The 2007 Bristol repave brought more polarization from NASCAR fans than this year’s Presidential election. There was one finish, though, during the last five years that both sides of the aisle could embrace: a push-and-shove between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in a year where both were favorites for the Sprint Cup championship. After dominating most of the race (415 laps led), Busch was in front during a final restart with 35 laps to go but Edwards quickly snuck under the rear bumper. While entering a turn, the two touched and a resulting side-by-side duel led to sheet metal scraping together for a good five laps. Finally, Edwards took control, using that initial edge to pull away to victory but not from the wrath of the temperamental Busch. Edwards was slammed by the No. 18 car after the race; in response, he spun Busch out to show he wouldn’t be intimidated. “That was one of those deals, where I couldn’t get by him,” Edwards said. “So I asked myself, ‘Would he do that to me?’ And he has before. So…”
8. Ward, get your gun
How crazy could the “old Bristol” make your temper? Even the quietest of drivers could lose control. Take Ward Burton, known for this low-key southern drawl and quiet, outdoorsman lifestyle who turned on a dime after getting spun out by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol in 2002. Not only did Burton, whose car was totaled, respond by throwing his heel pads, but his post-race interview took the “violence” to a whole new level. “I wish I had something I could have shot through the window,” said the man whose an avid gun user. We’re guessing Earnhardt steered clear for a couple of weeks. He did wind up third in the race.
7. The Genesis of Spencer vs. Busch
Before the infamous one-race suspension of Jimmy Spencer in 2003 (for punching Kurt Busch after the two made contact at Michigan) there was the day their bad blood all began. In his first season driving the No. 41 for owner Chip Ganassi, Spencer had a rough beginning – missing the Daytona 500 – but appeared to have the fastest car in the spring Bristol event. With 56 laps left he passed Kurt Busch for the lead and appeared poised for a first ever Cup Series victory at his favorite track. Except … Busch had no fear. Pounding back into “Mr. Excitement,” he shoved the short track veteran out of the way, nearly spinning him out and breezed to a first career victory on the Cup level. Looking back, it’s a turning point that may have kept Spencer’s employment with CGR at just one season – a win would have been nice to have on the resume – and fueled the fire for years of rivalry to come. “I never forget,” said Spencer after the race, and his actions from that day forward certainly showed it.
6. Gordon doesn’t accept Kenseth’s apology
Jeff Gordon’s early career was filled with nicknames and stereotypes. Driving a rainbow-adorned car, rival Dale Earnhardt tabbed him with “Wonder Boy” and the “Rainbow Warrior,” always poking fun at the youngster’s “metro” attitude compared with his hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners style. But the four-time champ showed on this day he wasn’t going to be pushed around. After getting spun out by Matt Kenseth while battling for third, Gordon responded to Kenseth’s post-race apology with an outright shove on pit road — to the delight of the fans. “I should have waited a little bit longer,” joked Kenseth although he wasn’t smiling a few months later when Gordon paid back the favor at Chicagoland – costing the No. 17 car a win.
5. Darrell Waltrip wins seventh straight at Bristol
Before “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity,” Darrell Waltrip was defined by a different type of “B” word: Bristol. The current FOX NASCAR broadcaster scored 12 of his 84 career victories – a whopping 14 percent — at the half-mile facility, a total that includes one of the more impressive streaks in NASCAR history. From 1981-84, Waltrip won seven straight, dominating in a way we’ve never seen before or since. The final stats during that stretch: three pole positions, 1,542 of 3,500 possible laps led and one victory by over a lap. No wonder why the Tennessee resident is so passionate about this fine facility, outspoken on several of the recent track’s initiatives to win fans back.
4. Michael Waltrip walks away — somehow
No, it’s not NASCAR’s top series, but Michael Waltrip would have never won in the Cup Series – let alone be around to own Chase-contending cars — if he didn’t make it through this horrifying wreck. One of the worst in NASCAR history, Waltrip’s car virtually disintegrated during a preliminary NASCAR Nationwide (then-Busch Series) race at the speedway in 1990. Coming out of Turn 2, Waltrip hit a gate for emergency cars to enter/exit the track at a bad angle, similar to how Mark Martin’s car hit at Michigan’s pit road wall last weekend. With all outside sheet metal virtually destroyed on impact, safety workers and older brother Darrell feared the worst. All that remained was the roll cage, a few select metal bars – and Michael sitting right there, winking and giving the thumbs up. “He’s a Waltrip,” said Darrell when the all clear was given. “He’s got a really hard head.”
3. Allison, Martin, Rudd and Marlin stage a classic
Four cars, nose-to-tail over a grueling final 10 minutes. That’s what we saw at one-groove Bristol in 1990, as a riveting chess game left Davey Allison, Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin and Ricky Rudd plotting their strategy to get up front. Several times, a driver would pull alongside another but no one was able to make a pass as they hit the white-flag lap. That’s when all hell broke loose; Rudd hit Marlin, battling for third and sending Marlin into the wall on the back straight. That left Martin and Allison clear to fight for the win, with Martin planning his charge of Turn 4 perfectly … well, almost perfect. Coming to the inside, the two hit the start/finish line so close it took a photo finish camera to sort out who won. Turns out it was Allison, by only eight inches in the closest ending ever seen in Thunder Valley. Leave it to Martin, a four-time championship runner-up, to wind up the bridesmaid in the whole ordeal.
2. Terry Labonte spins … and still wins
It was Terry Labonte’s most infamous win, perhaps the only way to enter Victory Lane at the “old” Bristol – with your car smashed beyond recognition. He seemed to have the August night race well in hand, leading the 1995 version of the event by 1.5 seconds entering the last 10 laps. But two cars battling for position, Mike Wallace and Jeff Burton, held Labonte up as rival Dale Earnhardt charged forward. As the white flag flew, Burton and Wallace made contact and suddenly the No. 3 car was in the midst of it all. Coming off Turn 4, Earnhardt made his move, charging to the inside and tapping Labonte’s No. 5 car, turning it sideways directly into the wall as the checkered flag flew. The contact disrupted Earnhardt’s momentum, though, allowing Labonte to stay in front and cross ahead by about a car length. “I think I ran all day without a scratch,” he joked in Victory Lane. “But that’s the way it goes (at Bristol). We won.”
1. Earnhardt/Labonte ’99
It’s the spin to win where even diehard Earnhardt fans know they got away with one. On a late caution, Terry Labonte put on four fresh tires, costing him track position but making him markedly faster than everyone else. The move appeared to be paying off, as the No. 5 car charged from fifth with five laps to go to challenge Earnhardt for first heading to the white flag lap. As the two bumped and banged down the front straightaway, Labonte surged ahead into Turn 1 and appeared to have his rival cleared. But that’s when Earnhardt took matters into his own hands, outright slamming into Labonte’s rear bumper, spinning out his rival and taking out half-a-dozen cars while coasting to the checkered flag without penalty. Arriving in Victory Lane to a smattering of boos, the Intimidator took his final career Bristol win with a guilty smirk. “I just meant to rattle his cage a bit,” he said. It just got “rattled” a little too much.
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