Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday March 16, 2009
It’s a question us journalists hear all the time – especially after the three-week swing of racing at Fontana, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. If I had to count up all the random emails in my inbox from fans this month, hidden somewhere in between “Why don’t you treat Junior more fairly” and “you suck because of A, B, and C” is a basic complaint about NASCAR’s “cookie cutter” racing facilities, ending with, “Why can’t the sport build more tracks like the one they have in Bristol?”
I hear you, guys … I hear you loud and clear. No matter what problems we face in the sport these days, the ½-mile track in Thunder Valley is still looked at as one where lightning strikes twice on the Sprint Cup circuit each year. While a repave has changed the type of racing we’ve seen over the past few seasons, Bristol still provides at least a threat of the type of action that’s attracted millions to sit down and get addicted to cars driving “round in circles.” It’s classic, old school NASCAR at its best, where side-by-side racing comes with donuts plastered on the side of the car, and slowpokes learn their lesson in the form of a slam on their rear bumper – one that may or may not turn them into the inside wall. The close competition is usually reflected in the attendance at this race track, with each date earning a sellout every year since 1983.
From a fan’s perspective, I know years before I covered this sport on a regular basis there was one race I’d go through hell and high water not to miss: the Bristol night race. It’s provided some of the fondest memories I’ve ever had of NASCAR, and many others feel the same way – which is why it’s no surprise that after four weeks of disappointing finishes, we’re all looking at this special place and hoping there’s still enough magic to put 2009 back on the right track. Heck, if you remember the last time we came here, there was enough of a fracas over the final 35 laps we got some emotion out of both Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, with Carl’s win coming complete with a near-spin of his Sprint Cup rival en route to taking the lead. The two then made post-race contact that caused the No. 18 to go wild after the checkered flag, spun out by the No. 99 after slamming into the side of his Ford to showcase some obvious displeasure. It was the raw emotion lacking all too often in stock car racing these days, two drivers putting on a show for the fans while not caring about the consequences.
That was hardly the best performance we’ve ever seen at the short track of all short tracks, though. Here’s what I feel like are the top 5 best Bristol performances, all of which deserve their place on the list of all-time greatest NASCAR races. If only we could have one more to add to the pantheon this weekend, maybe – just maybe – all the criticism facing this sport would take a one-week break. For when a race is defined by the close competition that brought NASCAR’s popularity to this point, everything else seems to naturally fade away into the background.
Alright, without further ado, here’s my new list as of Spring 2009 (with the YouTube clips to let you watch them all over again):
1. 1995 Food City 500
Watch It Here
If you don’t get excited over the final ten laps of this race, well … I might have to question your dedication to stock car racing. People remember the finish more than anything else – and rightfully so – but there was so much more that makes this race No. 1. The mood was set from the very first caution, when Dale Earnhardt and perennial Bristol contender Rusty Wallace made contact coming out of turn 4. Wallace ended up hard in the wall, his chances for the win all but dashed and his temper firing out of control. Shaking his finger at Earnhardt under yellow, Wallace would wind up throwing a water bottle at the Intimidator after the race in one of the more infamous post-Bristol clashes in modern history.
In a race that featured 15 cautions for 106 laps after an early rain delay, there was definitely no shortage of action throughout the night. Surprise underdog Jeremy Mayfield was involved in one of the wrecks, leading 55 of the first 107 laps before his No. 98 Ford got swept up in a second half crash that claimed over a half-a-dozen cars on the high banks. That left Earnhardt battling at the front of the field with Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, and even 12-time winner Darrell Waltrip. As the laps wound down, Labonte seemed to have the race in control, building up a healthy lead after passing Jarrett to get back up front on Lap 432. But Earnhardt charged up behind him, passing Jarrett for second and slowly cutting into the edge of the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevy as the laps wound down. Still, with five laps to go the advantage was a healthy 1.3 seconds, good enough for Labonte to seemingly cruise to victory.
Or so he thought.
Coming up on the lead lap cars of Jeff Burton and Mike Wallace, Labonte got stuck behind the two men battling for position at about the two laps to go mark. Earnhardt quickly seized the moment, closing dramatically on the leader and getting to Labonte’s back bumper on the backstretch of the white flag lap. Turning right, turning left, Earnhardt tried everything going through turns 3 and 4, but in a matter of seconds realized that even the best of runs on the inside was going to come up short.
So, the man they called the Intimidator made a split-second decision to do what he did best in those days: make sure the man in front of him got out of his way. Tapping Labonte’s back bumper just enough, the No. 3 sent the No. 5 sideways heading into the frontstretch, giving him what he hoped would be enough momentum to sneak up to the front.
