Ten years later

Times Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Sr. had won every type of stock-car race at Daytona International Speedway except its crown jewel, the Daytona 500.

The seven-time champion had won the summer race, qualifying heats and exhibition races, but time and again the 500 eluded him. Until 1998.

Earnhardt finally won the coveted race in his 20th attempt -- with a bit of luck. The hard-charging veteran, known as "the Intimidator," took the checkered flag with a lucky penny taped to his dashboard that was a gift from a little girl.

Then came a scene rare in motor sports. As Earnhardt slowly drove toward Victory Lane, all the crew members of his rival drivers and NASCAR officials stood in a line to shake his hand, a spontaneous outpouring of their respect.

"I'll never forget it," Richard Childress, who owned Earnhardt's black No. 3 Chevrolet, said at a press conference last week as he unveiled a 10-year anniversary die-cast model of the car. "If anyone ever deserved to win the Daytona 500, it was him. Every time I think about that win, it just gives you cold chills."

Earnhardt was 46 when he won. "It was my time, that's all I can say," he said that day. "I've been passed here. I've run out of gas. I've been cut down by a tire. I've done it all."

It was his only Daytona 500 victory in 34 total wins at the speedway.

Three years after his victory, Earnhardt was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

And three years after that, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the Daytona 500 on his fifth attempt.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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