Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Head to Head at Bristol, Kyle Busch vs. Dale Earnhardt

NBC Sports posted an interesting ‘what if?’ this week when it posed this question: In their respective prime, who would win in a head-to-head matchup at Bristol: Kyle Busch or Dale Earnhardt?

Busch promptly replied, “Neither one of us would see the checkered.” That was food for fodder here as we were thinking of topics for this week.

Andrew Stoddard and Joy Tomlinson this week tackle the age old question: KFB vs The Intimidator in Thunder Valley.

Rowdy Would Reign at Bristol

When looking at this match up on paper, it looks like the Intimidator has the slight edge, with nine wins to Busch’s eight and an average finish of 9.3 to Busch’s 13.9. But if you look beyond the raw numbers, Rowdy’s Bristol resume has a lot going for it.

See also
Only Yesterday: Bristol Kings, Baby

While Earnhardt had a handle on The World’s Fastest Half-Mile, there is a lot more variety in Busch’s Bristol victories. Rowdy has won there in the Car of Tomorrow and the Gen 6 car, and he also has a win on dirt with the Next Gen car. All three of those cars feature considerably different aerodynamic and rules packages that have forced veteran drivers like Busch to adapt and adjust their driving style over the years.

Busch has been a prolific winner at Bristol across all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. In addition to his eight Cup Series checkered flags, Rowdy also owns nine NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and five NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories at The Last Great Colosseum. Furthermore, only KFB can boast of sweeping all three series in a single race weekend, and he has done it twice at Bristol. Busch’s 2010 and 2017 Bristol August weekends ranks among some of the most dominant displays of driving in NASCAR history.

Busch has even won on a variety of surfaces at Bristol. Along with seven wins on the regular concrete oval, Busch is one of only three Bristol Cup Series winners on dirt. Furthermore, all of Busch’s Bristol accomplishments came in arguably a more competitive and parity-filled era of NASCAR Cup Series racing. In his prime, Earnhardt really had just two chief rivals at Bristol: Darrell Waltrip, the winningest driver at Bristol with 12 checkered flags, and Rusty Wallace, who equaled Earnhardt with nine wins.

In Busch’s time, there has been a much bigger pool of drivers with the potential to put a hurting on the field at Bristol. You’ve got his bigger brother Kurt Busch with six wins, Jeff Gordon winning five times, and Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth with four Bristol checkered flags apiece. Furthermore, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano had all won at Bristol multiple times.

That’s a lot of elite talent that Rowdy has had to go through to get his eight wins.

One also needs to factor in the scenario at hand. We are not talking about a full race at Bristol, but rather a 10-lap dash. Such a short race length might favor Busch because he has raced in an era with more restarts and shorter green flag runs than Earnhardt, and Busch is famous for being one of the best in NASCAR history on restarts. Could that experience with shorter runs be the difference Busch needs in an otherwise even showdown?

The Intimidator would not go down without a fight, but I have Rowdy by a nose in this Bristol brawl. One thing is for certain: the TV ratings would go through the roof. – Andrew Stoddard

See also
Waid's World: One Writer’s Attempt to Be a Fan in the Bristol Grandstands

The Intimidator Would Move Past His Competition

Dale Earnhardt would win a match against Kyle Busch, 100%.

By the way, why isn’t Waltrip in this conversation? But I digress.

For one, The Intimidator has nine wins at The Last Great Colosseum, including two in spring 1979 and 1980. That’s one more than what Busch has, although he also won on dirt there.

One may say that the car counts were lower in the 1980s, and while that may be true, that doesn’t mean Earnhardt wasn’t good. He won seven times at Bristol from 1979 through 1988 and only finished outside the top 10 three times.

He also had some strong finishes beyond the ‘80s, earning five consecutive podiums from fall 1992 through fall 1994. This includes a victory in spring of ‘94 after Earnhardt led 183 laps, besting drivers like Geoffrey Bodine, Rusty Wallace (who also had nine wins at this track) and Jeff Gordon.

The Intimidator’s final win at Thunder Valley came in August of 1999 in a race that featured 43 cars and 10 cautions. The top three finishers started 24th or worse, with Earnhardt coming all the way from 26th to first by the end of the race. Tony Stewart led much of the first half, while Gordon and Terry Labonte led 48 and 155 laps, respectively.

This finish was one of the most memorable moments in history, with Earnhardt tapping Labonte’s left rear within the final two laps. The contact sent Labonte’s No. 5 around, and the No. 3 went on to victory lane. It also had one of the more iconic quotes: “Didn’t mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit.”

It shows how much drive to win Earnhardt had at 48 years old that year. It remains to be seen whether Kyle Busch will have that same drive in about eight or nine years.

As far as finishing the races, Earnhardt’s only crashed out in two events at the 0.533-mile track, both in 1981. He’s led 3,751 total laps, most of which came between 1979 and 1990. Additionally, his average finish is about ninth (9.3 to be exact), which is 12th-best all time and second to Benny Parsons among those who made 10 or more starts.

I mean, it makes sense, considering Earnhardt finished outside the top 10 in just 13 of the 43 races at Bristol (and that nearly half of his starts were top-five finishes). 

Earnhardt also had multiple wins at other short tracks, like Martinsville Speedway (six), North Wilkesboro Speedway (five) and Richmond Raceway (five).

These kinds of comparisons aren’t always fair, because each driver was in their prime at a different period of time. They both drove different cars and with different numbers of cars entered in each race. Yet Earnhardt had the ability that Kyle Busch may not, and that was to ‘intimidate’ his competitors enough to get by them. It’s what set him apart, and what makes him the winner in a battle with KFB. –Joy Tomlinson

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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sb

I like Kyle’s answer…neither would make the checkers.

gbvette

Busch won at Bristol in different cars, and on different surfaces, but the same can be said for Earnhardt. While the chassis’ under the cars may have been similar, I’d argue the Monte Carlo Earnhardt was driving when he won his first ever NASCAR race in 79 at Bristol, was a far different car then the Monte Carlo he was driving when he won his last Bristol race in 99. Earnhardt also won on different surfaces at Bristol. Busch won on concrete and dirt, but Earnhardt won on both the original asphalt surface and the concrete.

Besides Waltrip and Wallace, Earnhardt also competed with 9 time Bristol winner Cale Yarborough, as well as Richard Petty, Mark Martin, Bobby Allison and Alan Kulwicki (admittedly against Petty, Yarborough & Allison near the end of their carriers) who all won multiple times at Bristol. Like Busch he also raced with Gordon at Bristol.

Does any of this prove Earnhardt would beat Busch, no. But you can’t give Busch an edge because he won in different cars on different surfaces, or against tougher competition by ignoring the fact that Earnhardt also won in different cars on different surfaces while racing some pretty talented drivers that were also successful at Bristol.

DoninAjax

Ironhead won in real race cars against tougher competitors and Baby Busch won against entitled babies who don’t like to actually “race”..

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