The 2001 Dura Lube 400 (The Fatal Wreck)
The race was delayed for more than 90 minutes before only competing for 52 laps when it was stopped due to rain falling on the race track. The race restarted the next day under sunny conditions. The race was won by Steve Park in the No.1 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.; unfortunately the race also cost the life of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This was also Kevin Harvick's debut in the Cup Series, as he replaced Dale Earnhardt in the #3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing because Earnhardt had fallen ill.
On the first lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bumped from behind by Ron Hornaday, Jr. heading into turn 3 and sent it into Kenny Wallace's path, crashing at 150 mph at an angle, with Earnhardt, Jr. being fatally injured, although he survived the initial impact he never regained consciousness and died an hour later surrounded by family. Other cars involved were Jimmy Spencer, Mike Wallace and Hut Stricklin. Due to the incident, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. announced DEI would be shutdown at sometime before the 2005 season; DEI closed prior to the 2005 season.
On lap 44, Park passed Gordon for the lead. Two laps later, the yellow flag was waved when rain started to fall on the track. The race was eventually stopped with Stacy Compton leading when everyone made their scheduled pit stops.The race was red flagged, and eventually postponed to Monday, February 26 at 11 am Eastern Standard Time. The next day, the race restarted on lap 56, and Gordon took the lead from Compton, who did not make a pit stop before the red flag, and led 18 laps before Park took over the top spot. The race went 188 laps green until Mike Skinner spun out on the backstretch, bringing out the third caution of the event. The race restarted once more, and went 52 more laps before the fourth and final caution came out for oil on the track. The race restarted with 85 laps to go. Gordon led the next thirty, before Park took the lead. With less than 10 laps to go, Bobby Labonte was closing in on Park. Park held off Labonte for his second and to date, most recent Cup win.
Around 7 PM on the Sunday of that first segment of the race an official announcement was made by then NASCAR owner Bill France Jr. and Dale Earnhardt, both of whom were in tears. "Today the racing world lost an up-and-coming star; we'll never forget this young man or the legend of his short time in this sport." Dale Sr., too emotional to speak, just stood in shock. The racing world had lost an up-and-coming star of the sport, how would NASCAR react to this tragedy?
Changes After Dale Jr.'s Fatal Wreck
- The HANS device was revised after Dale Jr.'s death.
- NASCAR immediately started plans on the Car of Tomorrow, which would debut in 2007.
- DEI closed its doors after 2004, and Dale Sr. retired, leaving NASCAR entirely.
- Ron Hornaday, Jr. retired after the 2001 season due to guilt over the wreck.
- NASCAR dedicated the 2001 season to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Jeff Gordon dedicated his 2001 championship to the Earnhardt family.