The major story heading into the 1995 season was Dale Earnhardt's attempt to make history. After winning his seventh Winston Cup Championship in 1994, Earnhardt tied Richard Petty's record for Cup Championships. Going into the 1995 season, Earnhardt had won four of the last five Winston Cup points titles, and was considered the favorite to win his eighth in 1995.
As the season progressed, the race for the series championship became a battle between Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, and Jeff Gordon. The majority of the spotlight soon shifted on the 24-year-old Gordon. Gordon, who had won two of 1994’s biggest races (Coca Cola 600 and the Inaugural Brickyard 400), visited victory lane in three of the first six races of 1995. Gordon would become the most consistent driver of the season. During one stretch of the season, he rattled off 14 straight top ten finishes, winning four times during that stretch. Despite a late season challenge by Earnhardt, Gordon would win the season’s championship by 34 points. In doing so, he became the youngest Winston Cup Champion of the modern era (post 1971). Gordon made light of this at the season ending banquet, toasting Earnhardt with a glass of milk instead of champagne.
However, there were several other major stories in 1995.
1995 saw the Lumina, which had been Chevrolet's official car in NASCAR since the 1989 Winston 500, being replaced by the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo would prove to be the dominant car in 1995, winning 21 of the season's 31 races. After winning each of the season's first seven races, NASCAR gave advantages to the two other makes: Ford and Pontiac.
In contrast to its GM counterpart, Pontiac continued to struggle. The manufacturer won only twice in 1995, and did not have a single driver in the top ten in points (12th place Michael Waltrip was the highest).
Goodyear was the sole tire supplier in 1995, after winning the "tire war" against Hoosier. Despite three wins in 1994 with driver/owner Geoff Bodine, Hoosier decided to leave NASCAR after the 1994 season. Its reasoning, according to Hoosier president Bob Newton, was "to concentrate our efforts in short track racing, which remains our bread and butter."
Robert Yates Racing: After a practice crash at Michigan International Speedway in August 1994, Ernie Irvan spent the rest of the 1994 season recuperating from his injuries. While Irvan continued to make great progress in his recovery, it was becoming clear that he would have to sit out the 1995 season. Thus, RYR began to search for a new driver to take over the #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford. After securing a buyout from his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing, it was announced that Dale Jarrett would be the driver for 1995.
Elliott-Hardy Racing: After struggling the last two years driving for Junior Johnson, Bill Elliott formed his own team for 1995, sharing ownership with Georgia businessman Charles Hardy. Elliott would reunite with brothers Ernie and Dan, with whom he had great success during his time at Melling Racing. He brought McDonald's, who had sponsored Johnson's second car in 1994, to sponsor his car. Elliott selected 94 as the number for his Ford. This number had been used by Bill's nephew Casey Elliott, before Casey was diagnosed with cancer (Casey would ultimately lose his battle with the disease in 1996).
Junior Johnson: For 1995, Johnson was forced to look for new drivers and sponsors for both of his cars. For the #11 team, Johnson replaced driver Elliott and sponsor Budweiser (who had gone to Hendrick Motorsports to sponsor Ken Schrader) with Brett Bodine and Lowe's, respectively. For the #27 car, sophomore Loy Allen Jr. took over for Jimmy Spencer, and Hooters replaced McDonald's as primary sponsor. Before the April Bristol race, Allen left the team. Various drivers drove the #27 for the rest of 1995; the majority of starts went to veteran Busch Series driver Elton Sawyer.
King Racing: Bodine would be replaced by sprint car legend Steve Kinser. Kinser, who had won 14 World of Outlaws championships, had limited exposure to stock car racing; his only experience had been in the IROC series. After failing to qualify for the spring races at Bristol and North Wilkesboro, Kinser and the team mutually split. Kinser returned to the WoO series, while Hut Stricklin was hired to replace him in the 26 car.
Diamond Ridge Motorsports: After having no primary sponsorship for the majority of the 1994 season, Meineke was picked up as the sponsor of the #29 Chevy. Former Busch Grand National champ Steve Grissom would return for a second Cup season.
Bill Davis Racing: BDR found itself in a similar position to many teams, needing to replace both a driver (Bobby Labonte) and a sponsor (Maxwell House). With new sponsor MBNA on the hood, BDR hoped to find success with driver Randy Lajoie. However, the combo experienced lackluster results, and Lajoie was fired in July. After going through several drivers, Davis settled on Ward Burton, who had been let go from the Alan Dillard Jr. owned team earlier in the year. Burton shocked the stock car world by winning his first career Cup Series race at the North Carolina Motor Spedway in October. Lajoie would also find success, winning the Busch Grand National Title in 1996 and 1997.
