Bristol Flashback: "Bump and Run" Gives Jeff Gordon Two Wins Over Rusty Wallace

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Bristol Flashback:
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

The 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway means that the drivers can bang fenders and not worry about how the car looks at the finish. Every car will usually finish with a few donuts on the door panels, a dent in the bumper, or a crushed nose.

But, the most common thing to see at this track is the ever popular "bump and run" maneuver. Sometimes it's accidental, often it's intentional, and most commonly someone is unhappy in the aftermath.

No driver could say that more than Rusty Wallace. Thunder Valley has proven to be the one place that Wallace knew he always had a chance to win.

Wallace has nine wins at the "Bull Ring," second only to Darrell Waltrip.

Unfortunately, two races will forever be associates with Wallace, and neither were victories. Instead, it was the actions of the same driver that cost Wallace two more wins at Bristol.

One of the other successful drivers at this high-banked, concrete track is Jeff Gordon. And in 1997, he came to the track set to defend his two-time defending race winner crown.

As the race began, Gordon was a contender, but Wallace was the dominant car. The Miller Lite Ford Thunderbird was on a tear and wanted to get back to Victory Lane following a win at Richmond a few weeks earlier.

Wallace found himself out front, but the DuPont Chevy Monte Carlo was right there, waiting for his chance.

In the closing laps, it could be seen that Wallace's car was extremely loose, and was barely hanging on to the track. But the No. 24 just couldn't get close enough to get underneath. Wallace had a two-car advantage coming to the white flag.

The gap closed in the first turn, and Gordon was ready to make his charge. Out of turn two, the front bumper of the No. 24 was right on Wallace. Entering turn three, Gordon went for it.

A bump from behind sent the white and blue Ford up the track just enough for Gordon to swing under. Two corners later, the checkered flag was in the air with the No. 24 crossing first. Wallace was unhappy, but he knew that it was a common practice at the track.

But who'd think that the same two drivers would go at it again with similar results?

Fast forward to 2002, and the Sharpie 500. A race that saw Elliott Sadler punch an ambulance, Ward Burton hurl his heat shields at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson tell Robby Gordon he's "number one."

Would anyone expect anything less than fireworks at the end of the race? Not in the least. Once again, these two drivers would be the ones going for the victory. The difference was, this time it would be under the lights.

Gordon would not wait until the last lap this round to get at Wallace. Just over five laps left, the DuPont Chevy got right to the bumper again of the Miller Lite Ford.

The No. 24 went high and scraped paint, erasing the Goodyear color on his left-front tire, and then dove to the low side for the position.

Unlike the first time, Wallace didn't appreciate the bump.

"He did the same thing to me years ago in the spring race," he said over the radio.

In either case, it was Gordon deciding to burn up the tires on the concrete rather than Wallace doing a Polish Victory Lap.

They say that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place, but for these two competitors, the thunder rolled in Thunder Valley.

Next Sunday will be the next chapter in the prestigious history of Bristol Motor Speedway. We'll see the bump and run, and there will be some angry drivers at race's end.

But, it will be hard to match this classic battle between two of NASCAR's greatest drivers.

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