Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR's darling youngster in the early 1980s, rebounded during the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season from a few sluggish years after his electrifying championship as a sophomore in 1980. Earnhardt's Wrangler Jeans machine ran up front every week. Along the way, Earnhardt ruffled a few feathers, crumpled some sheet metal, shoved rivals out of the way, and acquired the nickname "The Intimidator." Earnhardt's thrilling driving style made the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season a joy to watch.
The following article gives a recap of the 1986 season, including the year's highlights, final standings, and, of course, plenty of pictures to let you follow the action.
Following an announcement in late 1985, NASCAR changes the names of its premier stock car racing series and its second-ranked division. "Grand National" has been dropped from the Winston Cup Series and shifted to the old Late Model Sportsman division. "We feel our friends at Winston deserve a name of their own," says NASCAR president Bill France, Jr. The official titles of NASCAR's two leading stock car racing series become NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Grand National.
Neil Bonnett's #12 Chevrolet dives down to the apron as Joe Ruttman's #26 Buick darts toward the outside wall in the Feb. 16 Daytona 500. A broken wheel on Bonnett's car triggered the massive pileup. No drivers were injured in the melee. Numerous crashes brought out 120 miles worth of caution flags, depleting the field for the 28th edition of The Great American Race. Geoff Bodine won the race. See more pictures of NASCAR.
February 16, 1986: Daytona 500
Geoff Bodine outlasts Dale Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt is poised to slingshot around Bodine for the win, but runs out of fuel with three laps remaining.
February 23, 1986: Miller High Life 400
Kyle Petty comes from fifth to first when the top four cars are wiped out in a crash and wins the Miller High Life 400 at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. Dale Earnhardt triggers a massive pileup in the final laps when he hooks Darrell Waltrip's rear bumper.
March 16, 1986: Motorcraft 500
Morgan Shepherd, driving Jack Beebe's unsponsored Buick, holds Dale Earnhardt at bay in the final laps to win the Motorcraft 500 at Atlanta. The victory is the second of Shepherd's NASCAR Winston Cup career.
Richard Petty returned to the Petty Enterprises family operation in 1986 following two seasons with Californian Mike Curb. Pontiac unveiled a new slope-backed Grand Prix 2+2 in 1986, but instead of cutting the air smoothly, the car turned out to be an ill-handling beast. Petty failed to win a race for the second year in a row, and he led in only seven of the 29 events.
April 6, 1986
Rusty Wallace leads the final 101 laps at Bristol to score the first NASCAR Winston Cup win of his career. Wallace outruns runner-up Ricky Rudd by 10.69 seconds.
May 4, 1986: Winston 500
Bobby Allison fends off Dale Earnhardt in a dramatic last-lap duel in the Winston 500 at Talladega. Allison ends a two-year drought with the victory.
Bill Elliott's red Ford spits a plume of smoke in the early laps of the April 27 Sovran Bank 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Elliott's engine expired after only 42 laps, leaving him with a last-place finish. Kyle Petty drove the #7 Wood Brothers Ford to a fourth-place showing.
June 15, 1986: Miller American 400
Bill Elliott outruns Harry Gant to win the Miller American 400 at Michigan. Gant makes a miraculous comeback from serious injuries, including a bruised heart, suffered in a crash a week earlier at Pocono. The race is billed as Richard Petty's 1,000th career start, although it is only his 999th career NASCAR Winston Cup race.
July 27, 1986: Talladega 500
Bobby Hillin, Jr., a 22-year-old Texan, holds off Tim Richmond in a last-lap battle to win the Talladega 500. Hillin, Jr., becomes the third youngest driver to win a NASCAR Winston Cup race.
Greg Sacks' Chevrolet lurches sideways during the Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Sacks, the defending champion of the July 4 event, struggled throughout the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup campaign as the once-powerful DiGard Racing team fell on hard times. The DiGard team could only secure an associate sponsorship package from TRW in 1986. A year later, the DiGard team folded.
August 10, 1986
The NASCAR Winston Cup Series makes its first visit to Watkins Glen since 1965, and Tim Richmond wins the 219-mile event. Richmond's Chevy beats Darrell Waltrip by 1.45-seconds on the twisting road course.
September 14, 1986: Delaware 500
Ricky Rudd scores his first career superspeedway victory in the Delaware 500 at Dover Downs. Rudd beats runner-up Neil Bonnett by 5.08 seconds.
Alan Kulwicki guides his #35 Quincy's Steak House Ford through a turn at Richmond en route to a 15th-place finish. Kulwicki's freshman season in NASCAR Winston Cup racing was quite remarkable. He bought the car from team owner Bill Terry in spring and tackled the NASCAR Winston Cup tour with his one-and-only car. Kulwicki managed to log four top-10 finishes. For his determined efforts, Kulwicki was voted 1986 Rookie of the Year.
October 5, 1986: Oakwood Homes 500
Dale Earnhardt romps to victory in Charlotte's Oakwood Homes 500. Tire problems force Earnhardt to make two unscheduled pit stops early, dropping him two laps and more than four miles behind the leaders. Timely caution flags help Earnhardt make up the laps and sprint to the win.
November 16, 1986
Tim Richmond wins his seventh race of the season as Dale Earnhardt captures his second NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Earnhardt places second and finishes 288 points in front of Darrell Waltrip for the title.
Continue on to the next page to see the final standings of the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season.
For more information on all things NASCAR, see:
- NASCAR Season Recaps
- NASCAR Tracks
- NASCAR Results
- NASCAR Drivers
- How NASCAR Works
- How the Daytona 500 Works