Dale Earnhardt and the 20 Most Aggressive Drivers in NASCAR History

Ryan Papaserge@@RyanPapasergeCorrespondent IApril 7, 2011

Dale Earnhardt and the 20 Most Aggressive Drivers in NASCAR History

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    Courtesy of www.bristolmotorspeedway.com
    Courtesy of www.bristolmotorspeedway.com

    Throughout the lengthy history of NASCAR, there have been a myriad of memorable incidents caused by some of the sport's most violent aggressors, hungry for another trophy to add to the mantle.

    Sometimes, drivers like Dale Earnhardt spun out competitors such as Terry Labonte or Darrell Waltrip to settle a score, regardless of whether both sides knew about the issue.

    From the early days of the sport with drivers such as Curtis Turner, the 1980s and 1990s with Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan, and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick of the current era, aggression has been an integral part of why fans continue to follow the sport on a weekly basis.

    In no particular order, here are the 20 most aggressive drivers in NASCAR history. 

Curtis Turner

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    Courtesy of www.curtisturnermuseum.com
    Courtesy of www.curtisturnermuseum.com

    Infamous for earning a four-year ban from NASCAR in 1961 for threatening to start a drivers' union with the intention of creating retirement benefits and bigger purses, Curtis Turner also earned a nickname due to his aggression on the track.

    He became known as "Pops," after reportedly bumping opponents repeatedly during each race.

Shane Hmiel

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    Shane Hmiel's NASCAR career consisted of just one Sprint Cup start; however, his antics on the Nationwide Series level still resonate in the minds of NASCAR fans...well, one race in particular.

    In a March 2005 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Hmiel dumped 1999 Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett on the backstretch with four laps to go. The melee that ensued brought out a lengthy red flag.

    Jarrett, understandably upset, decided to confront Hmiel to the chagrin of safety workers. After Jarrett gave Hmiel a piece of his mind, Hmiel told Jarrett "he was No. 1."

    His NASCAR career ended early in the 2006 season, when he failed his second substance abuse test and received a lifetime ban.

    A budding career in open-wheel racing was derailed after Hmiel suffered a spinal cord injury in a USAC Silver Crown crash on Oct. 9, 2010, paralyzing the son of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Steve Hmiel.

Jimmy Spencer

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    Jimmy Spencer's spot on this list is punctuated by a pair of infamous incidents, one of them part of a rivalry with Kurt Busch which resulted in a black eye for one driver.

    Spencer's first flirtation with notoriety occurred a September 1996 race at Dover International Speedway, when Wally Dallenbach ran into Spencer's No. 23 Ford for Travis Carter Motorsports, causing a melee.

    "Mr. Excitement" parked next to Dallenbach's crashed machine, left the car, and gave him a piece of his mind.

    The feud essentially blew over after the race, but Spencer's aggression would come into the limelight six years later with one of NASCAR's young talents...

Kurt Busch

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    Kurt Busch's feud with Jimmy Spencer began in a March 2002 event at Bristol Motor Speedway, when the then-young driver bumped Spencer out of the lead with 58 laps to go (as seen about 22:15 into this video), robbing the veteran driver of his first win in over eight seasons.

    Busch failed to remember that "Jimmy Spencer never forgets," and Spencer sought payback at the Brickyard in August.

    Sure enough, Spencer dumped Busch hard into the unprotected walls (at the time) of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on lap 38.

    Busch then left his car and gave Spencer a piece of his mind. (Video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYJIbJHfGZ0)

    The feud continued into Michigan International Speedway in August 2003, when Spencer and Busch were engaged in a little more contact than drivers are used to at the two-mile oval.

    A pit-road scuffle occurred after the race, and Spencer allegedly punched Busch in the face. Spencer received a one-race suspension and fine for his action.

    While Busch may have been the "pretty boy" in this feud, there's little question that he proved he could be aggressive if the situation called for it.

Kyle Busch

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    Of course, any list regarding a Busch as an aggressive driver must include Kyle, the youngest of the two brothers.

    Busch's most infamous act of aggression came when he spun out Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three laps to go in a battle for the lead at Richmond International Raceway in May 2008.

    Of course, the fans didn't take kindly to the most popular driver on the Sprint Cup circuit being spun out.

