They Should've won at Bristol Motor Speedway
As revered Bristol Motor Speedway celebrates its milestone 60th anniversary in 2021, everyone is well-versed about the conquests of the NASCAR legends who have scored victories at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Pictures of the most successful drivers hang around The Last Great Colosseum as a tribute to their brilliance on the .533-mile all-concrete half-mile bullring.
A stout challenge is required in stock car racing to tame Thunder Valley. A lot can happen in 500 laps around the high-speed track that’s been christened “The Holy Grail of Short Tracks.”
Many great drivers over the years have found out just how difficult it is to win at Bristol when their quest ends in heartbreak in the closing laps. The tall BMS trophy sparkles and shines just out of their reach.
The few who have unlocked its secret, like Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Kyle Busch, to name a few, often continued to find their way back to Bristol glory year after year after year.
While those drivers who take the checkered flags at BMS are immortalized in legendary status, those who have given Bristol all they’ve got and still come up a bit short are usually forgotten in the aftermath. However, there are a few of those hard luck stories at Bristol over the years that defy the famous quote by golf pro Walter Hagen, “No one ever remembers who finished second.”
At Bristol, there are a few second-place finishers whose efforts are epic. That continue to be talked about whenever the track is mentioned. Those second-place drivers’ stories are just as captivating and dramatic as many who’ve smiled for the cameras and posed with the trophy queens.
As the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race prepares to unleash more NASCAR Cup Series chaos on Saturday, September 18 (NBCSN, PRN Radio, 7:30 p.m. ET), when the green flag drops, there’s a large contingent of drivers in the field who have come oh so close on these fabled high banks before and are thinking maybe it’s finally my time at Bristol.
Below are the compelling stories of six drivers, in alphabetical order, who nearly won Bristol. Three of the six are still trying to get the job done and are among those entered in the upcoming race.
CLINT BOWYER: If there ever was a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series whose passion for a race track just came oozing out all over the place it was Bowyer with his beloved Bristol. Bowyer’s love affair with the challenging short track started early on as he posted back-to-back third place finishes in the 2007 Night Race and 2008 Food City 500 just a couple years into his Cup Series career. From there he went on to post six more top five finishes and a respectable 17 top-10 finishes. Two of his top-fives included a pair of heart-breaking second place finishes where he literally was chasing down the leader but ran out of laps: in 2017 to Jimmie Johnson and in 2020 to Brad Keselowski. The one that probably stings him the most, however, was his sixth-place finish in the 2018 race won by Kurt Busch that racing historians have tagged as an “Instant Classic.” Bowyer led 120 laps of that race and appeared to be in the driver’s seat as he pulled away from the pack in the late stages of the race. A late caution flew, however, for a single car spin on lap 473 and bunched the field back up for a restart. Bowyer had led the last 34 laps and appeared to be on his way to a win, but Kurt Busch took over after that restart on lap 477 and held on to take the checkered flag. The energetic Bowyer is now an analyst in the booth for FOX’s coverage of the Cup Series.
MATT DIBENEDETTO: There aren’t many drivers in NASCAR Cup Series history who are serenaded by the fans in the grandstands, especially not a second-place finisher. Well, on a magical night at Bristol in August 2019, DiBenedetto had fans singing to him as he licked his wounds on pit road after coming up a few inches short of victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. DiBenedetto nearly had a breakthrough Cup Series victory at Bristol that night as he was in front for a race-leading 93 laps in his white No. 95 Leavine Family Racing machine. DiBenedetto led the race from lap 396 until lap 488 and the Cinderella story appeared for a moment to be ready to take flight. However, Denny Hamlin had other plans as the No. 11 car took the lead with 12 laps to go, turning DiBenedetto’s chariot back into a pumpkin. Dejected and holding back tears as he did post-race interviews, DiBenedetto cracked a slight smile when he heard the loudest roars from the fans in the grandstands as he was being interviewed.
KYLE LARSON: His quest to earn a Cup Series victory at Bristol continues next month in the NASCAR Playoff cut-off race, but in his brief NASCAR Cup Series career Larson has proven that he enjoys the challenge that Bristol presents and has a knack for running up front on the speedy half-mile as he has led 641 laps in 13 starts. Following one of his two back-to-back hard-fought second-place finishes in 2018, he showed his love for the unique .533-mile oval by saying, “Let’s build more Bristols.” Many thought as a dirt racing specialist he would get his Bristol breakthrough win earlier this year when the track converted to a dirt surface for the historic Food City Dirt Race. However, after getting collected in a pair of crashes on lap 54 and lap 154 Larson finished a disappointing 29th. This will be his first start on the BMS concrete surface at the controls of the No. 5 Chevy with his new team, Hendrick Motorsports. Larson has won a series-best five races this year and he comes to BMS this time around with a ton of confidence and momentum.
