Dale Earnhardt Survives
On the last lap of the 43rd Annual Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, Michael Waltrip was in the lead with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in second. In third was Dale Jr.'s father, Dale Earnhardt. On the fourth turn, Earnhardt and Ken Schrader crashed, though, as if fate came in just in time, Earnhardt miraculously survived. This is the POD for this timeline.
Rest of 2001
- Earnhardt went on to win three additional races: the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, the Talladega 500, and the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400. He clinched his eighth and final championship at the NAPA 500, the penultimate race of the season.
- At the Talladega 500, Earnhardt took Terry Labonte's record for most consecutive starts, using a special paint scheme; Labonte had run a paint scheme at the Harrah's 500 commemorating his last race as record holder, and both he and Earnhardt ran special schemes as co-record holders at the Virginia 500.
- Earnhardt's paint scheme for The Winston was a special white version of his standard paint scheme.
- *Dale Earnhardt won his eighth and final championship this season, winning over Jeff Gordon by just 85 points.
- 2002 saw Earnhardt win his second Daytona 500 and the July Pocono race, though the latter race was marked by tragedy. On the very first lap, DEI driver Steve Park lost his life in a wreck which started when Rusty Wallace slightly tapped his car. The wreck had him slide into the wall head-on at full speed and violently flipped over teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt went over to Park's car to try and assist, but the second he got there, he ran towards the medics. In Victory Lane afterwards, pit reporter Dave Burns announced that Park had succumbed to his injuries, while Dale Earnhardt said in tears, "This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen, Steve should be here, I warned NASCAR about the head-on hits, and they didn't listen. First Adam, then Kenny, then Blaise, and now this. They have blood on their hands". After this event, NASCAR launched a full investigation, and required the HANS device for the following race.
- For the rest of the season, Park's #1 was driven by Kenny Wallace, and in 2003, Ron Fellows took over the car full-time while Wallace moved over to a new car, the #81.
- Earnhardt went winless in 2003.
Before the beginning of the season, a new points format dubbed "The Chase" was to take effect. However, Earnhardt was able to dissuade Brian France from actually going through with this idea. Earnhardt surpassed Harry Gant as the oldest driver to win a NASCAR race when he won the Subway 400 at Rockingham Speedway at the age of 52 years, 10 months, and 13 days. This was his only win that year.
2005 was Earnhardt's final season before his retirement, in a joint retirement tour with Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd.
- At the Daytona 500, Earnhardt passed Rusty Wallace to win his second Daytona 500, which became his final career win.
- For the Nextel All-Star Challenge, he drove a special paint scheme, which was patterned after the car he ran in his 1979 rookie year and his 1980 championship.
- In Homestead, Earnhardt drove another special car, a chrome version of his iconic black paint scheme with various pictures of him, his logo, and the GM Goodwrench logo on the hood. He started 25th, but led the pace laps as the pace car. His final race had him leading for 30 laps, but finished 29th, five laps down, after a wreck with 15 laps to go. Dale was racing for fifth place, when Kurt Busch bumped into his right rear corner, and sent him spinning. At the last moment, his car went airborne, and flipped over several times, with damage. His crew was able to get his car back onto the track for the final lap, but he finished 25th, five laps down. After this finish, the grandstand went wild, when the damaged car took its final lap around Homestead, much like Richard Petty's final race. In his post-race interview with NBC's Marty Snider, Dale said, visibly choked up with tears, "All these years, driving for the same sponsor and team. I want to thank Richard (Childress) for the opportunity he gave me, as well as Humpy Wheeler, and everyone else at RCR and Chevrolet. I wanna thank Goodwrench for sticking with me even through the bad years, and want to say to Jeff Gordon, that you are the face of the sport now. Don't let me down, boy".
- Earnhardt finished the year 10th in points and was honored at the Banquet in New York for his illustrious NASCAR career, and won Driver of the Year.
- After the season, Earnhardt took full control of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and is actively involved in its management.
With Earnhardt’s retirement, Jeff Burton, who had driven the #99 Ford for Roush Racing since 1996, was selected to replace him in the #3 for 2006, as Carl Edwards ran for Rookie of the Year.
When the debut of the Car of Tomorrow was set to debut, Earnhardt was livid. He was quoted as saying, "I don't know how or why anyone at NASCAR would approve this abomination". He dissuaded NASCAR from going through with the idea, and so the Gen-4 car was retained until the introduction of the Generation-5 car in 2013.
2008 saw Dale Earnhardt, Jr. inherit a 25% stake in the team. That same year, Dale Earnhardt made the decision to divorce his wife Teresa Earnhardt after 26 years. In an interview, Earnhardt said about her, "Teresa has no consideration about me or my legacy", while Teresa countered with, "I've always cared about him. If anything, he was the one who used me". This war of words continued to 2010, and Teresa was forced to resign from DEI after the scandal.
2013 started out with Earnhardt making his opinion known about newcomer Danica Patrick, saying, "She has no business behind the wheel of a race car. I got nothing against women in the sport. Well, ones who earn their seat, that is".