    Other infamous incidents include an accidental wreck with older brother Kurt at the 2007 Sprint All-Star Race, spinning out Carl Edwards earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, and a failed attempt to wreck Tony Stewart at the February 2009 Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, just to name a few (of course, there are plenty more I didn't mention).

Carl Edwards

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    One of the most well-known drivers in NASCAR over the past few years or so, Carl Edwards has earned a penchant for showing a very aggressive temper both on and off the track.

    Edwards once threatened his own Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, after a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in October 2007. The exact reasoning for the incident was never fully explained or acknowledged.

    Of course, his on-track offenses include the feud with Brad Keselowski in which Edwards punted "Special K" into an airborne crash at Atlanta in March 2010 and a violent incident at Gateway International Raceway in July (A simple "Keselowski Edwards" search on YouTube will uncover these results).

Ernie Irvan

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    5 Mar 1999:  A close up of Ernie Irvan #36 looking on during practice for the Las Vegas 400 of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mandatory Credit: David Taylor  /Allsport
    David Taylor/Getty Images

    Before a practice crash at Michigan International Speedway in June 1994 nearly killed him, Irvan earned the nickname "Swervin' Irvan" for both his exceptional driving ability and his inability to stay out of controversial incidents.

    As driver of the legendary No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, Irvan was heavily criticized for causing a 1990 crash at Darlington Raceway that nearly killed Neil Bonnett.

    Two seasons later, Irvan was viewed as the perpetrator of the "Big One" at the Daytona 500, but the wreck did appear to be a product of tight restrictor-plate racing.

    In July 1992, Irvan publicly apologized to his fellow drivers at a pre-race meeting for his actions and vowed to become a cleaner racer. 

Larry Gunselman

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    Larry Gunselman's spot on this list is secured by something that could be considered the most aggressive move on this list, regardless of whether it was intentional.

    Early in the Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2008, the an incident struck with Dario Franchitti (in the middle of his criminally short-lived NASCAR stint) on the apron of the track.

    Gunselman then slammed into the driver's side of Franchitti's No. 40 Dodge, leading to a left ankle fracture for the three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion.

    Gunselman was fired from MSRP Motorsports, the start-and-park team he drove for, and lost his license to run restrictor-plate tracks. 

Tony Stewart

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    One of NASCAR's most quotable stars, Tony Stewart's career has been almost associated with his aggressive on-track moments...sometimes leading to off-track scuffles.

    "Smoke"'s first incident occurred in a February 2000 practice at Daytona International Speedway, when the then-second-year driver argued with Robby Gordon over his driving tactics.

    In August of that year, Stewart made contact with Jeff Gordon in the narrow esses of Watkins Glen International, leading to another post-race dispute.

    The following year, Stewart spun out Jeff Gordon after the March race at Bristol due to Gordon's bump-and-run tactics late in the race.

    Lost in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s memorable win at Daytona in July, Stewart confronted a NASCAR official after ignoring a black flag late in the race for crossing the yellow line and advancing his position.

    It appeared as if Stewart had stopped his aggressive ways prior to the 2006 Daytona 500, when he publicly expressed that bump drafting could lead to another death at the 2.5-mile speedway.

    "Smoke" became the biggest hypocrite in the garage when he used bump drafting to spin out Matt Kenseth late in the race.

    While it could be argued that Stewart's on-track antics have lessened on notoriety over the years, his off-track antics have not (See: the Australian photographer incident).

Kevin Harvick

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    In February 2001, Kevin Harvick had the toughest task that any driver could even think of facing: replacing Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing, just days after the "Intimidator"'s death.

    While Harvick's on-track resume bears no parallels to Earnhardt's at this point, his ability to show aggression certainly reminds fans of the driver of the No. 3 Chevy.

    At the March 2002 Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Harvick was wrecked by Greg Biffle late in the race while in the lead. As soon as the race ended, Harvick engaged Biffle on pit road in an heated argument.

    One month later, Harvick received a one-race suspension from Sprint Cup action after acting as the aggressor in multiple incidents in the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway one day prior.

    Of course, there's also the infamous incident between Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya in August 2007 at Watkins Glen. 

