Terry Labonte sheds new details about one of the most famous NASCAR finishes in history
Dale Earnhardt: “I didn’t mean to really turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage though.”
1990’s NASCAR was something special. More specifically, 1990’s Bristol was the apex that made NASCAR drivers and fans lose their minds.
With just 12 laps to go of the 500 scheduled in the 1999 night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Terry Labonte was leading. Dale Earnhardt was running 2nd.
11 lap to go, Bobby Labonte went up in smoke. There was no caution as smoke flew from the back of his Interstate Batteries machine. Moments later, Jeremy Mayfield was around of the bumper of Dale Earnhardt Jr, bringing out the caution.
At the front of the field, Terry Labonte jumped on the brakes for the caution and the spinning car ahead. The lap car of Darrell Waltrip wasn’t as quickly to the brake pedal. Waltrip tagged the bumper of the leader and spun him around. This handed the lead over to Dale Earnhardt.
Terry Labonte pitted for four new tires. Dale Earnhardt wanted to come in for new tires. The crew talked him into staying out.
The restart dropped with just 5 laps to go. Labonte restarted in 5th with brand new tires. Labonte worked by Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart to find himself in 2nd with two laps to go.
Labonte looked to the inside in turn 3. he was there but Earnhardt slammed the door shut anyway. The made light contact and Earnhardt skated up the hill off turn 4. Labonte was able to hold it on the bottom with four fresh tires. He drove right by and had the lead heading into turn 1 on the final lap.
Earnhardt drove it deep into turn 1. He got to the bumper of Labonte in the middle of the corner and the number #5 went around.
“Earnhardt spins him out,” Bob Jenkins reported over the ESPN telecast.
Earnhardt cruised the remaining half lap to take the win in the 1999 Goody’s Headache Powder 500.
I was at that race. The crowd erupted. I’ve never heard the #3 driver get boo’d, until that night. The fans were cheering for Labonte’s comeback and Earnhardt wrecked it.
This week Terry Labonte recalled that night in Bristol, Tennessee. He had a plan for Earnhardt that never came to light due to a part failure.
Terry Labonte had a plan…
“I was sitting there, wrecked on the back straightaway, my car was nosed in the wall,” Terry Labonte explained on the Dale Jr Download. “I thought, ‘dang…’ I put it in reverse, had it running, and seen him coming down the back straight away.”
“I thought, ‘Alright, that No. 3 is going to Victory Lane…But, this No. 5 is going to be stuck in the side of it!’ ”
“I had it timed perfect. I sat there and I popped the clutch and that car moved about a half-inch and tore the reverse gear out of it. It didn’t move! It kind of let all the wind out of my sails. Oh well, I just got out and walked to my transporter.”
“It’s probably a good thing the reverse gear did get torn out of the car.”
Hunting trip canceled
Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt went hunting regularly. After the 1999 Bristol race that had a hunting trip penciled in.
“After that one race, we didn’t go. Yeah, he decided he didn’t want to go,” Terry Labonte says of the canceled trip.
“We were going to my place in Texas. He said, ‘Na, I don’t think so.’ ”
These two are friends. Despite the fact, Dale Earnhardt wrecked him at Bristol in ’95 and again in ’99. They would eventually become friends again.
“The next weekend, we were at Darlington. We started right close to each other. That’s always how it works.”
“At driver introductions, we both walk up there about the same time. John Andretti’s standing there. He looks at me and he looks at Dale. He says, ‘I’m in the wrong place.’ ”
“I think that kinda broke the ice right there.”