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Gordon's four straight, Kulwicki tribute highlight first decade of Food City 500s

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 2, 2020 at 2:00 PM

It’s the second longest race sponsorship in NASCAR with the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway starting in 1992.

The Bristol spring race was originally known as the Southeastern 500 and was later sponsored by Valleydale Meats. The decade of the 1990s started with Davey Allison edging fellow Ford driver Mark Martin in a classic Bristol finish.

A year later, Rusty Wallace won the final Valleydale Meats-sponsored race at Bristol, taking the No. 2 Pontiac to victory lane over Ernie Irvan’s No. 4 Chevrolet, fielded by the Abingdon-based Morgan-McClure team.

Food City, also based in Abingdon, committed to the speedway as the primary sponsor of the spring NASCAR Cup Series race and later as sponsor for the late summer Xfinity Series (then Busch Series) race.

Following is a recap of the Food City 500 races at Bristol Motor Speedway from 1992-99.

1992 Alan Kulwicki captured his second straight Bristol win, following his win in the 1991 August night race. It was one of two victories for the Wisconsin driver in his NASCAR championship season.

Driving the No. 7 Ford, Kulwicki led 282 laps, taking the lead from runner-up Dale Jarrett for the final time on lap 474. Dale Earnhardt was taken out of contention after an accident on lap 438. Johnson City driver Brad Teague finished 21st in the No. 52 Pontiac for independent racer Jimmy Means.

1993 The saddest weekend in BMS history as defending race and series champion Alan Kulwicki and three others were killed in a plane crash near Blountville on Thursday, April 1.

A day later on a cold qualifying day with a light snow spitting, Kulwicki’s race hauler made a lap around the track before exiting. Rusty Wallace, a rival of Kulwicki’s from their time on the ASA circuit, won the pole for the race.

Wallace went on to dominate the Sunday race, with his No. 2 Pontiac leading 376 laps before paying tribute to Kulwicki with a Polish victory lap after the race. Dale Earnhardt was a close second with Kyle Petty, one of Kulwicki’s closest friends on the circuit, finishing third.

1994 Dale Earnhardt, who scored his first-ever Cup Series win in the Bristol spring race 15 years earlier, led the final 183 laps.

Driving the black No. 3, Earnhardt pulled away to nearly an eight-second win over fellow Chevy driver Ken Schrader. It was Earnhardt’s final win in the Bristol spring race on his way to a record-tying seventh NASCAR championship.

On a personal note, this was the first NASCAR race I attended as a media member. The Friday qualifying session was special as Chuck Bown won the pole, driving the No. 12 Ford in a car owned by my boyhood hero, Bobby Allison.

1995 Jeff Gordon won the first of four straight Food City 500s in the No. 24 Chevrolet, taking the lead from Mark Martin and leading the final 99 laps. Rusty Wallace finished second, some five seconds behind with 12-time Bristol winner Darrell Waltrip earning the final top-three finish of his career.

It was the third win of the season for Gordon, who went on to win seven races and his first NASCAR championship.

1996 Jeff Gordon won a rain-shortened race, finishing ahead of teammate Terry Labonte and Mark Martin after 342 laps. It was the first rain-shortened Bristol race since Darrell Waltrip won the 1983 Night Race and the first spring race under 500 laps since Cale Yarborough captured the 1976 Southeastern 500.

With his second straight Food City 500 win, Gordon became the first repeat winner of Bristol spring races since Darrell Waltrip won four straight from 1981-84.

1997 The term bump-and-run became popular in NASCAR after Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace out of the way on the final lap to win his third straight Food City 500. The race had 20 caution periods, tying a record set in the 1989 spring race.

Wallace led the previous 85 laps and a race-high 240 laps overall. Terry Labonte finished third, the fourth straight Bristol race he posted a top-five finish.

1998 Jeff Gordon won his fourth straight Food City 500, taking the lead from Terry Labonte with 63 laps to go and holding off his teammate after a late-race caution. It was part of a dominant run for Gordon, who tied Richard Petty’s modern-era record of 13 wins in a single season in 1998.

Dale Jarrett finished third in a Ford. Seven of the top-10 drivers were either from Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Racing. Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, substituting for the injured Ricky Craven, finished 10th in another Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

1999 Rusty Wallace, driving the No. 2 Ford, won the pole and led 425 laps, including the final 149 laps. Still, he had to hold off Mark Martin in a close finish for his fifth win in the Bristol spring race.

Dale Jarrett, who would go on to win the series championship, was third to give Ford a sweep of the top three positions. Jeff Gordon started on the outside pole but never led a lap as his streak of Food City 500 victories ended with a sixth-place finish.

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