But Earnhardt’s plan came with one slight problem: he didn’t know which way Labonte’s car was going to spin out. Turning left, then turning right and eventually slamming the wall by the start / finish line, Labonte’s uncertain angle led to just enough hesitation from Earnhardt to let the No. 5 take the checkered flag ahead of him. It was a rare moment where the seven-time champion’s aggressive moves still weren’t enough; and for millions of fans at the time that saw Earnhardt as “evil,” it was the one time out of 1,000 where they could say with certainty the good guy won.
14 years later, it’s hard to find a fan on both sides of that battle who doesn’t look back in amazement. Labonte’s car rolled into Victory Lane with a busted radiator and a chassis for the scrap heap – but in so many ways, it felt like the perfect way to win at a track notorious for turning race cars into a pile of mush.
2. 1999 Bristol Night Race
Four years later, it was Labonte-Earnhardt Part II in what would turn out to be the Intimidator’s final Bristol win. In a race that featured just 11 lead changes, it wasn’t exactly the thrilling action fans expected at times during the event – but the final five laps more than made up for it. Earnhardt had the lead following the 10th and final caution flag of the race, but had his hands full on the restart holding off others who’d dove down pit road for fresh rubber. Labonte was the first car who’d taken on four fresh tires, and he took no time jumping from fifth to second in just three short laps. Heading to the white flag, he seemed to have Earnhardt cleared, too … until the two charged down into turn 1 one last time.
It was then where Earnhardt chose to Intimidate once more … but this time, he left nothing to chance. With one firm tap on the rear bumper, Labonte went spinning and took virtually all lead lap cars along with him, his No. 5 going from primetime performer to pinball on the backstretch in the matter of just a few seconds. Earnhardt almost slowed up enough after that to let Jimmy Spencer slip by and snag the win, but he held on to take the checkered flag and enter Victory Lane amongst a shower of boos.
What was Earnhardt’s interpretation of that fairly obvious spin? “I just wanted to rattle his cage a bit.” It was a quote played on news stations across the country, one that not only outraged millions of NASCAR fans but turned millions more casual ones on to a sport that pulled so much action and drama from their Saturday night special. To this day, many believe Earnhardt should have been stripped of the win … but looking at how NASCAR is so tightly patrolled in certain situations today, you wonder what would have happened if that wish had actually been granted back in ‘99.
3. 1990 Valleydale Meats 500
While slightly before my time (after all, I was just nine years old) this race appears to be the one which began putting Bristol on the national map as one of the sport’s best racetracks. Early on, it didn’t look like there’d be a scintillating finish, as a new sealer on the pavement wrecked havoc with the driving style of all the sport’s top drivers. Even Dale Earnhardt was among those who spun early on, slumping to a 19th place finish some 49 laps off the lead pack.
But while the race featured just 11 lead changes, the final 10 miles came down to a fierce, four-way battle to the end between Davey Allison, Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin, and Ricky Rudd which made you forget about all that early mess. Lap after lap, the four cars did battle inches apart, getting side-by-side with each other while unable to make a clean pass for position at the same time. Finally, on the white flag lap fourth-place Ricky Rudd spun Marlin down the backstretch, opening up some breathing room for the top two of Martin and Allison. Martin’s No. 6 car charged hard through turns three and four, sticking his Ford right down the white line and pushing his car up towards Allison’s driver-side door. Down the front straightaway they came, Martin’s momentum pulling him up alongside the No. 28 car in a matter of seconds … leaving them in a photo finish at the line.
When officials took a second look, it was Allison in front at the checkered flag … but only by a grand total of about eight inches. It stands as one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history to this day; and most importantly, both men raced clean at a race track that’s known for doing whatever it takes to win. Just goes to show you that not every race here needs to be contested by pounding someone else’s back bumper…
Also of note from this weekend, Ernie Irvan won his first pole with Morgan-McClure’s No. 4, an outfit in which he’d end up winning the Daytona 500 and half-a-dozen other races in just under four years with the team. Leading 16 laps, it was the first glimpse of what we’d see from what would become one of the sport’s best drivers of the 1990s.
4. 2002 Sharpie 500
While Jeff Gordon’s winless streak is the talk of the town these days, it isn’t the only drought he’s had in his legendary career. In 2002, the 15-year vet was going through an ugly divorce that may have arguably translated into his on-track performance — heading into the Bristol Night Race, the No. 24 team was fifth in points but hadn’t visited Victory Lane in almost a year. But Gordon wasn’t the only big name who had been struggling over the course of the season. Bristol King Rusty Wallace hadn’t won since the California race in the Spring of 2001, enduring a season-long slump while going public on a tumultuous relationship with soon-to-be former teammate Jeremy Mayfield.
