The 4 Most Memorable Moments at Bristol Include Controversial Dale Earnhardt and Kyle Busch Victories
Bristol Motor Speedway is where NASCAR’s real racing used to begin. The first of the two annual visits there has historically been anchored in the second month of the season, by which time Cup Series teams have raced on a variety of tracks. Bristol was where drivers started putting the collective knowledge to use.
That’s less true now because the spring race on the 0.533-mile oval is contested on dirt. Still, it doesn’t make “The Last Great Colosseum” less iconic. NASCAR has competed there since 1961, and the 124 races have produced great moments, often under the lights and before crowds of more than 100,000 fans.
We’ve narrowed them down to the four most memorable Bristol moments based on the drivers involved, the circumstances of the race, and colorful words and actions afterward:
Aug. 28, 1999: Dale Earnhardt spins Terry Labonte for his final Bristol win
Much of Dale Earnhardt’s early success came at short tracks, including career win No. 1 at Bristol in 1979. The 1999 summer race was The Intimidator’s ninth and final Bristol triumph, and the circumstances reinforced the appropriateness of one of the most famous nicknames in NASCAR.
Terry Labonte dominated the second half of the race, but Earnhardt was leading on old tires when Labonte made a final charge. He ran low against the No. 3 Chevy with the white flag flying, and Earnhardt sent him spinning into a multi-car wreck and an eighth-place finish.
Earnhardt was legendary to everyone and revered by many, but the crowd reacted harshly. According to NASCAR.com, team owner Richard Childress advised his driver’s crew to change into generic clothing rather than the standard GM Goodwrench attire to avoid being accosted while leaving the track.
“I put on a Harley-Davidson T-shirt when I left,” Childress said, “and I actually wore it up to the press box with Dale.”
Aug. 21, 2010: Kyle Busch completes an unprecedented triple at Bristol
Winning the Irwin Tools Night Race gave Kyle Busch a history-making sweep of the week three races, an achievement he duplicated at Bristol in 2017. The accomplishment by the future Hall of Famer remains unmatched.
With Busch being involved, it’s only natural that there’s a memorable story attached, and it started a day earlier in the Xfinity Series race. Having already won the truck race on Aug. 18 by leading the final 116 laps, Busch found himself in a competitive Xfinity battle vs. Brad Keselowski, with whom he’d been feuding.
Busch admitted to intentionally wrecking Keselowski, who made the initial contact moments earlier, with 30 laps remaining, and that was the night he dismissively rubbed his eyes like a crying baby as the crowd booed. When the jeers resumed the next night during introductions for the Cup Series race, Busch played the heel to the hilt by replying, “Aw, you’re so loving.”
When Keselowski was introduced moments later, he earned a thunderous greeting by announcing, “I’m Brad Keselowski … Kyle Busch is an a******.” Busch had the last laugh, however, hoisting a symbolic broom in Victory Lane to celebrate his sweep.
“I’ve been trying to do this since I got to NASCAR,” Busch said.
March 17, 2013: Setting the table for the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano feud
The 2013 Cup Series season was one of the most eventful in Denny Hamlin’s career, which is really saying something. Some key aspects involved former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano.
Hamlin led the most laps in the Bristol spring race but ran out of gas and finished 23rd. The bigger development, however, was Hamlin spinning the No. 22 Ford on Lap 349 as they battled for position. Afterward, Logano stuck his head in Hamlin’s Toyota and lunged at him before crew members intervened. A week later at Fontana, their cars near the front of the pack tangled on the final lap, resulting in a hard crash and a back injury that caused Hamlin to miss a month of the season.
The Hamlin-Logano relationship remained relatively uneventful until the 2019 playoff race at Martinsville, where their collision sent Logano into the outside wall. Afterward, Logano shoved Hamlin on the right shoulder, setting off a fight that sent Hamlin to the ground.
Sept. 18, 2021: Chase Elliott helps Kyle Larson to victory
The stakes at Bristol are as high as the banking, and so is the tension when it’s a playoff race. On Lap 464 of the scheduled 500 in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, leader Chase Elliott went to the pits with a flat tire resulting from Kevin Harvick getting into his left rear quarter panel. Harvick took the lead, and Elliott – three laps down and already unhappy over other recent incidents with Harvick – soon took position in front of the No. 4 Ford.
Elliott plainly toyed with Harvick, slowing him enough for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson to move up and into the lead on Lap 497 on his way to the victory. Afterward, the Harvick and Elliott cars made contact on pit road, and the drivers had a confrontation after parking.
“I’m ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off,” Harvick announced.
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