Melling Racing: After running part-time for the last three seasons, Melling returned to full-time competition in 1995. Mississippian Lake Speed was hired to be driver and general manager of the team, and SPAM provided sponsorship.
Bud Moore: After Lake Speed left the team at the end of 1994, Bud Moore hired short track legend (and Sportscenter favorite) Dick Trickle to drive the #15 Quality Care Ford.
Travis Carter Motorsports: After struggling during the 1994 season, the team parted ways with driver Hut Stricklin. He would be replaced by Jimmy Spencer, who had won two races driving for Junior Johnson in 1994.
SABCO Racing: After Hamilton left for Petty Enterprises, owner Felix Sabates hired Greg Sacks to drive the #40 Kendall Oil Pontiac. After a dismal 14-race stint, Sacks was let go. Several drivers took the reins of the #40, with most of the duties going to Rich Bickle. Sabates' other car, the #42 driven by Kyle Petty, had new colors for 1995. Coors Light replaced Mello Yello as primary sponsor.
Kranefuss-Haas Racing: After racing part-time in 1994, the team co-owned by Michael Kranefuss and Carl Haas went full-time in 1995. Former CART driver John Andretti was selected to driver the #37 KMart–Little Caesars Ford.
Hendrick Motorsports: The only change among the three Hendrick teams was the arrival of Budweiser as primary sponsor of Ken Schrader's #25 Chevy, replacing Kodiak.
The 1995 Busch Clash, kicked off the season on February 12, at Daytona International Speedway. Geoffrey Bodine drew the pole. As an exhibition race, no points are awarded. The race was between 1994 Winston Cup pole winners. Also, in a first for the event, the driver who collected the most poles in the 1994 Busch Season was also invited. This honor went to David Green, who drove a Busch sponsored Lumina.
Dale Earnhardt got the season off to a dominating start, leading 18 of 20 laps to collect his 6th Clash win. Aside from that, the most noteworthy event happened on the first lap, when Loy Allen Jr. made contact with Greg Sacks in turn 3, sending Sacks into the wall. Sacks also collected Mark Martin, ending Martin's day. Sterling Marlin finished second, Bill Elliot was third. Jeff Gordon and Todd Bodine rounded out the top five.
The Gatorade 125s, the qualifying races for the Daytona 500, were held on Thursday, February 16 at Daytona International Speedway. The lineups for the 125s were determined by qualifying the previous Sunday. The first race would consist of drivers who qualified in odd-numbered positions (1st fastest, 3rd fastest, 5th fastest, etc.), while the second race would be formed from even-numbered qualifiers. As the fastest driver, Dale Jarrett would start from the pole in the first race, and second-fastest driver Dale Earnhardt would lead the field in the second race.
Sterling Marlin would dominate the first race, leading 44 of 50 laps. His victory would ensure the 1994 Daytona 500 winner the 3rd starting spot on Sunday. Good finishes for Dave Marcis (10th), Joe Nemechek (12th), and Joe Ruttman (14th) assured them spots in the 500.
In race 2, Earnhardt made it two-for-two for his Speedweeks, edging out Jeff Gordon for the victory. The race also contained two crashes. The first, on lap 15, collected Jimmy Spencer, Billy Standridge, and Loy Allen Jr. Allen was forced to fall back on his qualifying time, while Spencer and Standridge went home. The second crash occurred on lap 42, and involved Chad Little, Phil Barkdoll, Phil Parsons, and Jim Sauter. Fortunately for Parsons, his qualifying time was good enough to get him into the 500. Little, Barkdoll, and Sauter weren't so lucky, and all three were forced to watch the 500 on TV.
The 1995 Daytona 500 was held February 19 at Daytona International Speedway. Dale Jarrett won his first career Winston Cup pole. This was Sterling Marlin's second Winston Cup win, both of which were in the Daytona 500. Marlin also joined Richard Petty (in 1974) and Cale Yarborough (in 1984) as the only drivers who have won back to back Daytona 500's; this has not been done since.
Before the field even took the green, Mike Wallace got turned into the inside wall on the frontstretch,damaging his car before he even got a chance to race on green.
