By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Pocono Raceway. Pocono recently hasn’t been known for it’s great finishes, but that hasn’t always been the case at the tricky triangle. In fact one finish from 2000 sticks out in my mind when I think of this track, and that race was the 2000 Pocono 500.
It’s crazy to think, but that race is approaching a decade old. It was June 19th, 2000, and the race was held on a Monday due to rain washing out all activities on Sunday. Rusty Wallace started from the pole, and he dominated the day leading 107 of the 200 laps on the day, however he wasn’t up front in the end when it mattered.
On a late pit stop Wallace opted for four fresh Goodyear tires, while a slew of cars decided on just gas only or two tires. With Wallace mired deep in traffic this left the race to be decided between Dale Earnhardt, and Wallace’s teammate Jeremy Mayfield, which resulted in an instant classic finish.
With nine laps to go Earnhardt, in his black No. 3 car, held an advantage that looked to be a comfortable lead, and it would remain that way for a while. The laps began to click off, eight to go, seven to go, and it appeared Earnhardt would go on to win.
Mayfield just couldn’t get his No. 12 Mobil1 Ford close enough to make a move for the lead, that is until the last lap.
Coming out of turn two of the three turn race course Mayfield got a great run, and going into turn three he put a move on Earnhardt that was a familiar one. Mayfield made a bump and run which nudged Earnhardt, who was running for a record eighth championship, out of the groove and out of the lead. Jeremy Mayfield would go on to win the race in dramatic fashion, as Earnhardt would slip to fourth.
Buddy Baker who called the race immediately said, “When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I’ve seen Earnhardt do that in many races.”
Earnhardt seethed after he crossed the line, and hunted down Mayfield on the track. “The Intimidator” would pull alongside Mayfield, and he made some sort of gesture (what could it have been?). The fans stood in awe, that anyone would have the fortitude to pull such a move on possibly the most polarizing figure in all of NASCAR. However that day Jeremy Mayfield did just that and it payed off.
Dale Jarrett, and his then teammate Ricky Rudd would both slide by Earnhardt down the front stretch to finish second and third. Mark Martin came home fifth, and Rusty Wallace would come home a disappointing 10th after utterly dominating the race.
Following the race Mayfield was asked about his race winning move, and he basically recited a quote from the book of Earnhardt.
“I didn’t mean to hit him, I just meant to rattle his cage, isn’t that how it goes?” Mayfield said.
Of course for those who remember back to the 1999 fall race at Bristol, where Dale Earnhardt got into Terry Labonte for the win, those are the exact words the seven-time champion spoke. Dick Berggren did catch up with Dale Earnhardt after the race to see what he was trying to tell Mayfield with his hand gesture.
“I just told him he was number one.” Earnhardt said.
All in all on the day there were 24 lead changes between 11 drivers, in what turned out to be an epic showing. Every fan who stayed Monday to watch this race definitely got their moneys worth.
Earnhardt would of course come up just shy of capturing his eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship that season, as he finished second in the year-end point standings to Bobby Labonte. Jeremy Mayfield, who won another race earlier in the season in controversial fashion, would have horrific luck the remainder of the year, and would be a non-factor in the points battle.
Mayfield is now of course out of NASCAR after abusing the substance abuse policy, and is waging a legal battle against the racing series, but his most recent attempt to sue NASCAR has been thrown out by a judge.