By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The bump and run. A move that we all know and love and one that is ubiquitous with the racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In the mid-1990’s, Bristol was a race track with the preferred groove right around the bottom, often leaving drivers with one option to pass their opponent…you guessed it, the bump and run.
Add in two titans of the half-mile bullring fighting for the victory and an instant classic is born.
Entering the 1997 season, Rusty Wallace was gunning for his sixth win at the track, while Jeff Gordon had won the two prior spring races and was looking to keep his streak alive. Wallace got the upper hand in qualifying by winning the pole, but Gordon was hot on his heels with a fifth place starting spot for the 500-lap marathon.
Wallace dominated the first 134 laps of the race, leading for 98 of those circuits and appeared to be the man to beat before Gordon took over the lead for the first time at lap 163.
Down the stretch, only Gordon and Wallace would notch triple digits in the laps led department with Bill Elliott next in line with 90 laps led.
With Gordon out front in the late stages of the race, the 18th caution flag of the day flew on lap 409, bunching the field back up and allowing Wallace to re-assume the lead when the green flag came back out a handful of laps later.
Through the two final cautions of the race, Wallace continued to show the way, with Gordon following close behind in second, setting up a duel between the two to determine which of them would be taking the trip to Victory Lane.
Lapped traffic began to be a problem for Wallace in the closing laps, which gave Gordon the opportunity he needed to inch closer and closer to Wallace’s No. 2 car as the finish drew near. When Wallace had to work his way around the lapped car of Jimmy Spencer, Gordon made his move, closing on Wallace’s rear bumper for the final lap around the high-banked half-mile.
As the two went into Turn 3 for the final time, Gordon executed a textbook bump and run, moving Wallace up the track just enough to skate by to take the lead and the win, leaving Wallace scrambling to hold onto second-place just ahead of Terry Labonte.
“That certainly was interesting,” Gordon said of the last lap. “Rusty, he was tough all day. I knew he was going to be the guy to beat. I was trying to get by him, but then I had to worry about Terry. That set of tires wasn’t as good as the time before. It was a little bit tight, then I’d get loose, but I tell you what, I’ve got to thank these guys on this DuPont Chevrolet. They did an awesome job today in the pits and gave me a great race car.
“It was pretty tight down there. That’s what Bristol is all about. You get down to the closing laps at Bristol and it’s every man for himself. I’ve seen it done many times.”
Meanwhile, Wallace was left wondering what if, after having victory snatched from his grasp a quarter of a mile from the finish.
“The 23 car was on the bottom of the track there and we all had to go around the outside of him. When that happened, it let him (Gordon) get up on my rear end and get close to me. Then I get down to Turn 3 and got one of those ol’ love taps. I got up the race track a little bit and got second. That’s about it.”