Bristol Motor Speedway is about more than just racing.
It’s NASCAR drama at its finest played out at one of the sport’s most unique and compelling venues.
The half-mile, high-banked bullring surrounded by 160,000 fans is known as NASCAR’s version of the Roman Coliseum. It’s where drivers go not just to race, but to do battle.
And with every battle comes pressure, tension and quite a few tempers, some that sometimes spiral out of control.
That’s why it’s almost expected that some drivers will leave Bristol with tempers flaring and looking to get even with another competitor.
Some of the best feuds and rivalries the sport has seen began at NASCAR’s most popular track.
Here’s a look at some of the best rivalries and feuds over the years that began or intensified with a showdown at Bristol:
1. Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte
These two longtime stars and former champions were good friends off the track, but you would have never known it the way they raced each other at Bristol.
Earnhardt won nine Cup races at Bristol, second only to Darrell Waltrip’s record 12, but in the mid- to late-’90s, he had to contend with Labonte in almost every race at Bristol.
In August 1995, Labonte led much of the race and was in command as the laps wound down. But Earnhardt, who had marched from the rear of the field throughout the race, finally caught him on the final lap.
Labonte held the lead coming out of Turn 4, but Earnhardt slammed into him, sending Labonte spinning and crashing across the finish line. Though Labonte was not happy with getting hit, he took his beaten and battered car to victory lane while Earnhardt settled for second.
Earnhardt took it a step farther when the two collided – literally – again at Bristol.
Labonte held the lead again at the end of the August 1999 race, but Earnhardt caught him a little sooner that time and hit Labonte going into Turn 2, sending his car spinning and crashing down the backstretch.
While Labonte wrecked, taking several cars with him, Earnhardt snuck past him to take the checkered flag.
In victory lane, Earnhardt was greeted with a chorus of boos.
“I didn’t mean to wreck him,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t mean to turn him around, but I meant to rattle his cage, though.”
“Have you ever heard him say he meant to spin anybody out?” Labonte countered.
2. Kevin Harvick vs. Greg Biffle
This memorable scuffle nearly turned into a brawl as Harvick and Biffle went nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe on pit road after the 2002 Food City 500.
It started when Biffle spun Harvick, sending him crashing hard into the wall. Harvick climbed from his wrecked car and marched straight to Biffle’s pit, where he had a few words with his Biffle’s crew.
He then went back to his hauler, where he waited for the race to end and vowed to go after Biffle.
“I always said Greg Biffle was a good guy, but he’s about the most impatient thing. I’ll be waiting when he comes in here,” Harvick said.
He was. When the race ended, Harvick raced to pit road and leaped over the top of Biffle’s car, landing right in front of Biffle and barking unkind words right in his face. The two argued face to face as crewmen and NASCAR officials tried to separate them.
“He just got loose up off and he had to check out of the throttle,” Biffle said. “He knows he did and I had to check up. That’s just racing at Bristol. I never did it on purpose. It’s just a racing deal.”
The temperamental Harvick wasn’t as diplomatic.
“I let Greg Biffle get away with some stuff last year and he just comes and rams me in the ass and there’s no ways I’m leaving this race track without telling somebody who just intentionally put me in the fence how I feel,” he said.
“They don’t like it, but that’s Greg Biffle for you. He’s an idiot.”
3. Kurt Busch vs. Jimmy Spencer
This one sparked one of the nastiest feuds in NASCAR history, one that ended with Spencer punching Busch in the nose and getting suspended by NASCAR in August 2003.
It all started, though, at Bristol in March 2002.
Spencer, who hadn’t won in nearly eight years, passed Busch for the lead with 55 laps remaining. But Busch came right back, bumping Spencer and moving him out of the lead and nearly wrecking him to win his first Sprint Cup race.
Spencer was furious after the race.
“I got railroaded out of the lead,” he said. “I just got smashed in the back bumper. You shouldn’t race that way, but he won it. I just don’t forget is all.”
Spencer got even in August, wrecking Busch in the Brickyard 400 at Indy. But that wasn’t the end of it.
A year later, Busch admitted over his team radio that he tried to flatten Spencer’s fender during a collision at Michigan. After the race, Spencer approached Busch in the garage while he sat in his car and punched him in the face, bloodying Busch’s nose.
Busch initially filed assault charges against Spencer – they were subsequently dropped – and Spencer was suspended for one race by NASCAR.
Ironically, the race he missed was the night race the following week at Bristol, where it all started.
4. Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth
A surprising feud erupted in the 2006 Food City 500 when Matt Kenseth spun Jeff Gordon late in the race.
When Kenseth walked over to Gordon on pit road to apologize, Gordon erupted, shoving him in the chest before the two drivers had to be separated.
“He just wrecked me,” Gordon said. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it, but I wasn’t happy about it and I showed it to him after the race. … I’m going to give him back what he gives to me.”
“He’s right,” Kenseth said. “It was my fault, but it wasn’t on purpose. I would be mad, too.”
Gordon got even later in the season, spinning Kenseth to win the race at Chicagoland Speedway.
5. Dale Earnhardt vs. Rusty Wallace
Wallace and Earnhardt each won nine Cup races at Bristol and they had some classic battles against each other.
Their friendly rivalry came to a head, though, in 1995 (ironically, in the same race Earnhardt wrecked Labonte) when Earnhardt hit Wallace and wrecked him on lap 32 of the August night race.
Wallace returned to the race and finished several laps down, but was still furious after the race, confronting Earnhardt in the garage and hitting him in the head with a plastic water bottle. The two drivers had to be separated by NASCAR and team officials.
The incident came two years after Earnhardt hit Wallace at Talladega, sending his car flipping down the straightway.
“I’m not forgetting Talladega and I’m not forgetting this,” Wallace told Earnhardt. “I’ll see you at Darlington.”
6. Carl Edwards vs. Kyle Busch
Busch dominated the 2008 night race only to lose when Edwards used the bump-and-run to get by him with about 30 laps to go. Busch bumped Edwards in retaliation but couldn’t get back around him.
Then, after the race, Busch slammed his car into the side of Edwards’ on the cool-down lap, and Edwards retaliated by spinning Busch.
Neither driver was happy afterward as a rivalry that had been developing escalated.
“He hit me in Turn 1,” Busch said. “Carl is going to say he’s sorry, that he didn’t want to race that way, ’cause that’s what he always does, Mr. Ed-like.
“We’ll go on and race that way if that’s what he wants.”
“I couldn’t get by, I couldn’t get by and I asked myself if he would do that to me, and he has before, so that’s the way it goes,” Edwards said.
“They keep talking about rivalries. We might have one now.”
7. Rusty Wallace vs. Jeff Gordon
Wallace won nine races at Bristol, but would have won 11 if not for Gordon and his bumper.
Wallace held the lead on the white-flag lap in 1997 when Gordon bumped him out of the way to win the race. Wallace was leading again in 2002 when Gordon bumped him with two laps to go, knocking Wallace out of the way to win again.
“That’s just racing, I guess,” Wallace said after the 2002 incident. “To get nailed in the rear end on the last lap and turned sideways, I didn’t expect it.”
8. Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski
This was the most recent and one of the most colorful feuds to erupt at Bristol.
It started last year in the Nationwide Series race in August. Keselowski bumped Busch out of the lead late in the race, but Busch quickly retaliated, running down Keselowski and wrecking him on his way to winning the race.
Keselowski got revenge with words the next night during driver introductions prior to the Sprint Cup race, grabbing the microphone and telling the Bristol crowd, “Kyle Busch is an ass.”