Top 10: Proposed additions to Dale Jr.'s boneyard
July 17, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a pretty cool dude for about 3,788 different reasons -- after all, the two-time Daytona 500 champion alphabetizes his record collection, has a Western town on his property, collects vintage racing magazines and owns a modern honky tonk complete with a mechanical bull. But the top reason might be hidden off in the woods around his spread north of Charlotte.
Cars. Dozens of them scattered among the creeks and trees, all of them wrecked on the race track at one point or another, and now serving as glorified yard ornaments for NASCAR's most popular driver and whatever visitors he may have come through town. There's one of Brad Keselowski's old trucks, the car Juan Pablo Montoya was driving when he hit the jet dryer, Jimmie Johnson's vehicle with the infamous C-posts. Earlier this year Earnhardt added the cars Justin Allgaier and David Gilliland wrecked at Kansas. There are countless vehicles out there, even random hoods and front ends hanging from trees.
Given the somewhat legendary reputation this automotive boneyard has already earned, and given the extra space Earnhardt surely has available back there in the woods, we'd like to suggest a few famous additions. Some of these cars may already be on display somewhere, some of them have been long forgotten, and others have certainly been ground into dust. Heck, who knows -- a few might even be back there among the trees anyway. But those realities not withstanding, there are several famously wrecked cars we'd love to see added to Dale Jr.'s automotive boneyard, and here are the top 10.
10. Tony Stewart's Chevrolet from 2011 at Sonoma
When last we saw this vehicle, it was dangling from a tire barrier at the far end of the Northern California road course, courtesy of a shove from Brian Vickers. The three-time champion has always held a hard line on the subject of blocking, so when Stewart thought Vickers was doing just that, he sent his adversary spinning. Vickers' revenge came in the form of a perfect trap -- he let Stewart by just before the hairpin, then delivered a blast that forced the No. 14 car up the tire barrier, where its front wheels dug in. Now, just think how nice that vehicle would look propped up against a loblolly pine.
9. Kurt Busch's Ford from 2002 at Indianapolis
Busch and Jimmy Spencer staged the top feud of the 2000s, and its brightest public flashpoint occurred at the Brickyard. This was back when Busch was emerging as a threat for the title he would win two years later, and his Roush Racing entry was fast every week. It certainly was at Indy -- until Spencer, in apparent payback for an earlier run-in at Bristol, punted the No. 97 into the wall. The crash looks harder now then it did at the time, but Busch's reaction remains priceless. He stalked down the track as Spencer passed, first spreading his hands in exasperation, and then pointing to his rear as a signal that Spencer should be sent to the back of the field. Is there a place for this car in the back of the woods somewhere?
8. Clint Bowyer's Toyota from 2012 at Phoenix
Sometimes, revenge is months in the making -- as it was for Jeff Gordon in late 2013, when he waited most of the season to exact payback on Bowyer for an incident at Martinsville that previous spring. Drivers were nearing the finish when Gordon made an abrupt left turn into Bowyer, sending the No. 15 car into the wall and collecting a few others in the process. While Bowyer's vehicle was wrecked beyond repair, the driver was fine -- as he proved by running toward the garage area to go after Gordon. It wasn't the prettiest moment, but a spray of wildflowers would certainly look nice growing in the gaping hole the accident left in the car's front end.
7. Terry Labonte's Chevrolet from 1995 at Bristol
The race four years later may get all the attention, but this one at the World's Fastest Half-Mile had plenty of its own fireworks -- and not just in the sky above the track. In the final lap Dale Earnhardt narrowed the gap between himself and the leader Labonte down to a few feet, and the Intimidator tried the bump-and-run -- but was too late. Labonte slammed head-on into the wall, but not before sliding past the finish line first, and his wrecked No. 5 limped into Victory Lane. Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace went at it afterward for good measure. Since a thrown water bottle was involved, maybe place this car down by the creek.
