Waltrip's seven wins under the lights tops all drivers as 35th edition of the Night Race draws near
While there is definitely a new feel to the revamped Bristol Motor Speedway, the iconic track remains firmly rooted in its history.
In August of 1978, Cale Yarborough won the first Night Race held at the .533-mile oval. Sparks flew under the lights, from the cars and from some drivers, and the event quickly became one of NASCAR’s crown jewels. This year’s edition of the IRWIN Tools Night Race Aug. 25 will be the 35th running of the event at night.
The Night Race has yielded some of the most exciting events in NASCAR history, including the fans’ all-time favorite – the 1999 barn burner that saw Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte battle for the lead for most of the last 200 laps, exchanging the top spot eight times. With 10 laps to go, Earnhardt appeared to have control but on lap 499, Labonte managed to get around him.
Labonte’s lead proved to be short-lived, however, as Earnhardt came right back on the last lap, driving deep into Turn 1 to move around him, tagging him in the process, which sent Labonte spinning. Earnhardt, amid a deafening mixture of boos and cheers, went on to take the checkers while Labonte ended up eighth.
Darrell Waltrip is the most successful driver in August Night Race action as seven of Waltrip’s all-time leading 12 Cup wins at BMS came under the lights. Next is Earnhardt with four, followed by Rusty Wallace with three, and Yarborough, Mark Martin, Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch with two each. Others with Night Race wins are Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Alan Kulwicki and Ernie Irvan.
More BMS Notes:
In 1961, the year Bristol Motor Speedway opened, its two NASCAR events didn’t take place in March and August as they do now, but in July and October.
In ’62 the races were in April and July and in ’63 the spring race moved to March while the second race remained in July. As a matter of fact, the summer race stayed in July through 1975. The spring race moved to May in 1964 and back to March the following year and since then alternated between March and April every year but one (1983 when it was in May) until 2000. The first Bristol race has been contested in March every year since with the exception of 2005 when it was in April.
As for the summer race, which became The Night Race when lights were installed in 1978, it actually took place in November in 1975 before it took up residence in August in 1976 where it has remained.
- This year’s IRWIN Tools Night Race is Aug. 25. Only five times in the past 52 years has the race been run on Aug. 25 – 1979 (Darrell Waltrip was the winner), 1984 (Terry Labonte), 1990 (Ernie Irvan), 2001 (Tony Stewart) and 2007 (Carl Edwards).
- Brad Keselowski has captured the last two Sprint Cup races at BMS in a Dodge. Before Keselowski won the 2011 IRWIN Tools Night Race, the last driver to win at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile in a Dodge was Kurt Busch in March of 2006. Before that one has to go all the way back to 1975 for a Dodge win when Richard Petty swept both events. The only other two drivers to win in a Dodge at BMS were David Pearson (spring 1975) and Bobby Allison (spring 1969, summer 1970).
- The combined margin of victory for the last seven Sprint Cup events at BMS has been by less than one second.
- In the first Night Race at BMS, on August 26, 1978, Cale Yarborough and runner-up Benny Parsons, both driving Oldsmobiles, were the only two cars on the lead lap. Yarborough won by 16 seconds. Darrell Waltrip finished third, more than a lap down, while Dick Brooks finished fourth and Richard Petty took fifth. Other notables in the race were Richard Childress (seventh), Neil Bonnett (20th) and Bobby Allison (22nd).
- Back in the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t unusual for drivers to win races at BMS by more than a lap. The very first race, the 1961 Volunteer 500, saw Jack Smith beat Fireball Roberts by nearly three laps – even with a driver change.
- In April of 1977, Cale Yarborough won the Southeastern 500 by more than seven laps. The last driver to win by at least one lap was Darrell Waltrip, who accomplished the feat in the 1981 Busch 500. Ricky Rudd finished second, the only car one lap down and Terry Labonte was third, the lone car two laps down.
- None of the last 15 Sprint Cup races at BMS have been won by a driver starting outside the top 20. The last driver to win with a worse starting position than 20th was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the 2004 Sharpie 500 after starting from the 30th slot. Elliott Sadler owns the distinction of winning from the worst starting position at BMS when he won the 2001 Food City 500 after starting 38th.