With Kentucky Speedway holding only its third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this Saturday night, this week we take a look back to the 1990 DieHard 500 held at Talladega Superspeedway. Why this race? Well just like this weekend’s Quaker State 400, the DieHard 500 was the 17th event on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule and unlike most weekends in NASCAR’s past, the weekend preceding the Fourth of July event at Daytona was annually an open date in the schedule.
Whereas this year’s 17th race on the schedule is being held in late June, the 17th race on the 1990 schedule was held in late July. 1990 was a year of domination for Dale Earnhardt in terms of his performance in the restrictor place races. He dominated in the Daytona 500 only to have a cut tire on the last lap prevent him from winning the Great American Race. At the Winston 500 at Talladega, Earnhardt dominated but had to fight off Greg Sacks all race long. In the Pepsi 400, Earnhardt dominated again to take his first points paying win at Daytona. Going into the DieHard 500, Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing team was bringing back the same car that participated in all three events.
It came as no surprise that Earnhardt claimed the pole for the 500-lap race. It probably wasn’t a surprise either that the Sunday afternoon event was plagued by scorching temperatures reaching near 110 degrees. Unfortunately for the drivers, the DieHard 500 would be a very clean race with only two caution periods for a total of 12 laps.
The searing heat took its toll on the drivers but proved tougher on the machines as there were six engine failures during the event. The two caution periods occurred in the first 60 laps of the 188 lap race, the first for an accident and the second for debris on the track.
The first caution flew when Dick Trickle and Phil Parsons wrecked in turn four. While Parsons’ day was finished, it appeared as though Trickle would be able to continue in the event. Trickle bypassed the pits twice in hopes of staying on the lead lap. Unfortunately Trickle’s right front tire blew under the caution forcing Trickle into the wall on two separate occasions.
The most memorable and scary moment of the race occurred under the second caution period. After pitting, rookie driver, Stanley Smith exited his stall and got back to speed in the pits. Somehow, Smith was forced onto the grass which upset his car and sent it spinning backward into the path of Tracy Leslie‘s pit crew who was just finishing changing right side tires. Smith’s car slammed into the rear tire changer, tire holder and jack man while also damaging Leslie’s car. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured but the incident would serve as a forecast as to what would happen later on at the season ending race at Atlanta.
The race itself was dominated by Earnhardt. Although he didn’t pull away from the pack as he did the previous three plate races that year, Earnhardt led 134 laps and ended up taking the victory. No other driver since then has been able to come close to winning all four restrictor plate events. Bill Elliott led the second most laps in the race, 21 to be exact on his way to a second place finish.
Sterling Marlin led 10 laps and placed third. The top five was rounded out by Alan Kulwicki and Ricky Rudd. Other drivers who led were Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin, Jr., Rob Moroso, Harry Gant, Geoff Bodine, Davey Allison, Michael Waltrip, A.J. Foyt, Rusty Wallace and Butch Miller however none of them led for more than four laps. Dick Trickle was able to return to the race but finished a disappointing 36th, 56 laps behind the leaders.