Emotions At A Fever Pitch Nothing New At Bristol Motor Speedway
Over the years, Bristol Motor Speedway has seen more than a few on-track skirmishes between drivers whose emotions have gotten the best of them, much like the recent incident between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Many times the differences of opinion begin before they ever get to BMS and then, with the close-quarters action and physicality of the race itself at the World's Fastest Half-Mile, dispositions rapidly change and emotions boil over, resulting in some memorable scenes.
Some are forever etched in the memories of fans and drivers alike. So ... in no particular order, a few of the most notorious BMS feuds follow:
Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte (Round 1)
Bristol Motor Speedway was Dale Earnhardt's favorite playground so whenever he was racing at the World's Fastest Half-Mile, he was confident he would end up in Victory Lane.
During the August night race of 1995, Terry Labonte went to the point on lap 432 and stayed there. But it wasn't easy. With just a few laps to go, Earnhardt, who was running second, got into Labonte's car, spinning him. Labonte somehow managed to stay in front and crossed the finish line backward and beat up but still in front of Earnhardt. The Intimidator had to settle for the runner-up position, a mere .10 second behind Labonte.
Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte (Round 2)
Again it was the August night race, this time in 1999, and once again it was Dale Earnhardt battling Terry Labonte for the win.
From lap 300 on, the two exchanged the lead eight times. It appeared Earnhardt had taken control by lap 490 but on lap 499 Labonte was able to get around him. With a single circuit to go, Earnhardt drove deep into Turn 1 to move around Labonte and hit his car, sending Labonte spinning.
Earnhardt went on to win his ninth, and final, race at BMS to a mixture of cheers and boos, while Labonte finished eighth. Afterward, as Labonte seethed, Earnhardt said all he meant to do was "rattle his cage."
Carl Edwards vs. Kyle Busch
In the waning laps of the Sharpie 500 in 2008, Edwards and Kyle Busch had an on-track scuffle that continued into the cool-down lap as Busch hit Edwards a couple of times and Edwards, who won the race, retaliated.
Neither driver was happy with the other's tactics.
"He hit me getting into Turn 1," said an irate Busch afterward. "Carl's going to say he's sorry, he didn't want to race that way, because that's what he always does.
"I couldn't get by him and I couldn't get by him," Edwards said at the time, "and I had to ask myself, would he do that to me? And he has before, so that's the way it goes."
Rusty Wallace vs. Dale Earnhardt
Yet another heated confrontation on-track occurred in the 1995 Goody's 500, the same race as the Earnhardt-Labonte incident, when allace threw a water bottle at Earnhardt while standing at the gas pumps in the infield after the race had ended.
Wallace's actions came after he and Earnhardt made contact on lap 32, sending Wallace into the wall and ending his chances at another Bristol win.
Rusty Wallace vs. Jeff Gordon (Round 1)
Wallace started from the No. 1 slot in the 1997 Food City 500 and had every intention of finishing in the same place. Jeff Gordon had other ideas.
Despite dominating the event and leading 240 laps, including taking the white flag, Wallace finished second after a tap from Gordon between Turns 3 and 4 sent Wallace up the track and Gordon to Victory Lane.
Wallace would win three more times at Bristol for a total of nine, but he strongly believes he should have been in double digits and this is one of the ones that got away.
Jeff Gordon vs. Rusty Wallace (Round 2)
The rematch came in the 2002 August race. Wallace was leading the race when, with just two laps to go, Gordon AGAIN applied the bumper, moved Wallace out of the way to take the lead and the win.
Gordon's win was his fifth at BMS while a smoldering Wallace had to settle for second AGAIN.
Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth
At the 2006 Food City 500, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon had been battling all day long, getting into each other on several occasions.
In the late going, Kenseth touched Gordon's bumper going into Turn 1, spinning Gordon and taking him out of contention.
