May 7 in NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt earns lone road course win

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Last week we documented Mark Martin’s first of two restrictor-plate wins, which came in 1995 at Talladega after he passed Dale Earnhardt coming to the white flag.

Only a week later, on May 7, The Intimidator returned the favor. But his revenge didn’t come on a superspeedway. It occurred on one of Martin’s specialities in the mid-90s — a road course.

From 1989-98, Martin was an ace on road courses. In his first 10 starts at Sonoma Raceway, he placed in the top three five times, including a win in 1997. At Watkins Glen International, he never finished outside the top five in the same time span, winning three consecutive races from 1993-95.

Earnhardt, on the other hand, only broke through for a road course win once in 47 attempts during his Cup career, which included 20 starts and 13 top fives at the defunct Riverside International Raceway.

The breakthrough happened at Sonoma and occurred in typical Intimidator fashion.

Martin led 64 of the first 70 laps in the 74-lap event. Earnhardt had led none. But on Lap 70, Earnhardt loomed in Martin’s rear-view mirror as Jeff Gordon looked on from third place in almost a mirror image of the week before.

Earnhardt didn’t let up. He almost gave Martin a shove as they entered the Carousel with two laps to go. After Martin slipped in oil, Earnhardt dove to his inside and emerged with the lead as they exited Turn 6.

Earnhardt led the rest of the way, never receiving a real challenge, aided by Martin and Gordon nearly getting together in Turn 11 coming to the white flag.

“I was as careful as I could be the last lap without giving Mark a chance to get back to me,” Earnhardt said in the next day’s Charlotte Observer. “I knew I was close to getting my first win on a road course and I didn’t want to blow it after trying for so long.”

Earnhardt was asked if would have been able to pass Martin cleanly if not for Martitn’s slip in the Carousel.

“Clean to me is not putting him out of the race track,” Earnhardt replied. “Now why did I say that?”

Also on this date:

1955: Junior Johnson overcame two spins to lead 123 of the final 136 laps and win at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. It was the first of his 50 career Grand National victories.

1972: David Pearson passed Bobby Isaac with three laps to go to win at Talladega. A young rookie from Franklin, Tennessee, named Darrell Waltrip competed in his first Cup Series race. He started 25th but fell out on Lap 69 due to a blown engine. Also in the race was country singer Marty Robbins, who placed 18th and was voted rookie of the race. Robbins later was disqualified for an illegal carburetor.

1983: Darrell Waltrip lapped the field to win a Cup race at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway over Bobby Allison. The race was named after Marty Robbins, who died the previous December at 57 due to complications from a heart attack. Robbins made 35 Cup starts from 1966-82. His only start at the Nashville short track was his first career start.

2005: In an overtime finish, Greg Biffle overtook Ryan Newman and beat Jeff Gordon to win the first night race at Darlington.

2011: On old tires, Regan Smith held off Carl Edwards to win at Darlington to claim his first and only Cup Series win and the first NASCAR win for Furniture Row Racing, which had been competing since 2005. After being involved in a late wreck, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch got into a post-race altercation that saw Harvick reach into Busch’s car and Busch drive away, pushing Harvick’s car into the pit wall.