Jeremy Mayfield, Michael Waltrip, and Jeff Purvis were involved in a vicious crash on the backstretch on lap 144. Mayfield got turned head-on into the wall off of turn 2 so hard, the rear tires came off the ground. When he came off the wall, the car was running straight down the backstretch but he had no brakes or steering, and he veered up towards the wall again right in front of Waltrip and Purvis and got t-boned extremely hard.
This was the first race at Darlington after the Lady in Black was freshly paved for the first time in decades. Speeds were high and the cars gripped extremely well in the corners, leading to many drivers driving over their heads. There were many accidents as a result.
Jeff Gordon, who led most laps by far, was involved on a crash on lap 201.
Dale Earnhardt was leading the race with two laps to go, but was passed by Mark Martin in the tri-oval coming to the white flag and spun around by Morgan Shepherd exiting turn 2 on the last lap. The GM Goodwrench car lifted over a foot but roof flaps prevented the car getting airborne. Earnhardt managed to save the car and drove it to a 21st place finish.
Scenes from the early laps of this race were featured in the introduction in the 1996 PC game NASCAR Racing 2. The unsponsored car in the lead was Loy Allen Jr., who finished 10th after leading several laps and driving what was arguably the best race of his Cup career.
This was Dale Earnhardt's only career road course victory in Winston Cup competition. Coming to the white flag, Mark Martin hit oil and Earnhardt drove by him, took the lead and held off Martin for the victory (Martin had dominated the race).
Dale Jarrett got up on his side in a crash on Lap 62 trying to avoid a wreck between Rusty Wallace and Davy Jones. However, the marshals pushed him back on 4 wheels, and he finished the race in 23rd, on the lead lap.
Terry Labonte made the pass for the win on the final restart with less than 10 laps to go, when teammate Jeff Gordon missed the upshift from 2nd to 3rd gear. The result of that was that the entire line of cars swept to the left and passed Gordon. Gordon ended up finishing 16th, last car on the lead lap.
Late in the race, the #9 of Lake Speed (who finished 11th) accidentally pinched the #30 of Michael Waltrip (who finished 12th) into the wall. Waltrip took exception to this move and confronted Speed on pit road after the race. He ended up throwing a couple of punches through the driver's side window of Speed's SpamFord.
Jeff Gordon was very distraught, even in tears, over Ken Schrader's crash because he tapped him to begin the series of events that led to him flipping through the infield grass. He was afraid he had killed his teammate, but Schrader actually got on Gordon's radio after he got out of the infield care center to tell him that he was ok and not to worry about him.
Defending champion Jeff Gordon won the pole position on Thursday August 3 with a track record speed of 172.536 mph. A hot day saw most speeds down, and Gordon was the only driver to break the existing track record. Bobby Hamilton put the fans on their feet when he put the popular Petty #43 STPPontiac on the outside of the front row with a run of 172.222 mph.
Second round qualifying
On Friday August 4, the remnants of Hurricane Erin overtook the midwest, and rain settled in for two days. Friday morning practice was lost, and second round qualifying was also rained out. As a result, all cars reverted to their time trials speed from the first round, and the field was filled accordingly. Without a chance in second round qualifying, A. J. Foyt notably failed to qualify, the first time he failed to qualify in a race he attempted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1958. The field managed a brief "happy hour" practice late Friday evening, and rain began to fall again.
On Saturday August 5, steady rain fell all morning, and threatened to wash out the day. The forecast was marginal for Sunday as well, threatening to washout the whole weekend. Many fans left the grounds as local media speculated (and some erroneously reported) that the race would be postponed. In an unexpected turn of events, at approximately 3:30 p.m. EST (4:30 p.m. EDT), the skies suddenly cleared, and track drying efforts began in earnest. The teams scrambled to get their cars prepared, and the field hastily lined up in the garage area. The Chevrolet C/K pace truck led them on to the track and the race began with many fans still scurrying to their seats. Many of the pit crews were also scrambling to get their equipment set up in the pit area. Some fans driving home on the interstate reportedly turned around and drove back to the track when the radio reported the race was starting.
The green flag dropped at 4:25 p.m. EST (5:25 p.m. EDT) with live coverage only on the radio. ABC-TV had signed off before the race began, and it was aired instead tape delay on Sunday afternoon on ESPN. It stands as one of the last NASCAR races not aired live on television.
Dale Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace to the finish line, in a race slowed by only one caution for 4 laps. Jeff Burton spun off turn two right in front of eventual winner Earnhardt with 27 laps to go. The race was completed at 7:03 p.m. EST (8:03 p.m. EDT), shortly before sunset.
