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On This Date in Sports October 23, 1994: Dale's Seventh Cup

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With two races left, Dale Earnhardt clinches his seventh NASCAR season championship. The seven Winston Cup titles equaled the record set by Richard Petty. The Intimidator clinches the Winston Cup by winning AC Delco 500 in Rockingham, North Carolina. It was the fourth win of the season for Earnhardt and his 23rd top ten. It was the second straight point’s title and the fourth in five years for Dale Earnhardt.

Ralph Dale Earnhardt was a second-generation stock car driver, born April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His father, Ralph Lee Earnhardt, spent most of his time racing on dirt tracks in North Carolina when he was not working at the local cotton mill. He would eventually make it on the NASCAR circuit but never won a race and died at the age of 45 due to a massive heart attack in 1973.

Dale Earnhardt had similarly humble beginnings. He dropped out of school to pursue a career in racing, but also hard to work at the cotton mill, due to limited opportunities to make into NASCAR. In those early days, he ran one the same dirt tracks his father once rode. After Ralph Earnhardt’s passing, Dale Earnhardt decided to dedicate his life to making it on the Winston Cup circuit. He ran his first race on the premier NASCAR circuit in 1975, at the World 600 in Charlotte, finishing 22nd. Over the next four years, he raced in eight Winston Cup races, before finally getting a full-time ride in 1979.

Dale Earnhardt racing for Rod Osterlund became NASCAR’s new star in 1979, winning his first race as he was named Rookie of the Year. In 1980, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup Championship. However, early success would fade, as Earnhardt struggled over the next five years before landing at Richard Childress racing in 1984. It is here he got his famous #3 car decked in black. The switch to black brought out the best in Dale Earnhardt, as he became the most popular driver, known for his aggressive racing style that earned him the nickname of the “The Intimidator,” while winning the Winston Cup in 1986 and 1987.

As the 90s began, it was clear that Dale Earnhardt was the star of NASCAR, as he dominated the first half of the decade, winning the Winston Cup four times in five years, with back-to-back wins in 1990 and 1991. Then doing the double again in 1993 and 1994. The 1994 championship would be the final Winston Cup of his career. In 1998 as NASCAR celebrated its 50th Anniversary, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500, the only accomplishment that seemed to elude him during his career. Sadly, it was at the Daytona 500 in 2001, where Earnhardt died crashing into turn three on the race’s final lap.

The record of seven NASCAR Championships shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, got company in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson won his seventh season championship. Petty had won seven titles under five different point championship formats. Johnson has won his seven titles under four formats, as NASCAR introduced a playoff system to prevent runaway wins, like the one that Dale Earnhardt enjoyed in 1994.