Juan Pablo Montoya

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    Upon his jump from Formula One to NASCAR towards the end of the 2006 season, Juan Pablo Montoya noted that he looked forward to actually being able to bump drivers out of the way to pass them, something highly frowned upon in the world's biggest racing series.

    Sure enough, Montoya has done his fair share of aggressive driving in his four-plus seasons in the Sprint Cup Series.

    There's the incident with Harvick noted in the previous slide, but Montoya was penalized for aggressive driving after dumping Stewart in the 2009 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway...while the No. 42 Chevy was 28 laps down.

    Earlier in the 2009 season, Montoya was involved in a competitive battle at Martinsville Speedway with Jeff Gordon in which Montoya kept on trying to spin out Gordon due to the No. 24 Chevy continuing to block him.

Jeff Gordon

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    While Jeff Gordon's boyish looks and rapid success earned him the image of NASCAR's prima donna in the late 1990s, the four-time champion was not (and still isn't) above getting aggressive on and off the track. 

    The first instance of Gordon getting tough occurred during the October 1994 event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when the No. 24 Chevy raced side-by-side with Ricky Rudd, leading to both drivers becoming involved in a violent collision with 10 laps remaining.

    Gordon also used the bump-and-run technique on Rusty Wallace to win at Bristol Motor Speedway twice (March 1997 and August 2002).

    There's also the heated rhetoric he used to describe Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson last year, along with the scuffle with Jeff Burton at Texas.

Brett Bodine

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    Nothing says "brotherly love" like spinning out your older brother for the lead at the inaugural Brickyard 400 in August 1994.

    That's exactly what Brett Bodine did to Geoff, however. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have the foresight to notice that the entire field was right behind the two.

Robby Gordon

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    Robby Gordon's most notable brush with aggressive driving came in the November 2001 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, when Gordon punted Jeff Gordon with 18 laps remaining to earn his first career Sprint Cup win.

Cale Yarborough

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    The 1979 Daytona 500. Need I say more?

Denny Hamlin

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    Much like Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin has also had a beef with Brad Keselowski that included a stint on the Nationwide Series side of things.

    The feud between the two started when Hamlin believed Keselowski didn't race him clean during the May 2009 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

    Tempers flared again in November at Phoenix when "Special K" spun out Hamlin as a revenge tactic.

    The very next week at Homestead-Miami, Hamlin exacted revenge and spun Keselowski early in the race.

Bobby Hamilton Jr.

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    It appeared as if Bobby Hamilton Jr. was every bit the racer his late father wasn't.

    While his father stayed out of feuds and had a quite respectable and consistent career, Hamilton Jr. was normally upfront about a "checkers-or-wreckers" psyche. 

    He had numerous feuds in his relatively short NASCAR career, including a underrated rivalry in 2008 with eventual Rookie of the Year Landon Cassill. 

Lee Petty

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    Courtesy of www.howstuffworks.com
    Courtesy of www.howstuffworks.com

    In the early days of the sport, Lee Petty was known for his aggression on the track, so much so that a NASCAR official warned him in 1957 to race cleaner or face possible suspension, according to this article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Michael Waltrip

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    While Michael Waltrip is now mostly a car owner and the clown prince of NASCAR broadcasting, he managed to develop a bit of an aggressive streak towards the end of his career.

    For instance, take the 2008 season, when Waltrip wrecked Casey Mears at Richmond in May and then at Bristol in August, causing Clint Bowyer to call him "the worst driver in NASCAR."

Dale Earnhardt

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    If one were to rank the drivers on this list, there's little question who would be on top.

    The "Intimidator" was the epitome of aggressive driving, willing to dump or spin out any competitor in order to score a victory.

    Just ask Darrell Waltrip after the February 1986 race at Richmond or Terry Labonte after the August 1999 race at Bristol, both wrecked late in the race by the "Man in Black."

    His aggression only helped his driving ability, as evidenced in the final race he saw the finish in, a 2001 IROC event at Daytona in which Eddie Cheever bumped Earnhardt into the grass in a battle for the lead.

    Most men would have spun out, but Earnhardt held on.

    The will to win and the will to finish lived inside of him, fueling the aggression that would ultimately define him as the "working-class hero."

    Thoughts? Comment below.