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On This Date in Sports February 14, 1999: Race of Legends

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Jeff Gordon wins the Daytona 500 for the second time in three years, holding off reigning champion Dale Earnhardt. Gordon took the lead with 12 laps left, using a daring three-wide pass to take the lead from Rusty Wallace. Gordon needed to duck Ricky Rudd's disabled car driving on the apron. On the last lap, Jeff Gordon needed to play defense as Earnhardt tried to make the pass but fell 0.128 seconds short as Gordon took the checkered flag.  

Dale Earnhardt Sr., born April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, was the biggest star in Stock Car racing in the 1980s and early 1990s. Known as the Intimidator, Earnhardt won the series championship seven times in 14 years, tying the record of Richard Petty. He had won all the prestigious races but the Daytona 500. After 30 years of trying, Dale Earnhardt Sr. finally won the Daytona in 1998, touching off a celebration for the ages. 

Jeff Gordon was born on August 4, 1971, in Vallejo, California. Gordon, who began racing quarter-midget cars at an early age, seemed bred for racing. Just as Earnhardt rose to superstardom in Petty's twilight years, the late 90s became the era of Jeff Gordon. While Dale Earnhardt won the Dayton 500 in 1998, Jeff Gordon won the series title for the third time in four years, taking his second straight Winston Cup. Gordon had won the Daytona 500 in 1997 and was looking to once again reign supreme at the Great American Race. 

Jeff Gordon had the car to dominate as he won the pole in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Rusty Wallace, a NASCAR veteran who was seeking to end his drought at Daytona, led for 104 laps and appeared to be in command late. The race included a 13-car pile-up on lap 135, with Dale Jarrett, the eventual 1999 series champion flipping over. With 12 laps left, Jeff Gordon made his move going three-wide to avoid Ricky Rudd's car and pass Wallace to take the lead. When the final lap arrived, it was Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon locked in a duel for the checkered flag. Earnhardt had not had the lead at any time during the race but was right there battling the Gordon. Several times, Dale Earnhardt tried to get the black #3 past the #24 rainbow car, but Jeff Gordon would not give him a lane. Jeff Gordon was able to hold off Earnhardt crossing the finish line 0.128 seconds ahead.