It was Earnhardt's 73rd career victory and ninth win at the
high banked Bristol track. After leading a total of 47 laps, his average speed was 91.276
took the checkered flag 0.189 seconds ahead of second-place Jimmy Spencer.
Earnhardt's defense was a heat of the moment battle for the win. So was Labonte's, who
had clearly passed him. Contact was made and controversy prevailed.
"When you go to the corner after someone on the last lap and he checks up and you
get in harder, you've got no control of the speed of the race car when you get
together," Earnhardt said afterward. "I definitely didn't mean to go down there
and turn him around. He went higher than what he had done to enter the corner. Maybe he
got in too deep and check up or what. I got in deep and meant to get in deep and intended
to race him back."
Labonte, who clearly had cleared Earnhardt and was en route to victory, was clearly
upset after he exited his car.
"Dale gave me a shot down in the corner and turned us around," Labonte said.
"Have you ever heard him say he means to spin anybody out? It depends on who it is.
This circumstance is a big thumbs up for it I'm sure."
The closing laps of the 500-lap event almost required a scorecard to keep up with the
events transpiring on the track before Earnhardt emerged the winner. During the sixth
caution of 10 caution periods on lap 299, Labonte, driver of the Kellogg's Chevrolet,
Earnhardt, Jimmy Spencer, in the Winston Ford, Geoffrey Bodine, in the Power Team
Chevrolet and Ricky Rudd, in the Tide Ford, all elected not to pit, putting them in the
top-5 after they watched Tony Stewart, in the Home Depot Pontiac, set the pace by leading
the most laps with 225.
Labonte knew Earnhardt was hungry for a win and also knew there was plenty of time to
battle the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion for the lead. By lap 379, Earnhardt
finally found the point.
On Lap 411, Dave Marcis, driver of the RealTree Chevrolet, stalled high in Turn 1,
causing caution number nine. With Earnhardt's 26th starting position, he was forced to pit
on the backstretch, a setback for anyone hoping to emerge the leader. As a result,
Earnhardt returned to the track in third.
By lap 426, Earnhardt picked off Gordon for second and set his sights on Labonte, who
emerged first after the caution. Nine laps passed before Earnhardt was able to retake the
lead from Labonte. In turn, Labonte found the point again four laps later.
Labonte looked to be set to record the 22nd win of his career until lap 489 changed the
entire complexion of the race.
Just as Labonte's brother Bobby Labonte saw the engine expire in his Interstate
Batteries Pontiac, Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the Mobil One Ford, spun on the backstretch.
As Terry Labonte entered the fourth turn, he was tapped and spun by the lapped K-Mart
Ford, driven by Darrell Waltrip.
That left Earnhardt in the lead, followed by Stewart, Jeff Gordon, in the Dupont
Refinishes Chevrolet, Mark Martin, in the Valvoline Ford and Labonte.
As the leaders took the green flag with five laps remaining, Labonte started fifth and
clicked off one position per lap and reached Earnhardt as they took the white flag. As the
two reached the second turn, Earnhardt tagged Labonte, spinning him in front of oncoming
traffic on the backstretch. Earnhardt dropped low and went on the take checkered flag No.
73 to a chorus of boos from a sellout crowd in excess of 135,000.
"The biggest thing at Bristol and you've seen it all night is to stay out of those
circumstances," Earnhardt said. "When it comes down to the last lap and you're
going for it, and you get into somebody, you get into them. You don't mean to, but you do.
Terry got into me in turns 3 and 4 and I'm sure he didn't mean to. But he meant to pass
meant and I meant to try to get back by him. I would have liked to have gotten up beside
him instead of where I did.
"I don't know what I'll say to Terry at Darlington. We'll have to see if he
punches me out or won't talk to me or waits until the next race or whatever. Terry's a
great racer and we've raced a lot over the years. I can apologize to him all day long but
it won't change what happened tonight."
In the final order of finish, Spencer finished second, followed by Rudd, who suffered
heavy damage to his Ford after striking the spinning car of Labonte. Gordon managed to
finish fourth, followed by Stewart, Martin, Sterling Marlin, in the Coors Chevrolet,
Labonte, Ward Burton, in the Catepillar Pontiac and Ken Schrader, in the Skoal Chevrolet.
NASCAR Winston Cup point leader Dale Jarrett, in the Quality Care Ford, finished 25th
after suffering through two wrecks.