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Throwback Thursday Theater: Earnhardt, Elliott and the ‘Pass in the Grass’

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

When the Cup Series made it to Charlotte for the 1987 all-star race, Dale Earnhardt had absolutely dominated the season up to that point, winning six of the nine races that had taken place thus far in the season. His rival, Bill Elliott, had won the season opening Daytona 500.

With the two going at it week in and week out, it would all come to a head in The Winston. Earnhardt, the hard-charging North Carolina native versus Elliott, the mild-mannered Georgia boy.

Elliott had absolutely dominated the race until the final 10-lap shootout, when Elliott got together with Geoff Bodine on the segment start and spun him out, allowing Earnhardt to take over the lead, with Elliott right back in the hunt in second place.

Trying to pass Earnhardt every which way he could, the moment that still lives in All-Star race lore came with seven laps to go.

With Earnhardt still in the lead, Elliott got into Earnhardt coming through the dogleg on the frontstretch, causing Earnhardt to run through the grass. The infamous “Pass in the Grass” happened at that very moment as Earnhardt was able to put on a driving clinic and save the car from spinning out, all the while staying in the lead. Even though the “Pass in the Grass” was not technically a pass, it still showed the amount of sheer talent that Earnhardt had behind the wheel.

A lap later, Earnhardt moved to the low side of the track heading into Turn 3, allowing Elliott to pull up alongside him on the outside. Drifting up the track, the two of them made contact, which eventually cut Elliott’s tire and relegated him to a 14th place finish after leading 121 of 135 laps.

Earnhardt would go on to lead the remaining laps, holding off Terry Labonte to win the race, but even with the victory and $200,000 in his pocket, there was no doubt that he was still hot under the collar about what had happened with Elliott.

“That was something else. Bill spun that 5 car out and caused a big mess and then he tried to come up there and spin me out twice. I ain’t taking it,” Earnhardt said from victory lane.

“Bill and them got into it and spun around and I’ll be darned if Bill didn’t try to knock me out twice. He had me sideways going off of two over there and then turned me through the tri-oval. I lifted him up high just to let him know I was mad. I didn’t try to run him in the wall or nothing and then he tried to wreck me there after the caution. I think he was a little upset.”

Needless to say, Elliott saw things a bit differently.

“I was clearly under him,” said Elliott. “I was going on. I clearly had the quickest car. He was trying to cut me off every way he could…I had him covered, but if we’re going to let stuff like that go, we’ll see what happens next week.

“It’s time for this to stop. The thing of it is, I have been not the aggressive driver all my life. I’ve tried to give and take with the best, but when a guy cuts you off that bad and that obvious, it’s time to take the other cheek. You go out and you run as hard as you can all day long and then him trying to cut you out and outrun you, that ain’t how I was brought up racing.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.