Both men had been looking forward to the August night race to cure what ailed them, and as the race unfolded, it was clear each had a car capable of running up front. The 500 laps weren’t always pretty throughout (just 10 lead changes, similar to the 1990 race described above), but when push came to shove, those two did battle in a finish most everyone remembers. As the laps wound down, you could sense the desperation coming from two men needing a win to solve their problems – and who were willing to do just about anything to push the issue and make it to Victory Lane.
With Wallace in first but unable to pull far enough from Gordon during the final five laps, it was the Rainbow Warrior who chose the common denominator defining so many of these great Bristol finishes: the bump and run. Laying the chrome horn on Wallace with two laps left, Gordon slipped in front and wound up coasting to the checkered flag in the August night race. Afterwards, he was greeted with a shower of boos – remember, at that time Gordon was looked at as the Jimmie Johnson of our sport – in what may have been one of the most unpopular wins he’d had throughout his entire Cup career.
But what really hits me about this race, looking back, is the momentum it sapped out of Rusty Wallace. It would be another year and a half before the No. 2 car visited Victory Lane again, and he’d win just one more time before hanging up the helmet for good in 2005. His final six starts at Bristol were defined by cars that also faded at the finish – he led 340 more laps at his favorite track, but wound up in the top 5 only twice.
5. 2002 Food City 500
In the 1980s, Bristol belonged to Darrell Waltrip. In the 1990s, it was Rusty Wallace and – for a time – Jeff Gordon. But this decade, no man has won more at the famed half-mile in Thunder Valley than Kurt Busch. Now driving the famed No. 2 that Wallace took to wins so many times in Tennessee, Busch is looked at as the number one threat here if he’s got a car capable of contending for 500 laps.
It all started back in 2002, when the then 23-year-old collected his first Cup victory during the Spring race. Passing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the lead on lap 411, Busch had to hold off a determined challenge from Jimmy Spencer over the final 89 laps. At one point, Spencer appeared to get the better of the young driver, taking the lead on Lap 444. But Busch responded with a rough tap on the rear bumper, sending Spencer to second and forcing him to eventually settle for a runner-up finish. While Busch was ecstatic that day, it was a move Spencer would never forget, starting up a rivalry that would eventually lead to multiple intentional spinouts over the next 18 months. The feud wouldn’t end until Michigan in August of 2003, with Kurt Busch getting punched inside his race car 1 ½ years later by Spencer after the two traded barbs on the race track. It was a move that, in a touch of irony, would wind up getting Spencer suspended for the race he always enjoyed the most – the Bristol night race in August.
But perhaps the most important thing was that a rivalry was started to begin with. Too often these days, everyone in the garage finds everyone else just too likable, a politically correct world that leaves fans unabashedly fighting the current establishment. As these five races show us, a little bit of fierce competition never hurt anyone – and back in the day, no one cared about hurting anyone else’s feelings. One can only hope that in the Spring of 2009, we can have one of those memorable races again – the one which brings fans to their feet and cheering from their couch instead of turning off their TV set in disgust.
Let’s cross our fingers.
©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Tom, you forgot to mention the other events in that late, late night in 1995 that really sets that race apart as the clear #1 choice. The rain delay made it late, REALLY late (ended after midnight). The crowd was doing the wave ALL around the track. Earnhardt got black flagged after hitting Wallace and had to drive from the end of the longest line. When he did that, he rammed into somebody’s car on a restart and had steam and smoke coming from the car. A lengthy stop set him way back again, where he again drove through the field. He had to come from the back twice that night, and did so, and just wore everybody out and needed another lap .. until he decided to take that lap on the last lap. Great, great race – my all time fave. My sister (Wallace fan) and I (Earnhardt fan) probably called each other 10 times that night – each time jeering the other. Good times. Sad we have so few great ones today.
Holy cow, Tom! You’re six years younger than I am?? From your comments I thought you were another grizzled veteran like Matt.
The best Bristol race was the 1993 Bud 500. Mark Martin came from 2 laps down the hard way – no lucky dog in those days. He unlapped himself by manning up and passing everybody – TWICE.
The final laps were spent keeping Rusty Wallace off his bumper, while Geoff Bodine impeeded his progress up front.
After he crossed the finish line, Martin nerfed Bodine nearly wrecking him. As he pulled into victory lane, the brakes caught on fire. He got out of the car and nearly collapsed. Completely out of breath he could only sputter out to Jerry Punch, “Roush…Valvoline….Ford….awesome job tonight.”
Indeed it was.
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