As NASCAR Returns To North Wilkesboro, Relive The Epic Final Race When Jeff Gordon Held Off Dale Earnhardt

North Wilkesboro will host the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race – the first time the legendary track has hosted a NASCAR event since 1996.

The 0.625-mile track first hosted a NASCAR race back in 1949; Richard Petty won there 15 times, while Dale Earnhardt Sr. won five times.

It sat empty for decades after NASCAR left following the ’96 season – a move that was made in large part because the sport wanted to transition from smaller, rural tracks to bigger cities.

Not so shockingly, it angered die-hard fans and ultimately didn’t work. The sport began suffering big time toward the end of the 2000s and spent years in steady decline before somewhat steadying the ship recently.

North Wilkesboro has sat dormant for nearly 30 years, but NASCAR is coming back in 2023. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. helps bring NASCAR back to North Wilkesboro

Of course, a big reason why ratings have leveled off and attendance is starting to tip-toe back in the right direction is because those in charge started tinkering with the schedule a few years ago.

We’ve seen dirt races at Bristol, road races in Austin and Road America, and, earlier this season, a race inside the LA Coliseum.

Returning to North Wilkesboro – which came back to life earlier this year thanks to a big push from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and funds from North Carolina’s $5.7 billion share of the American Rescue Plan – is just the latest scheduling shift the sport has made.

OK, now that we’re all caught up … let’s get to this good stuff.

Jeff Gordon held off Dale Earnhardt in an epic last battle at North Wilkesboro in 1996. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt battle

Jeff Gordon was the last driver to go to North Wilkesboro Victory Lane back in 1996 after he held off Dale Earnhardt in an epic game of cat and mouse.

For those who need a refresher (and that’s why we’re all here, right?), this wasn’t a great stretch for Earnhardt. He hadn’t finished in the top-five in the past 11 races and had fallen from first to fourth in the points.

The Intimidator needed a win in the worst possible way, and was at a track he’d won at five times over the years.

Earnhardt was also chasing down Gordon – by far his biggest rival during the mid-to-late 1990s.

Dale Earnhardt won five times at North Wilkesboro. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

It was an epic battle over the final few laps, with Gordon doing just enough to hold Earnhardt off for his 10th win of the season. It was Gordon’s third straight win and vaulted him back to the points-lead ahead of Terry Labonte.

Of course, Texas Terry would eventually catch and pass Gordon just a few races later to win the 1996 championship.

Here are the final 10 laps of the ’96 Tyson Holly Farms. Come for the chase, stay for the Earnhardt interview at the end.

Written by Zach Dean

Zach grew up in Florida, lives in Florida, and will never leave Florida ... for obvious reasons. He's a reigning fantasy football league champion, knows everything there is to know about NASCAR, and once passed out (briefly!) during a lap around Daytona. He swears they were going 200 mph even though they clearly were not.

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