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The Greatest Race in Charlotte Motor Speedway History

Dale EarnhardtCharlotte Motor Speedway Theme Week continues today at the CRO Blog. This week we looked back at the highlights of the 2015 Charlotte Spring AutoFair that took place recently and featured the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Today we take a look back at the greatest race in Charlotte Motor Speedway history.

With a legendary history dating all the way back to 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks. The Bank of America 500 and Coca-Cola 600 are hosted annually, with the latter finishing under the lights in one of racing’s greatest spectacles. Charlotte Speedway is also host to the Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston. With a host of big-time stars and no shortage of spectacular finishes, it’s no surprise that the event played host to arguably the track’s greatest ever race. Here’s a look at the 1987 The Winston, known in NASCAR lore as “The Pass in the Grass.”


The Format

The Winston, an all-star race pitting many of the sport’s greatest drivers against one another for a cash prize and a whole lot of bragging rights, was initially not as big a hit as NASCAR had intended following its 1985 introduction. The 1986 race, held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, was especially disappointing. For 1987, the race was moved back to Charlotte and the format was changed to create more excitement. Rather than a single race, drivers competed in three separate segments. The first two segments were divided into 75 and 50 laps, while the final segment featured a ten-lap dash for the cash.


Trouble Brewing

By 1987, Dale Earnhardt had already garnered a reputation as racing’s bad boy. His aggressive, hard-charging driving style had won him begrudging respect among his peers, but few friends. Few had more ill will toward Earnhardt than Bill Elliott, and the two battled ferociously during the race. Elliott had the faster car, allowing him to dominate the majority of the first two segments, but Earnhardt’s aggressiveness and willingness to use his car as a battering ram allowed him to stay near the front of the pack heading into the final segment. With just one ten-lap sprint to go, the stage was set for one of the most memorable and controversial finishes in NASCAR history.


The Finish

Following a caution flag with seven laps remaining, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott found themselves running first and second. Bumping and jockeying and swapping paint all over the track, Earnhardt was sent flying into the grass along the front stretch. Refusing to let off the throttle, Earnhardt managed to regain the lead in a move that would later be dubbed “The Pass in the Grass.” On the back stretch, Earnhardt retaliated by putting Elliott hard into the wall. With Elliott suffering a blown tire shortly thereafter, Earnhardt cruised to victory. The finish set off fireworks between the drivers, each of them blaming the other for the over-aggressive racing, and helped to cement Earnhardt as the baddest man in NASCAR.


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