The Day the Intimidator got Intimidated: 2000 Pocono 500
Pocono Raceway is one of the more unique tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Pocono is essentially a triangle (hence its name, The Tricky Triangle); three turns and three very long straightaways. This track is high-speed, with speeds over 200 miles per hour going into turns 1 and 2. With its wide surface and fast speeds, the racing is hardly ever close; however, there have been memorable finishes at Pocono: 2021, where Larson blew a tire in the last corner, giving the win to Alex Bowman, or 2014 where Dale Jr swept both Pocono races spectacularly, but one Pocono race stands out amongst the crowd.
In 2000, NASCAR made its first of two stops at the Pocono Raceway for the running of the Pocono 500. For the most part, the race is your average Pocono race; Rusty Wallace qualified pole and had led 107 laps of the 200-lap race. He was one of the favorites to win, but a late caution put him back in the pack granting the other Penske driver Jeremy Mayfield the lead.
While Mayfield may not be remembered very favorably by the NASCAR fandom today, in the early 2000s, Mayfield was a hot commodity in the NASCAR garage. Mayfield would try to hold on to his lead, but a certain GM Goodwrench Chevorlet took the lead after the restart. Dale Earnhardt would take the lead, and the car had found speed late in the race and went uncontested from lap 184 to 199. Did Dale not lead the last lap? What happened? Mayfield caught up to Dale in the last few laps of the race and was driving hard to find a lane past Dale. However, Dale wasn’t going to move over. If Jeremy wanted to win, he had to earn it. Going into turn three on the last lap, Jeremy got right on the back bumper of Dale and moved him out of the way for the race win.
Let that simmer for a second. Dale Earnhardt, “The Intimidator,” was moved by his technique. Dale had perfected the technique of getting on someone’s back bumper and moving them out of the way, sometimes wrecking them. Terry Labonte knows plenty about that. However, any driver or fan knows you do not move Dale Earnhardt and get away with it. Again, ask Terry Labonte what happens when you move Earnhardt. Jeremy, on the other hand, was not privy to that. Dale would lose a further two spots finishing 4th. The NASCAR world was in shock by the finish. If you thought Dale was upset about the move, you would be right… and wrong.
Dale would be interviewed by Dick Berggren, a legendary reporter for NASCAR. By his answers to Dick’s questions, his being upset about the bump doesn’t seem to hold up. It was a classic Earnhardt interview. His response to what he did after the race on the cooldown lap says it all; it is a quintessential Dale Earnhardt answer. Jeremy would be interviewed as well and used the phrase “…wanted to rattle his cage”, a reference to a 1999 race at Bristol where Earnhardt wrecks Terry Labonte on the last lap. These events are why this race is so remembered: Jeremy beat Dale at his own game and perhaps won the respect of the Intimidator, something not everyone could say.
Unfortunately, Mayfield would finish the year 24th in points; however, Dale would come short of his 8th championship, finishing 2nd behind Bobby Labonte.