Sharpie 500 Marks The 30th Race Under The Light At Bristol

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The year was 1978. The race was the Volunteer 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The winner was Cale Yarborough.

So what was the big deal about the ’78 race? It was the very first race run under the lights at Bristol. That race laid the foundation for what now is widely known as simply “The Night Race,” and led to it earning the prestigious honor of NASCAR’s most popular race.

The Sharpie 500, set for Saturday, Aug. 25, will mark the 30th race at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile to be contested under the lights.

The atmosphere for the Night Race is unique. Nearly 160,000 fans in attendance under the moonlight, packed around a bowl-shaped stadium with grandstands towering 21 stories high. Forty-three cars on a .533-mile oval, each aggressively fighting for running room on a 43-foot wide, steeply banked concrete surface.

The Bristol Night Race – dubbed by ESPN.com last year as one of the Top 10 Hottest Tickets in American Sports, along with the World Series and The Masters – has been a tough one for drivers to consistently master. Fourteen drivers have won at night at BMS but only six are active.

The all-time leading winner at night is Darrell Waltrip. Seven of Waltrip’s record 12 wins at BMS came at night and he’s the only driver to win three straight --- 1981 through 1983. Second on the list is Dale Earnhardt who had nine wins at Bristol with four of them coming in the August event. Earnhardt won three in a four-race stretch, including 1987 and ‘88.

Only one other driver has back-to-back night race wins at BMS and that’s Matt Kenseth who will be going for his third straight Sharpie 500 on Aug. 25.

Other drivers with night race wins at Bristol are Rusty Wallace (three), Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Yarborough (two each) and Alan Kulwicki, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (one each).

The closest finish under the lights? That honor goes to the infamous 1995 event, won by Terry Labonte. Labonte, who tangled with Dale Earnhardt in the waning moments of the race, eventually nipped him by .10 second. A close second is the 1997 duel that saw Dale Jarrett edge Mark Martin by .102 second.

Other interesting Night Race notes: Junior Johnson’s six wins leads the way for car owners; Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 15 wins under the lights; Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin both have three poles in August races to top that category but Gordon is the only one to be fastest qualifier three straight times (2002-2004).

Additional Night Race Numbers--

The First Night Race:

-- The first night race at BMS took place on Aug. 26, 1978. In NASCAR’s modern era, it was just the second track to host the sport’s top division at night with Nashville being the first.

-- Cale Yarborough, who started fourth, won the race, which took 3 hours, 25 minutes.
-- Yarborough won in an Oldsmobile, the first and only time an Olds won at Bristol
-- Yarborough beat runner-up Benny Parsons to the finish line by 15 seconds, nearly a lap in front of him. They were the only two drivers on the lead lap.

-- Yarborough led the final 193 laps and led for a total of 327.
-- The average speed of the race was 88.628 mph.
-- Darrell Waltrip finished third in the race, Richard Petty was fifth and Richard Childress was seventh.
-- The Volunteer 500 boasted a 30-car field.
-- Lennie Pond was on the pole in an Oldsmobile with a record speed of 110.958 mph (17.293 seconds)
-- The crowd was estimated at 30,000

Top 10 Closest Margins of Victory At Night:

Aug. 26, 1995 -- .10 second – Terry Labonte over Dale Earnhardt
Aug. 23, 1997 -- .102 second – Dale Jarrett over Mark Martin
Aug. 28, 1993 -- .14 second – Mark Martin over Rusty Wallace
Aug. 27, 1994 -- .16 second – Rusty Wallace over Mark Martin
Aug. 26, 1999 -- .189 second – Dale Earnhardt over Jimmy Spencer
Aug. 24, 1990 -- .21 second – ErnieIrvan over Rusty Wallace
Aug. 25, 2001 -- .487 second – Tony Stewart over Kevin Harvick
Aug. 26, 2000 -- .501 second – Rusty Wallace over Tony Stewart
Aug. 24, 2002 -- .502 second – Jeff Gordon over Rusty Wallace
Aug. 27, 2005 -- .511 second – Matt Kenseth over Jeff Burton

Manufacturer Wins:

Chevy – 15
Ford – 10
Buick – 2
Pontiac – 1
Olds – 1

Poles:

Jeff Gordon – 3 (consecutive, 2002, 2003, 2004)
Mark Martin – 3
Geoff Bodine – 2
Rusty Wallace – 2
Dale Earnhardt – 2
Alan Kulwicki – 2
Matt Kenseth – 1
Kurt Busch – 1
Jeff Green – 1
Tony Stewart – 1
Kenny Wallace – 1
Harry Gant – 1
Bill Elliott – 1
Ernie Irvan – 1
Terry Labonte – 1
Joe Ruttman – 1
Darrell Waltrip – 1
Cale Yarborough – 1
Richard Petty – 1
Lennie Pond – 1
Tim Richmond – 1

Wins From Pole:

Cale Yarborough – 1
Darrell Waltrip – 1
Dale Earnhardt – 1
Mark Martin – 1
Rusty Wallace – 1
Jeff Gordon – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1

Winning Car Owners:

Junior Johnson – 6
Jack Roush -- 5
Richard Childress – 4
Roger Penske – 3
Rick Hendrick – 3
Joe Gibbs – 1
Teresa Earnhardt – 1
Robert Yates – 1
Darrell Waltrip – 1
Alan Kulwicki – 1
Tim Morgan/Larry McClure – 1
Billy Hagan – 1
DiProspero/Gardner – 1

Winning Owner/Drivers:

Alan Kulwicki 1 – 1991
Darrell Waltrip 1 – 1992

Story Courtesy: Bristol Motor Speeway


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