The 2001 Daytona 500 stands out as an important date for NASCAR fans because it marked the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr., “The Intimidator,” in the black-and-red No. 3 car.
But that race also introduced an important new twist to NASCAR.
It started days before, when a member of “The Intimidator’s” team, Michael Waltrip, was feeling guilty about losing a race.
Man, Waltrip thought, I bet he’s gonna cuss me.
Instead, Earnhardt surprised him. When Waltrip blurted out that he should have won the race, Earnhardt said: “What? I shoulda won that race. Not you. I didn’t win it either. Listen. That don’t matter. Yesterday’s yesterday. Forget about that. Pay attention to me. I’m gonna tell you how we’re gonna win the Daytona 500 race Sunday.”
Earnhardt then unveiled a new strategy: working together by locking the team’s three cars up front. Suddenly, Waltrip couldn’t wait for Sunday.
“I was back in business,” he said. “I’d never had a teammate. Now I had a whole team. And I’d had an owner lay out a real plan. … I had never looked in my mirror for one second and thought that the driver behind me was there to help me. I’m pretty sure no other driver ever had, either.”
It worked. As Waltrip led the race, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., scrappy Earnhardt Sr., in the third car, aggressively fended off all comers until losing control and crashing in the last lap.
But his team won.won.
— Adapted from In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona and the Day that Changed Everything, Michael Waltrip and Ellis Henican, Hyperion.