This was Mark Martin's third consecutive win from the pole at Watkins Glen.
Wally Dallenbach, Jr., in a one-off "road course ringer" drive for Bill Davis Racing, was leading by almost 10 seconds late in the race. Suffering from headaches and fatigue, from inhaling smoke from an oil leak, Dallenbach twice got out to huge leads and appeared to be on his way to his first Winston Cup victory. Second place Mark Martin was gaining, but only by about one second per lap. A caution came out for fluid on the track from Joe Nemechek's broken transmission. The green came out with 8 laps to go, and Dallenbach again got out to a comfy lead. Martin closed the gap, however, and passed Dallenbach two laps after the restart to claim the win.
The Goody's 500 was held August 26 at Bristol International Raceway. Mark Martin won the pole. This race is likely the most memorable race of the entire 1995 season due to the infamous finish of the event where Dale Earnhardt ran Terry Labonte down from 3 seconds behind in the late stages of the race and tapped him coming off Turn 4 on the last lap. This tap got Labonte loose, and then Labonte overcorrected (slightly grazing the #31 Hardees/Ferguson EnterprisesChevrolet of Greg Sacks in the process). This put Labonte head on into the outside wall just beyond the start-finish line, still ahead of Earnhardt to claim the victory.
Dale Earnhardt was sent to the rear of the field after spinning Rusty Wallace coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 32. This resulted in an argument between Wallace and Earnhardt after the race where Wallace threw a water bottle at Earnhardt.
Later in the race, Earnhardt ran into the back of Derrike Cope's #12 Mane n' Tail/Straight ArrowFord on a restart. This significantly damaged the front of Earnhardt's car and forced him to pit road for repairs once the caution flag waved again. This was the reason why Earnhardt had to charge through the field in order to catch Terry Labonte at the end of the race.
Lake Speed suffered from a slight case of smoke inhalation as a result of a crash on Lap 390 that broke an oil line on his #9SpamFord. The broken oil line (and the accompanying substantial oil leak, which was streaming down the left front fender of the car) caused a fire while Speed was trying to get the car back to his pit stall.
In the middle part of the race, rookie Robert Pressley's brakes were wearing thin. On the backstretch he touched Ted Musgrave, who was running on seven cylinders, and sent him spinning into the pit wall. The back wheels of the Family ChannelFord climbed on top of the pit wall. This essentially ended Musgrave's title hopes, as he never really regained his earlier season form.
All 36 cars starting the race finished the event within ten laps of the winner. (Jimmy Spencer was 36th, 10 laps down.) It was the first race since 1959 that an entire starting field finished the race, with no drivers scoring a DNF.
This race featured an unusual 10+ lap long caution due to an error by NASCAR officials pertaining to Dale Earnhardt's car. On a green flag pit stop, Earnhardt's crew changed 4 tires like any other stop. However, one of the lugnuts on the left front tire was not painted red like the rest. As a result, an official called Earnhardt's car back in the pits to fix the problem that didn't actually exist. NASCAR then threw the caution in order to essentially put Earnhardt back where he was before the officials' error occurred, which was more or less unprecedented.
Dale Earnhardt, knowing that he had to be near perfect to win the championship, went out, won the race and led the most laps by far (268; Bill Elliott was second with 17 laps led). However, it was not enough to overcome Jeff Gordon.
Jeff Gordon came into the race only having to finish 41st or better to win the championship. As a result, he took it easy during the race (at one point, the team did a pit stop with Ray Evernham (Gordon's crew chief) serving as a tire changer. Gordon clinched the championship by leading a lap during a round of green flag pit stops. Gordon finished 14 laps down in 32nd, but it was enough to earn the championship.
Hendrick Motorsports entered a 4th car just for this race just in case the unforeseen were to hit Gordon's car. If problems were to befall Gordon's car, the car would immediately pull off the track and retire from the race. This was the #58 Pontiac with "Racing for a Reason" on the quarterpanels. Racing for a Reason referred to finding a cure for leukemia, a disease that owner Rick Hendrick had been diagnosed with. The team had originally hired Jimmy Horton to drive the car in the race. Horton qualified the car in 34th, but was unable to race it due to serious injuries suffered in a terrible crash in the ARCA Bondo Mar-Hyde Series support race the day before the NAPA 500. Jeff Purvis was then hired to sub for Horton in the #58 and drove the car to a 26th place finish, 8 laps down.