TIM RICHMOND: One of NASCAR’s greatest drivers who was taken from us way too soon, Richmond proved that he had what it took to tame Bristol by racing to seven top-10s and two top-fives in his 11 career starts. While driving the No. 27 Pontiac for legendary drag racer Raymond Beadle, Richmond posted a pair of top fives at BMS, including his best effort, a second-place finish to Dale Earnhardt in the historic 1985 Night Race, the Busch 500. With a national ESPN television audience watching from home for the first time ever in primetime, Richmond and Earnhardt gave the fans their money’s worth, in an intense door-handle to door-handle battle for the victory. Richmond moved into the lead on lap 447 and stayed there until The Intimidator came knocking. After holding off the blue and yellow No. 3 Wrangler Chevy on several pass attempts, Richmond was nudged out of the way by Earnhardt with 18 laps to go. After the race a frustrated Richmond called the move Earnhardt’s “typical tactics.” Richmond posted top-10 finishes in his last two Bristol starts but tragically his racing career was cut short after he succumbed to serious health issues a couple of years later.
RICKY RUDD: This one is a total shocker. A real head-scratcher. If it was a trivia question, just about everyone would miss it. How in the world did Rudd, a 23-time Cup Series winner, never win a race at Bristol? The Virginia native was a proven short track stud winning multiple times at both Martinsville and Richmond and also a demonstrated master of the half-mile high-banked track in Bristol, posting an incredible 16 top-five finishes and 31 top-10s in his 58 career starts at the Tennessee bullring. He led an impressive 605 laps there during his career, just never the final one. His four second place finishes and six third-place finishes rank up near the top of all-time greats at the track. In four of his best chances to win he was denied each time by a BMS legend, including twice by Darrell Waltrip and once each by Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace. In perhaps his best opportunity to win at BMS, the 1985 spring race, he led late in the race. However his arch-rival Earnhardt wasn’t going to be denied and reportedly manhandled his car, which had lost its power steering 100 laps into the race, to get the win that day. Rudd led 163 laps of the race and was leading inside of 20 to go, but was ultimately passed by Earnhardt on lap 483.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: This self-proclaimed Bristol lover has posted three second place finishes at Bristol, including a second at the historic Food City Dirt Race this past March. Like Bowyer, Stenhouse loves racing at BMS and was in the mix to win on the high-banked short track early in his career. He has also posted second place finishes in the 2014 Food City 500 and the 2016 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The odd stat regarding Stenhouse and Bristol is despite all of his great BMS finishes and being in contention with top-fives and top-10s, he has never led a lap around The Last Great Colosseum in the Cup Series. He will try to change that next month as he continues his effort to claim a breakthrough victory at Thunder Valley.
As the air fills with anticipation for the green flag to drop for the 2021 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN and PRN Radio), with so much at stake in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, fans can expect more magical moments to unfold as NASCAR’s best drivers compete in close quarters in pursuit of a coveted victory at The Last Great Colosseum – NASCAR Playoff style – and only the strongest will survive 500 laps of mayhem on the storied short track. You’ll get to see all of your favorite drivers racing hard to advance in the Playoffs, including Bristol dominator Kyle Busch, Food City Dirt Race winner Joey Logano, three-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski, defending Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, Bristol All-Star Race winner and defending series champ Chase Elliott, and five-time season winner Kyle Larson, who is still looking for his first BMS Cup victory.
In the Food City 300, NASCAR Xfinity Series favorites Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier will be trying to lock in their Playoff positions in the season’s final regular season race (Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN, PRN Radio). Meanwhile, headliners John Hunter Nemechek, Ben Rhodes and defending champ Sheldon Creed will battle for an elimination Playoff race victory Thursday night in the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics Camping World Truck Series race (Sept. 16, 9 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio). The rising stars in the ARCA Menards Series also will take on the challenging half-mile oval in the Bush’s Beans 200 as part of a Thursday night doubleheader (Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m., FS1, MRN Radio).