One of the most controversial races in NASCAR history happened at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1990. In an era before electronic timing and scoring, a scoring dispute caused a mix up in the running order during the final laps. Brett Bodine won his first career race, but Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip felt otherwise.
But what exactly happened on track during that race? Nascarman History with Brock Beard narrating tried to sift through everything that happened during the final 200+ laps at North Wilkesboro that day.
The 1990 First Union 400 was the seventh race of the 1990 NASCAR Cup Series season. As nascarman History noted, Brett Bodine was in his first full-time season with Kenny Bernstein in the 26 car, and Bodine had yet to win a Cup Series race. Nascarman history did not go into detail about Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Watrip, but here is some context on them.
Earnhardt, who started fourth that day, was a three-time champion at the time, and was about to start his string of four championships in five seasons. He was coming off of a narrow loss in the 1989 championship to Rusty Wallace.
Waltrip started seventh driving the 17 Tide car for Rick Hendrick with crew chief Jeff Hammond. Waltrip was nearing the end of his race-winning days, but he was still a contender who had won six races the previous season in 1989.
Nascarman history noted that Bodine started near the back of the pack. According to Racing Reference, Bodine started in 20th in the 32 car field, but Bodine worked his way forward. Before he and crew chief Larry McReynolds elected to do an alternate pit strategy.
Chain of Events
Nascarman history went by different laps during the race to note what happened to Bodine throughout the day. From the start of Bodine’s strategy to the end of the race.
Lap 154: Bodine elects to pit under a caution while the leaders elect to stay out.
Lap 186: Another caution comes out where the top seven cars pit. Bodine, who had already pitted a few laps prior, decided to stay out and assumed the lead for 63 laps.
Lap 250: After attempting to hold Earnhardt off, Bodine loses the lead. Earnhardt drives away to a huge lead.
Lap 290: Bodine is passed by Waltrip, and eventually drops to fourth on track. Nascarman history makes some assumptions here with no electronic timing and scoring, but he estimates that Bodine falls to around 9.0 seconds behind Earnhardt and 2.0 seconds behind Waltrip in second.
Lap 304-305: Bodine pits for his final scheduled stop of the day, and comes out just under two laps behind Earnhardt. Nascarman History estimates around a 39 second gap behind Earnhardt, and 32 seconds behind Waltrip. Tire fall-off was a big deal at North Wilkesboro, and based on Bodine running roughly 1-1.5 seconds quicker due to having fresh tires, Bodine closed the gap.
Lap 315: Earnhardt pits with Bodine gaining roughly 15 seconds on the leaders due to fresh tires. Nascarman History estimated Bodine being 24 seconds behind Earnhardt, far less than the roughly 30 seconds lost on pit road. However, Earnhardt had a slow stop of 24.8 seconds, giving Bodine more advantage.
Lap 317: Waltrip pits with a 20.9 second stop.
Lap 320: A caution flag comes out for a crash in turn one. Nascarman History points out that the TV footage shows Bodine running in front of Earnhardt and Waltrip, but the pace car picks up Earnhardt as the leader. This effectively puts Bodine in a lap by himself in the lead.
Lap 321-338: Bodine pits for fresh while being that far ahead, and most of the field goes around the pace car to catch up to Bodine.
Lap 338-400: Bodine takes the lead and never looks back. He wins the race, Waltrip finishes second, and Earnhardt third.
In the aftermath of the finish, drivers and crew chiefs alike did not believe Bodine won the race. Nascarman History noted that Earnhardt, Waltrip, and Waltrip’s crew chief Jeff Hammond all said post race that they believed Bodine could not have won.
Nascarman History comes to the conclusion that Bodine definitely won this race based on the short-pitting strategy that has been seen in modern NASCAR. A strategy that was harder to follow back then because of the lack of electronic timing and scoring.
Ultimately, nascarman History makes a very compelling case that Bodine took home the win. That being said, there are some factors that are not taken into account. Such as how did he perform in lapped traffic?
With no ESPN cameras on him during that stretch, it’s tough to tell if he was really running that much faster than the field although it certainly is plausible. I would probably lean towards the camp that says he won this race, and Bodine still stands by that he does.
However, it is always a race that will be shrouded in controversy. Ultimately, that is probably a good thing as it keeps the conversation going.