History of the Food City 500: Rusty Wallace holds the record for most Food City 500 victories at six, always a threat to win at Thunder Valley
When NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace thinks about his days at Bristol Motor Speedway, his head is filled with visions of personal milestones, checkered flags and record-setting performances. You see, Wallace and The World's Fastest Half-Mile fit together like a strong hand inside a sturdy glove. They were simply better together.
When Wallace hit the track at Bristol for the first time in the mid-1980s he knew immediately that this track complimented his driving style. A product of the legendary short tracks throughout the Midwest, Wallace says it was love at first sight when he took his first lap at speed around The Last Great Colosseum.
"For me, I grew up on the short tracks in the Midwest and ran tracks like Winchester, Indiana—which was almost identical to Bristol," Wallace said. "So the first time I went to Bristol with, in what was my mind a really good team, the Blue Max team, I won my very first race."
And he kept on winning there over the years. His Bristol Motor Speedway list of accomplishments rivals all who've ever competed on the famed all-concrete high-banked bullring.
"Rusty had a lot of success at Bristol," said racing historian and author David McGee. "He started to win in the '80s, he kept winning all throughout the '90s in the Food City 500 and then came back and won again in 2000."
In 44 career Cup Series starts at BMS, Wallace raced to nine victories and had seven second place finishes. He posted 22 top-fives, 29 top-10s and seven poles. He led a total of 3,723 laps. In perhaps the most amazing underlying stat of his runs at Bristol, he only crashed out of three races in his 44 starts, which given Bristol's tight quarters accommodations and tendency for maximum chaos at all times is an incredible accomplishment in itself.
He continues to hold the BMS record for the most Food City 500 victories, at six. He is being honored by speedway officials this weekend for owning that significant record and for all of his notable accomplishments in the tradition-rich NASCAR Cup Series event held every spring at the iconic Northeast Tennessee short track.
"I'm happy with all the victories I have, but everyone associates everything I've done with Bristol because of all the success I've had there," Wallace said. "I just love that place. It's a fun track to drive on, and every time I go there, the enthusiasm is sky high. But it just fit my driving style."
In 2000, Wallace had a magical year at Bristol in the later stages of his career. At the Food City 500 he won the race at the controls of his famed No. 2 car owned by Penske Racing. The victory was also his milestone 50th career NASCAR victory. Later in the year, he took the trophy home from America's Night Race as well to become one of only 10 drivers in history to sweep both Bristol Cup races in the same year.
That list is pretty exclusive. In addition to Wallace, it includes Fred Lorenzen, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch.
Winning his 50th at Bristol was fitting. He had claimed his 49th career victory at the 1999 Food City 500 one year earlier and everyone was eagerly anticipating when he would finally reach the mid-century mark in victories. He hit a brief dry spell, but it made winning in 2000 that much more special.
"It was kind of hard to believe really that Rusty Wallace went a year in between victories," McGee recalled. "I don't think anyone thought it would be that long because Rusty Wallace was very successful at the time driving for Roger Penske. They just got in that stride sometimes where a great team and a great driver for some reason just can't put things together. You have bad luck or whatever.
"Rusty healed though when he came to Bristol (in 2000)," McGee continued. "They had a dominant day; Rusty was clearly the best car that day. They had a big sign that they carried around with them that said '50 Wins' on it that they finally got to use in Victory Lane that afternoon."
McGee says that Victory Lane ceremony was one he will always remember.
"I did the post-race interview with him in 1999 and then in Victory Lane in 2000 and when he got out of the car I jokingly asked him, 'What took you so long to get to 50?'" McGee said. "That win ended a lot of frustration. I think that team really struggled with questioning themselves like, 'What are we doing wrong? We can't seem to find Victory Lane?' Whenever Rusty Wallace needed to get healed, he would always be able to find the right medicine at Bristol."
As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway on May 31st for the milestone 60th running of the Food City 500, race teams will be hoping to carve their names into the Bristol Motor Speedway record book and be a contender for victory every time they hit the track at Thunder Valley just like Wallace during his career.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food City 500 will be held for the first time in history without fans in the grandstands. Everyone is encouraged to tune in to coverage of the race on FS1 or PRN at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 31st. Many of the greatest stock car racers in the world will compete, including BMS dominator Kyle Busch, who is going for his third Food City 500 win in a row and sixth overall, second-generation star Chase Elliott, three-time Bristol winner Matt Kenseth, 2019 Night Race winner Hamlin, veteran Clint Bowyer, six-time BMS winner Kurt Busch, two-time Food City 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and rising star Ryan Blaney, among others.
Also included on NASCAR's revised race event schedule without spectators is the Cheddar's 300 presented by Alsco NASCAR Xfinity Series Race, rescheduled for Saturday, May 30 at 3:30 p.m. That race also will be broadcast on both FS1 and PRN.
Food City 500 weekend ticketholders on file may choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20 percent, or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price.* The event credit can be applied toward any admissions, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, suite and premium tickets, camping, fan hospitality and pit passes. The 120-percent event credit can be used during the remaining 2020 or 2021 seasons for a NASCAR sanctioned event conducted with fans at any Speedway Motorsports owned track, subject to availability.
Fans are advised to keep their current tickets and asked to complete an exchange request form at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com to start the process. Ticket office representatives will follow up with fans within four weeks regarding the status of their request. Ticketholders should email [email protected] or call 1-866-415-4158 with further questions.
*Shipping, handling and services fees not included in event credits or refunds. Ticketholders have 30 days to request a refund; those who do not request a refund will automatically receive the 120-percent credit.