6. Jeff Burton's Ford from 1999 at Darlington
Speaking of water -- Burton benefited from plenty of it at Darlington in 1999, when he swept a pair of rain-shortened races at the egg-shaped track. But the strangest came in the spring, when the then-Roush driver was clearly the class of the field in the final laps, only to have lapped cars go sideways in front of him and smash up the right-front of his No. 99. Burton maintained the lead, but never would have lasted had the race gone back to green -- something which became a moot point when the skies opened and drenched the Lady in Black. Surely, then, there's a black oak somewhere on Junior's spread which the old No. 99 car can sit under.
5. Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet from 2000 at Watkins Glen
Before he won six championships at NASCAR's premier level, Johnson was best known for something very different -- a harrowing crash in what is now known as the Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen. Johnson's No. 92 car lost its brakes, skipped over hundreds of feet of grass and dirt, and barreled almost full speed into a retaining fence covered in foam blocks. Thankfully they did the job, and a very young and clearly relieved Johnson jumped on the roof and thrust his arms in the air. Johnson actually owns the car, which has been restored and sits in a warehouse full of memorabilia on his property. But wouldn't it look so much better sitting by a flowering dogwood?
4. Terry Labonte's Chevrolet from 1999 at Bristol
It was among the most epic nights in NASCAR's history, and given that an Earnhardt was directly responsible -- well, this one seems a natural. Dale Earnhardt held the lead but was on older tires, so it was only a matter of time before Labonte and his fresh rubber caught him. Labonte squeezed by at the white flag, and two corners later Earnhardt "meant to rattle his cage" but instead sent Labonte spinning. Labonte went sideways, collected several other cars behind him, and the boos rained down on the winner. Are two wrecked Labonte cars in Dale Jr.'s collection a bit excessive? Maybe. But just think of what great driveway markers they'd make.
3. Richard Petty's Pontiac from 1992 at Atlanta
Everybody remembers how the King started, but not everyone recalls how he finished perhaps the most famous season finale ever. That day marked not only Petty's final start, but the debut of a kid named Jeff Gordon and the closest title race ever to that point. The King's finale, though, was decided long before the championship -- Ken Schrader and Dick Trickle tangled on Lap 95 to spark an accident in which Petty rear-ended Rich Bickle, and destroyed the front end of the No. 43 car. The damage was so extensive that Petty didn't return to the track until just two laps remained, and even then lacking most of the sheet metal on his front end. Still, the King was rolling at the finish. Now let's roll that car into a place of honor somewhere on Dale Jr.'s spread.
2. David Pearson's Mercury from the 1976 Daytona 500
The King's car suffered damage in this race as well, although that's not why the event is best remembered. No, this was a serious duel of legends, with Petty and Pearson going at it in the final laps, and running side-by-side in the final corner. Pearson made a crossover move to win, Petty blocked, the cars touched, and both icons went spinning down into the grass. Petty's car came to rest so close to the finish line, announcers thought he had won. But he hadn't -- and while Petty frantically tried to get his car started, Pearson went rumbling through the grass to claim an epic victory. No idea where that Wood Brothers car is today, but it ought to be atop the highest hill on Dale Jr.'s property. Illuminated by spotlights.
1. Cale Yarborough's Oldsmobile from the 1979 Daytona 500
But do you want a real piece of history for your vast and wooded backyard? Allow us to introduce you to this vintage Oldsmobile, slightly damaged, driven most famously on the high banks of NASCAR's most celebrated track, and last seen being hooked to a wrecker inside the Daytona backstretch as a national audience watched. Just imagine being able to tell your friends that yes, this is indeed the car Yarborough was driving when he made contact with Donnie Allison again … and again … and again in perhaps the most famous race ever to that point, sparking not just a crash between the two racers but a rumble in the infield that mesmerized a nation. What do we have to do to put you in this car today? Or at least, get you to put this car in a nice, shady spot on Dirty Mo Acres.