April 1 in NASCAR history: Dale Earnhardt tames Bristol for 1st Cup win

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Dale Earnhardt wasn’t joking around on April Fool’s Day in 1979.

At the age of 27, the future seven-time Cup champion bested the likes of Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty to score his first career Cup Series win, in the Southeastern 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt, driving the No. 2 car for Rod Osterlund, led 164 laps and the final 25 to get the win.

It was the first of two Cup wins for Osterlund’s team and it came in Earnhardt’s 16th career start.

“I’ll probably believe it in the morning,” Earnhardt said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era,” which says 26,000 were in attendance for the race. “This is a bigger thrill than my first ever racing victory. … It was against top caliber drivers. It wasn’t some dirt track back home.”

Earnhardt, who would be named Rookie of the Year in 1979, would go on to win the race again the next year and claim nine total Cup victories at Bristol. He’d win in consecutive Bristol starts three times in his career.

Also on this date:

1973: After a spirited mid-race battle between David Pearson and Cale Yarborough at Atlanta, Yarborough lost seven laps to the leaders due to heating problems. Pearson went on to win over Bobby Isaac by two laps for his second consecutive win. He’d win his next three starts.

1984: Darrell Waltrip scored his seventh straight win at Bristol Motor Speedway with a victory over Terry Labonte and Ron Bouchard. It was the eighth straight Bristol win for team owner Junior Johnson.

1990: Dale Earnhardt edges Mark Martin by a couple of car lengths to win at Darlington. On Lap 212, a multi-car wreck occurred that involved Neil Bonnett. Bonnett suffered injuries, including a concussion, that would keep him out of a Cup car until a 1993 race at Talladega.

1993: Just days after competing in a Cup race at Darlington, defending champion Alan Kulwicki was killed along with three others in a plane crash as they traveled to Bristol, Tennessee for that weekend’s race. Kulwicki was 38.

2007: Jimmie Johnson edged teammate Jeff Gordon by half a car length to win at Martinsville. It was Johnson’s third win in the first six races of the year.