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Throwback Thursday Theater – Earnhardt vs. Labonte at Bristol, Round One

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights in August has been a fan favorite since its inception and with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heading to Thunder Valley this weekend, it’s time again for “Throwback Thursday Theater”.

When thinking of classic races at Bristol, there are a few that immediately come to mind and one of those has to be the 1995 running of the Goody’s 500, which provided action throughout the duration and ended with a spectacular finish between two of the sport’s best, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt.

Plagued by rain from Tropical Storm Jerry that dumped rain on the Southeastern United States around the weekend of the 1995 Goody’s 500, the start of the race was delayed for an extended period of time as the track crew worked tirelessly to get the track dried and ready to go. Once the green flag flew, Mark Martin took off from the pole position and led the freight train around the half-mile bullring until the first caution of the day came out on lap 33.

The caution, which involved friends and rivals, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, was caused by Earnhardt getting into the left rear of Wallace’s car as they exited Turn 4, sending Wallace spinning driver’s side first into the outside retaining wall along the frontstretch. Wallace was able to get his No. 2 car refired, but not before losing a lap. Needless to say, Wallace was not a happy camper as he sped up to the outside of Earnhardt’s car and furiously pointed at the No. 3 car as he drove by. Apparently NASCAR was not happy about Earnhardt’s driving either and he was sent to the rear of the field as a result.

Martin continued to lead until the second caution of the day on lap 52, brought out by the spinning No. 11 car of Brett Bodine. Under the caution, Jeremy Mayfield took his No. 98 car to the race lead and held it there until lap 108, which included another spin by Bodine and more rain to bring out the third and fourth cautions of the day.

Fast forward to the last 100 laps of the race and 11 caution periods later, all of which were for spins involving one or two cars or debris, except for a seven car pileup on lap 235 and a five car wreck on lap 246. The 15 caution periods set a race record for most cautions at Bristol.

After the final caution on lap 391, Dale Jarrett was in the lead of the race, but Terry Labonte was able to get by him with 69 laps left to take the lead of the race and he pulled away from the field and looked to have an easy win in the bag. However, Earnhardt had something to say about that as he slowly but surely cut into Labonte’s lead and caught up with him as Labonte caught lapped traffic, setting up an epic Bristol finish.

As the two went through Turn 4 on the final lap, Earnhardt got into the rear of Labonte’s car sending him sliding to the left and then back to the right as his No. 5 car nosed into the outside wall on the frontstretch, but not before Labonte crossed the finish line sideways to score the win.

In victory lane, ESPN announcer Jerry Punch delivered a great line as he said “Someone has knocked the Corn Flakes out of this Chevy. What a finish, Terry!”

Labonte caught his breath and said: “That was a finish, wasn’t it? Our Kellogg’s Chevy ran great all night and the lapped cars were racing each other side by side there at the end and Dale caught me and gave me a little shot in the back there and I just stood in the gas and we crossed the line. It was a good run for us, all the guys on the Kellogg’s Chevy did a great job and I just can’t say enough about all of our sponsors: Kellogg’s, GMAC, Valvoline. Got to say hi to Rick (Hendrick), we used up our race car, but we got her done.”

While Labonte was celebrating in victory lane, there was a confrontation going on in the garage area between Earnhardt and Wallace, who had tangled early in the race. The two exchanged words while being separated by officials and then Wallace threw a water bottle at Earnhardt. Bristol certainly makes tempers flare and the 1995 Goody’s 500 is a prime example of that.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.

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