Even though there were still two races remaining, the 1994 NASCAR Winston Cup season ended for thousands of stock-car fans on Oct. 23 when Dale Earnhardt clinched his seventh series championship by winning the AC Delco 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.
With his closest challenger, Rusty Wallace, buried 35th in the rundown after blowing an engine on lap 300 of the 492-lap event, Earnhardt claimed the milestone championship with seven laps remaining in the race, an event he won by beating Rick Mast in a duel to the finish.
“We did what we had to do all season,” Earnhardt said after tying Richard Petty’s record of seven titles.
“Every race we went to, the Richard Childress team raced according to what we had to do. You have to finish these races to win the championship.
“I guess it will take a day or two for everything to sink in, but I’m proud to be in the same group with Richard Petty. Winning seven championships is an accomplishment for this team. Everybody did a great job this year, and I’m proud of every person on the team.
“It’s been a tough year,” Earnhardt admitted. “I have to dedicate this year to Neil Bonnett and this race to Frank Wilson. Bonnett was my best friend and Wilson was a good friend.”
Wilson, president of North Carolina Motor Speedway, died in August and Bonnett was killed in a crash at Daytona in February.
Earnhardt, who started 20th in his black No. 3 Chevrolet, took the lead for the first time on lap 173. He led four times for 108 laps, including the final 77.
Mast, who led three times for 58 laps, chased down Earnhardt and made several attempts to pass prior to the last caution flag, which was waved on lap 478 when Darrell Waltrip crashed in the fourth turn.
Throughout the race, Mast improved during long green-flag runs.
“I didn’t need that last caution,” Mast said. “It helped Earnhardt when the yellow waved. We all pitted and put on tires, and I figured he would be better then.”
The victory was Earnhardt’s fourth of the season, but his first since May.
Earnhardt left the track after ceremonies and a press conference. He boarded his private jet, heading for an elk hunt in New Mexico.
“I plan to be on a horse and up into the mountains tonight where there is nobody but Indians, and they don’t care about racing,” he said. “I need a break.”