The helmet tosses, the bump 'n' runs, the rattled cages ... there is no other single NASCAR event more anticipated than the Bristol Night Race. The half-mile, high-banked bullring has, for the last 30 years, provided some of the sport's most electrifying racing and controversial on- and off-track moments. Here, Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese tracks the 11 most memorable moments in a race that has provided 10-times that amount in its colorful history.
2012 — Tony’s Helmet Hurl
Apparently this is one of the “hot head” moments most of the “lamestream” media has referenced when commenting on the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy (among other things they have zero frame of reference surrounding). Regardless, here’s Smoke sending home a heater to Matt Kenseth’s hood — which ricochets and could have bounced back and blasted Stewart himself. Of note: Stewart actually is observing the new safety guidelines, as he waited for safety workers and is technically not walking towards the racetrack.
1994 — Dale Dumps Rusty
“The Intimidator” did his share of cage-rattling at Bristol; three times with Terry Labonte (1984, 1995, 1999), and this one with his buddy Rusty in 1994. As you can see from the follow-up fight in the garage (below), Rusty wasn’t too happy about it, hurling a water bottle at Earnhardt, colorfully reminding him he hadn’t forgotten about Talladega — among other fun four letter words. The incident with the fight is a little salty, so if you’re watching it at work, engage ear buds.
2008 — Regrind Revenge: Carl Dumps Kyle
Once they ground the bottom groove at Bristol, many feared the racing might be ruined. That thought looked to be about right in 2008 when only three drivers led the race – Kyle Busch (415 laps led), Carl Edwards (84) and Jeff Gordon (1). Here, Edwards is able to get by Busch after the final restart with 30 laps to go. That didn’t sit too well with Kyle, who engaged in some post-race activities … which Carl quickly put an end too. But hey, they’re teammates now, so everything’s good … right?
2002 — Burton Blasts Booties
Ward Burton has always been a man of few words, so when he talks, you better listen. Especially when he’s making threats and throwing his bootie shields at the sport’s most popular driver. Even though you aren’t supposed to walk near the track or the cars anymore under caution, this is the Bristol I remember and what made it the toughest ticket to get in motorsports.
2002 — Ambulance Puncher
The fun picks up here at the 2:40 mark. Elliott Sadler’s wreck at Bristol in 2002 after contact with Joe Nemechek is one of the more memorable moments of the night race. Points at his head, slaps an ambulance … at least he waited for the safety workers, right?
1993 — Martin makes up two laps to win
After having to pit under green for a loose rear wheel on a pit stop, Mark Martin made up two laps under green — no Lucky Dogs, no waive arounds — to get back on the lead lap. He then passed everyone again to take the lead, including a prime-of-his-career Rusty Wallace at his best track. Martin even runs an extra lap to run into Geoff Bodine who wouldn’t give way and nearly cost him the win. It was Martin’s third consecutive victory that season, and a fourth would come at Darlington one week later — a shared record stands today.
2010 — Kes Calls Out Kyle
After getting worked over by “Wild Thing” the night before in the Nationwide Race, Brad Keselowski has a few choice words for Kyle Busch before the race during driver intros. Didn’t do much good, though, as Busch won the race and swept the entire Bristol weekend. Hey, if you can’t win at least make it memorable right?
1995 — Earnhardt Tags Terry
Terry Labonte has the win well in hand until he runs up on Jeff Burton and Mike Wallace racing for position on the tail end of the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt gets to his bumper coming off of Turn 4 and sends Texas Terry around. Labonte noses it into the wall at the start-finish line but still rolls into Victory Lane with steam pouring out of the radiator.
2002 — Bump and Run, Part II
The Bump ‘n’ Run became an acceptable method of passing back when Jeff Gordon moved Rusty Wallace out of the way in the spring 1997 race. In 2002, Wallace has the race in hand again, but ran into the lapped car of Gordon’s teammate, Joe Nemechek. Pick up the action at about the 9:00 mark and listen to Rusty’s reaction. Good stuff.
1998 — Martin’s Emotional Win
In 1998, Mark Martin was in the midst of a career year when his world came crashing down. His hero, best friend and father, Julian, was killed in a plane crash along with his father’s wife Shelly and Martin’s sister, Sarah. Martin showed up at Michigan a week later and had the field covered until a late-race caution ended what would have been a fitting victory. Six nights later at Bristol, it all came together and Martin was able to dedicate a dominant win to his family and receive a heartfelt salute from every fan in attendance
1999 — Consider His Cage Rattled
If it’s a “Bristol’s Greatest Hits” piece, then let’s cue up the fans’ favorite. This is the incident that gave rise to the lore that is the Bristol Night Race as well as a term that has become a standard part of the NASCAR lexicon.
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