Kenseth finished third. After the race, Kenseth approached Gordon on pit road. Gordon, helmet still on, went after a surprised Kenseth, pushing him backwards before calm was finally restored.
At least on the outside.
Greg Biffle vs. Kevin Harvick
During the 2002 Food City 500, Greg Biffle got into the back of Kevin Harvick's car and sent Harvick into the wall.
Harvick climbed from his wrecked car, walked straight to Biffle's pit, talked to some of his crew members and then just waited for the race to end. At the conclusion of the race, when Biffle pulled onto pit road, Harvick leapt over the hood of Biffle's car and dove after him. After a heated exchange the two finally were pulled apart.
Tony Stewart vs. Kevin Harvick
On the last lap of the 2008 Food City 500, friendship was set aside and Stewart and Harvick, both starving for wins, got together between Turns 1 and Turn ending the chances for either to make the trip to Victory Lane
So close, but yet so far.
Kurt Busch vs. Jimmy Spencer
The first shot in a feud that would last for months was fired on the high banks of Bristol in the spring of 2002.
Battling for the lead much of the day, Spencer was going for his first Cup win in eight years and Busch for his first ever. With just 55 laps left, Busch "moved" Spencer from the racing groove and never looked back --- except to see if Spencer was gaining. Spencer got back to second, but that's as far as he made it as Busch earned his first win.
By the time the duo returned to Bristol in August, they had exchanged, barbs, bumpers and punches resulting in Spencer being suspended for the event and both being placed on probation by NASCAR.
Randy LaJoie vs. Buckshot Jones (Round 1)
Differences between drivers have not just been limited to Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In 1997, it seemed two-time Nationwide champion Randy LaJoie and Buckshot Jones were tethered and neither often like the results. After repeated incident with each other throughout the year, it came to a head at Bristol in August at the Food City 250.
Both drivers led laps. Each, it seemed, was always near the other. With the laps waning, Jones found his car backed into the wall, courtesy, he thought, of LaJoie. As Jones began slowly limping his car back to pit road, he swerved suddenly as LaJoie went back by. He missed, however, and destroyed the front of his car. LaJoie finished fourth; Jones 26th. Both earned a trip to the NASCAR trailer.
Randy LaJoie vs. Buckshot Jones (Round 2)
In the very next Nationwide race at Bristol, with barely 30 laps to Jones' car appeared to cut a tire between Turns 1 and 2 and turn sharply to the right and directly into the path of another car --- driven by LaJoie.
It ended the day for those two and five other drivers as well.
There have been other heated incidents, some involving thrown items - like the heel pads Ward Burton fired at the car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the two clashed or the race where Dale Jarrett tossed his helmet through the window of Bobby Hillin's car after a dust-up between the two. Jarrett, after having separate incidents with both Roger Penske-owned cars in the 2005 Food City 500 - the latter with Ryan Newman, which put Jarrett in the wall - returned the favor later in the race, ending Newman's day.
With the March 21 Food City 500 looming, and a number of rivalries heating up, including the one between Edwards and Keselowski, anticipation is high as fans wait -- and wonder -- about what might happen next.
Tickets are still available for Food City 500 weekend. A package, consisting of Ford Fan Friday qualifying (March 19), the Scotts Turf Builder 300 and the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown (March 20) and the March 21 Food City 500, starts at only $99.
For fans who can only attend the Food City 500, single day tickets may be purchased, starting at $93. Tickets for Saturday's doubleheader start at just $45 while fans can watch Ford Fan Friday qualifying for only $5, then attend Food City Race Night at BMS for free.
A season ticket package featuring nine events during the March and August NASCAR weekends starts at only $199. The package includes the two most popular Sprint Cup races in the sport, along with a pair of Nationwide events, a Camping Truck Series race, the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown, a Whelen Modified event, qualifying and Food City Race Night.
For more information concerning tickets, please visit www.bristoltix.com or call the BMS ticket office at 423-BRISTOL (274-7865).