Bristol Flashback: Earnhardt Bumps Labonte Not Once, But Twice

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Bristol Flashback:  Earnhardt Bumps Labonte Not Once, But Twice

It is no secret that the Bristol Motor Speedway has a reputation for having drivers do a "bump and run" on other drivers. It is also no secret that the most notorious driver for doing such an act was the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt.

When NASCAR races under the lights at Bristol this Saturday night, I always think back to not one, but two instances where Earnhardt lived up to his moniker.

And both instances involved the same driver.

I first remember back to 1995 when Earnhardt used the track as his own bumper car arena. He first riled up one of his good friends, Rusty Wallace, early in the race. For the first time, I saw Earnhardt punished for what we now would consider rough driving.

That surely didn't hold him back as he kept coming to the lead pack. That is until all the contact cracked his oil cooler.

But still, Earnhardt was determined to get to the front.

With about 70 laps left, Terry Labonte was out front and appeared to be the car to beat, but Earnhardt was coming.

Then, Labonte gets into lapped traffic, slowing his lap times. Earnhardt sees the opportunity to make a move. I knew then that Earnhardt was going for broke and would do something to win the race.

In the final lap, coming into the third corner, he gets to Labonte. I remember hearing Benny Parsons going nuts, screaming "Earnhardt's right on his back bumper."

Suddenly, Earnhardt went for it. Bumper right to the rear corner of Labonte putting him sideways. Labonte held the throttle open.

The No. 5 car slid left, then cut hard right, crossing the finish line, and crumbling hard into the outside wall. But, Labonte crossed the line first.

Seeing that crushed Chevy Monte Carlo in victory lane shows that Labonte was not going to give up in winning that race. The heavy smoke, the broken radiator, it all didn't matter. Labonte got the trophy.

Fast forward to the same race in 1999, and once again the two dominant cars were Earnhardt and Labonte.

I remember watching and seeing Labonte in prime position to win, but late in the race the caution flew, and Labonte was involved, spinning out. Forced to pit for tires, that gave Earnhardt the lead with six laps left.

The roles were reversed on this night as Labonte was coming, and coming fast. Five laps left, he's fourth.  Four laps left, he makes it to third.  Three laps left, he gets second.

Then, coming to the white flag, Labonte gets around Earnhardt for the lead, making the pass out of the fourth corner.

I remember going nuts with my family and some friends watching the race on ESPN to see Labonte get the lead. Just as quickly as I was overjoyed, I was torn up.

In the first corner, Earnhardt pulled his infamous move, and bumped Labonte. Labonte spun out, hitting the wall. Earnhardt made the pass, as carnage ensued behind him.

As Earnhardt put his No. 3 Chevy in victory lane, you could hear the boos from the crowd for what had happened. They were nearly equal to the cheers. It was the first time I could ever recall hearing NASCAR fans boo who everyone considered the modern icon of the sport.

I, along with everyone watching, will forever remember the line that Earnhardt said when asked about the bump on Labonte.

"I didn't mean to wreck him, just rattle his cage a little bit," Earnhardt said with that huge mustache grin.

Both races were classic Earnhardt, going for it all no matter what the cost.

It was also classic Bristol, coming down to the wire, a classic short-track shootout.

On Saturday, Bristol will add another chapter to their long history in NASCAR. It could be another bump and run that wins the race.

Whatever happens under the lights at that 0.533-mile, concrete track, we all will forever remember Earnhardt's two bump-and-runs on Labonte.

It is those moments that put 165,000 people in those grandstands.

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