This weekend in NASCAR is one of the most special races of the year. Spring races at Bristol are fun, but short track racing with high banks and cars banging together on the track under the lights always seems to produce a spectacular show.
The half-mile track goes by myriad names. It’s known as Thunder Valley and The Last Great Colosseum. Move even have their own name like the bump-n-run. Why? Because it’s Bristol, baby.
Having 43 stock cars on Bristol has of course led to some of the biggest brawls in NASCAR history. Let’s take a look at some of those battles at Bristol, starting from today’s generation and working our way to two of the most legendary drivers to ever grace Thunder Valley.
10. Denny Hamlin vs. Joey Logano (2013 Spring Race)
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are two of the biggest names in NASCAR today. In 2013, both were trying to get off to a hot start in the fourth race of the season. Logano, in his first year with Team Penske, needed a strong finish after missing out on the top 10 in the first three events.
Hamlin worked his hardest to make sure that didn’t happen, leading to a heated argument after the race.
The brawl afterward was a bit anticlimactic, but the bumping on the track made it worth being No. 10 on this list. Oh, and when you consider that Hamlin and Logano were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing the year prior, it made this rivalry even more juicy.
9. Denny Hamlin vs. Kevin Harvick (2014 Fall Race)
Hamlin couldn’t quite stay out of the headlines at Bristol the following fall. Only this time, he wasn’t the antagonist. Kevin Harvick shot up high, thinking he was clear of Hamlin, sending the No. 11 and No. 88 machines to the garage.
The JGR driver showed his displeasure by throwing his HANS device all the way up the banking into Harvick’s car. Hamlin finished 40th while Harvick led 75 laps only to finish 11th. This is one rivalry that might resume this Saturday night when they head back to BMS.
8. Carl Edwards vs. Kyle Busch (2008 Fall Race)
Another night under the lights that ended with cars banging against each other. Noticing a theme here? Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch brought one of most memorable feuds to the track when the bump-n-run was used to perfection.
Edwards moved Busch with just over 30 laps remaining and Rowdy lived up to his name after the checkered flag waved. Ironically enough, Edwards explained that Busch had done the same to him in the past. What goes around comes back around, and Busch knows all about that with Edwards at Bristol and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at another short track.
7. Darrell Waltrip vs. Everyone (1981-1984)
Darrell Waltrip wasn’t so much battling other drivers in terms of wrecking them or bumping them, but he was unstoppable. The three-time NASCAR champion won seven straight races from the spring race at Bristol in 1981 to the spring event in 1984.
Let’s be clear here, finishing every lap at Bristol for seven straight races is a huge accomplishment. Leading 1,542 laps over that span and finishing up front in every race seems next to impossible. But Waltrip did just that to win seven of his record 12 races at the track.
6. Jeff Gordon vs. Rusty Wallace (1997 Spring Race)
This one isn’t so much the melee after the race, but the pure battle on the track. Just like they would do five years later at Bristol, Gordon and Wallace fought back and forth for several laps before heading into the final turn.
That’s when Gordon made his move.
Dropping down to the low line with Wallace, Gordon got as close as possible to move the No. 2 machine out of the way. Wallace got loose, and the rest is history. Gordon went on to win the race and the pure elation from Ray Evernham says it all.
5. Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth (2006 Spring Race)
Speaking of Gordon, one of the post-race dust ups where he got the most heated was in the 2006 spring event at Bristol. The No. 24 was spun out by Matt Kenseth, who went low and passed Gordon.
When they exited the track, Gordon quickly got out of his car and confronted Kenseth by shoving him. Kenseth appeared to be coming to talk things over with Gordon, but was met with push from the four-time champion.
They’ve since made up and have enjoyed several more years of success. But nearly a decade later, that altercation still stands as one of the best at BMS.
4. Tony Stewart vs. Matt Kenseth (2012 Fall Race)
From one Kenseth fight to another with Tony Stewart. Smoke is known for rubbing drivers the wrong way on the track, but this time it was Stewart who was pissed off. The Stewart-Haas Racing owner heaved his helmet at Kenseth, which slammed into his front clip.
Stewart was coming off his third championship in 2011 and looking for his fourth win of the season. Smoke’s career has come unraveled since that night, with just one win over the last three seasons, injuries and controversy off the track. But on that one fateful night, with both drivers still at the top of the sport, Stewart’s helmet throw marked one of the best battles in a night race.
3. 2002 Night Race
Why aren’t there specific names tied to this battle? Well, because there was so much that went wrong in this race it’s impossible to summarize it with one quarrel. Gordon would go on to win the race by slamming into the rear of Wallace, but what happened before the finish was epic.
Hand gestures were abundant, ambulances were slapped and equipment was thrown at other cars. The 2002 night race at Bristol was literally the embodiment of what we’ve come to expect from the event all in one 500-lap event.
Instead of watching the entire race, we included the highlight reel from the TNT broadcast that night. No Bristol race has ever had that much action, and it’s impossible to another one ever will.
2. Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte (1995 Fall Race)
Part one of the Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte feud at BMS went to the No. 5 Corn Flakes Chevrolet—barely. Labonte was spun out by Earnhardt on the backstretch, but pulled across the start/finish line before plowing into the wall.
In his second season with Hendrick Motorsports, Labonte hadn’t won at Thunder Valley in over a decade in 1995. Eyeing his first—and only—three-win season, Labonte fought all night to drive his car to Victory Lane. He did so, but with the front end in tatters.
1. Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte (1999 Fall Race)
The only drivers to beat Earnhardt vs. Labonte were, well, Earnhardt and Labonte. Yes, this battle had a sequel. And it’s worth of being No. 1 on the list of all-time Bristol battles.
Earnhardt turned Labonte again four years later. This time, he did so well before the checkered flag was waved to earn a win of his own. Following the race, Earnhardt famously said he just meant to, “Rattle his cage.” Labonte wasn’t too pleased with that explanation, but didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
Two years later, Earnhardt was killed tragically at Daytona during the sport’s most famous race. As one of the most memorable drivers in the sport, Earnhardt provided a moment that fans of NASCAR will never forget at Bristol.