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Sunday at Talladega on the 15th anniversary of that race? He could really use the win, because the Chase playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight after the race, and Dale Jr. is in 11th place, on the outside looking in. I’d love to see it.
▪ Crackbacks Part 1: One thing I’ve been impressed with early in Jeremy Lin’s game is the way he will run from the 3-point line to the paint on defense to fight for a long rebound, rather than drift away from the scrum the way a lot of guards do. Lin had a team-high eight rebounds for Charlotte in Monday night’s home exhibition victory against Chicagoand came down with several contested boards. He calls the technique “cracking back.”
“For a point guard, I’m pretty tall,” said the 6-foot-3 Lin, “and I want to make sure I crack back. One thing we don’t have on this team is an elite shot blocker or somebody who can really go up and get (dozens of rebounds). You don’t have a DeAndre Jordan or a Dwight Howard. So we’re going to have to have a lot of perimeter guys come and crack back.”
▪ Crackbacks Part 2: Lin’s kind of crackback is fine. The kind that Seattle put on Dwan Edwards, causing him to get hurt last Sunday, is not. I think any kind of “cut” block from knee level or below should be outlawed at all levels of football.
▪ Michigan fallout: So former Michigan coach Brady Hoke says he wouldn’t have punted against Michigan State with 10 seconds left, thus avoiding what is destined to be the most talked-about touchdown in college football in 2015. I have a hard time believing that.
But this is also true – if Jim Harbaugh had won that game in the final seconds instead of losing it on a flubbed punt, he would be hailed all over the place as a savior. Listen, Harbaugh is good, but he’s not that good. Players ultimately win and lose games, not coaches. Harbaugh’s decision to punt in that case was fine.